Monday 18 December 2017

Why is having an occasional cry at work such a big deal?

Elizabeth Moss as Peggy Olsen and Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris
Elizabeth Moss as Peggy Olsen and Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris
Sally Leadbetter

Madmen's Joan Holloway famously said "This is why I don't allow crying in the break room. There's a place to do that - like your apartment". That was then, circa 1960, but have things have changed for women, and tears, at work?

At some point in our lives, we have all felt the tell-tale flush, the lump in the throat and a prickle behind the eyes as tears threaten to fall. Everybody knows that crying is a great way to relieve pent up emotions, but sometimes bursting into tears is not deemed appropriate - particularly in the workplace.

Research has shown that women are much more likely to turn on the waterworks and while this may prove that we are better with dealing with our feelings, some people will claim it is because we are weaker than men and can't handle difficult situations.

We spoke to a psychologist, a male employer and both a woman who cries regularly at work and someone who does her level best not to break down in front of staff or colleagues, to find out how crying in the workplace is really perceived.

'Men seem to be scared of crying'

Sally Leadbetter pictured .jpg
Sally Leadbetter

Sally Leadbetter from Kilkenny is the marketing manager for Jerpoint Glass Studio (www.jerpointglass.com). The 38 year old is not afraid to admit that she often cries at work and feels it is an important way of releasing tension.

"I am quite comfortable with showing emotions, I don't think there is any shame in having a good cry - it can be cleansing; a release, it allows you to acknowledge that everything is not OK and then move on. Having said that there is a time and place for emotional out-bursts.

I have been in a position where I was fighting off the tears almost on a daily basis at work. I worked for a fabulous company with a great boss but unfortunately my time there was blighted by an unfortunate series of events that had me sobbing into my keyboard most days. The issue started on my second day with the company and as the 'new girl' I didn't feel that I could approach my boss with a problem in my first week of employment.

Then one morning years later, I had a job to do which was so pernickety and ridiculous, adding layers of time-wasting bureaucracy to what should be a simple task, that I lost all control.

I tried to pull myself together, then after drinking two cups of coffee I knocked on my boss' door. But as soon as he looked up from his desk I burst into tears.

I told him the whole story and in fairness to him he said all the right things and said I should have told him sooner. He told me he was very happy with my work and would deal with the situation.

It was a huge relief to share the problem and everything improved after that. I was doing my job diligently and thoroughly and all of my emotion was coming from insecurity.

I really regret not broaching the subject earlier in my employment as I enjoyed my job so much more after that.

Over the years, I definitely have found that the women I've worked with are more comfortable with crying and the men actually seem scared of it.

I do still have weepy days, even at work, but it's more cathartic than sorrowful. I always want to do my best and the best for the company, especially as it's a family business - and that brings out lots of passion and the occasional Kleenex."

'Consequences can be punitive'

Psychologist Sharron Grainger says while women definitely cry more than men, it is a cleansing action which is beneficial for our emotional state. But, as many people still see it as a sign of weakness, it might be wise to try to curtail weepy outbursts in the workplace.

"Decades of research suggest that there are gender differences in crying; with women crying an average of 5.3 times a month and men just 1.3 times per month.

The biological reason for this is possibly that testosterone may inhibit men crying, while the hormone prolactin, which is naturally higher in levels in women, may encourage it.

Inter-culturally it has been found that the difference between how often women and men cry may be more evident in countries that tolerate greater freedom of expression. With wealthier countries being more tolerant of those that cry.

According to research women are more likely to cry at work due to their socialisation.

Even in this day and age some boys may be taught that crying is a sign of weakness, so holding back the tears becomes a reflex.


Unfortunately the repercussions of a women crying in the workplace are that that it may be perceived with disdain and the consequences can be punitive.

So while there are the exceptions to the rule, women crying at work may be perceived as being manipulative, disruptive or weak."

'I dealt with it by being upbeat'

David Brock.jpg

David Brock, Managing Director of Brock Delappe Estate Agents in Inchicore (www.brockdelappe.ie) says while he hasn't had too much experience of women crying in the workplace, whenever it has occurred, he has tried to be deal with the situation sympathetically.

"Women crying at work is a rare occurrence in my office.

I've only ever had two incidences of female colleagues breaking down at work - one was someone who had personal difficulties and I understood that she needed some personal time so I accommodated her.

The other was many years ago when I had to make someone redundant. It was very understandable that she would be upset and whilst I felt really bad about it, I dealt with it by being upbeat and positive with her, and tried to get her to see that her prospects for future work were very positive.

Thankfully she got a new job the following week and I was delighted to give her a good reference."

'It causes issues with colleagues'

41-year-old Susan Cotter runs a recruitment agency called Team Obair in Dublin 8 (www.teamobair.com). She does not believe in crying at work and says while she had one emotional incident in the distant past, she would not give way to tears whilst at the office as she doesn't believe crying offers any benefits and has no place in a work environment.

"I don't believe in crying at work and certainly don't make a habit of it. However, I did once break down many, many years ago as a result of a business disappointment very early in the company's history.

I haven't done that since as crying is not an emotion that would normally come into my working day, because I really believe that the outcome is still the same regardless of tears.

I also feel that it causes issues with colleagues and management, especially if it was something which was ongoing. Obviously if someone is experiencing personal issues or are reacting to a difficult business situation, it would be understandable to have a cry once in a while.

But if it is something which happens a lot, you would have to question whether or not the person is suited to the job, or you would have to ask if they were ill or perhaps just not happy in general.

While I would have some sympathy in particular situations; work is work and there is a time and a place for crying.

If I could offer any advice to someone who is a serial crier I would encourage them to try to deal with issues in a different way.

Learn how to cope on a more practical level and react by doing something rather than getting emotional."


If you're prone to crying

• Try to take a big breath in and slowly release.

• Learn to stay neutral and practise not reacting to criticism or severe stress.

• Try to wait and then excusing yourself from the situation, then go and cry somewhere in private. The purpose of this is to develop emotional freedom, that is knowing that you have a choice in how you respond to stressful situations rather than reacting to them uncontrollably in the moment when you are caught off guard.

"Believe it or not our attachment style will have an impact on when or if we cry. Securely attached people feel that crying is healthy and normal and as such feel more comfortable expressing emotions.

Those with insecure attachment may cry at seemingly inappropriate times, such as in the workplace, resulting in what appears to be easily triggered difficult-to-control tears.

Whilst those that have a 'dismissive' attachment styles - these are described as people who avoid close relationships with others, are often were less likely to cry and will try hard to constrain their tears than those with the other attachment styles.

A further attachment style is "preoccupied" which describes those people who might be overly dependent on others and would tend to cry more often than securely attached people. However between the sexes women of all attachment styles still cry more than men."

>Psychologist Sharron Grainger


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