If you’re a human being, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve cried at work at some point. It’s natural and normal to need to let intense emotions out, and sometimes that inconveniently happens at the office. Ugh. Whether it’s because you’re burned out, you’ve realized you’re definitely in the wrong job or something is just weighing on you, there are times when you just can’t suppress your emotions, and you shouldn’t have to! But not only can it be uncomfortable to get super upset at work — it can be embarrassing if it happens in a public way, like in a meeting or at your highly visible desk (gotta love those open-floor-plan offices, right?). So where can you go and what can you do if you feel the tears coming on? We tapped some HR pros and career experts to get their take on this tough sitch. Here are some guidelines to follow if you just need to let it out during your nine-to-five.
1. Do it in private. If you feel the urge to cry at work, it can be tempting to just do it quietly at your desk. Unfortunately, that may attract attention and it’s better to deal with intense emotions privately. “If your workplace has any unused offices or even a supply closet, that’s the best place to go. Especially if you can close the door and not be seen,” recommends Laura Macleod, HR expert. The office of a coworker you trust is also a safe place to go, as long as they’re okay with it. “If possible, try to get outside the office,” she adds. Heading to your office’s lobby or even outside for some fresh air can work wonders.
2. You don’t have to say anything about it afterward. If a coworker or superior sees you in tears, you may wonder if it’s a good idea to go back to them later and explain yourself. “In all cases, it’s best to address it in the moment, not after the fact,” says Macleod. If someone asks you what’s wrong or if you’re okay, Macleod says a simple “Thanks so much, I’m fine,” will suffice. Once you’ve recovered, leave it at that. “There’s no need to go back to anyone after, and it just helps them remember the incident when it may already be forgotten. If you relieve people’s discomfort by saying you’re okay, they’ll usually move on and no negative repercussions will follow.”
3. There’s no reason to apologize. “People are allowed to have emotions and no one should apologize for that,” says Michelle Petrazzuolo, human resources consultant at Petrazzuolo HR. “Apologizing makes it seem like your reaction was wrong or inappropriate, and it may not have been.” There are all kinds of reasons you could cry at work and, you know what? Some of them are 100 percent justified.
4. Sometimes, crying is a reasonable reaction. While breaking down at work is definitely never ideal (being sad or super stressed is the worst!), there are times when it’s not really that out of place. Petrazzuolo explains that “certain situations push most people to their emotional limits, such as being laid off or receiving difficult news about a coworker. During these times, it’s not only acceptable to show your emotions, but sharing them with others can help everyone work through their reactions.” Since you spend so much time with your coworkers, they can be a great support — especially if there’s a situation where many of you are going through something similar.
5. You can offer a helping hand to a teary colleague. If you see that someone else in your office is struggling, it’s absolutely okay to reach out to them. Just know that they may want to be left alone. “The best way you can help is by offering to escort them to a more private area,” says Laura Henderson, HR consultant and owner of North County HR. By taking your coworker outside or to a private room, you help them to avoid causing a scene and give them a moment to regroup before returning to work.”
6. Know that crying isn’t a “feminine issue.” Just a friendly reminder that guys have feelings too. “Crying is generally frowned upon and a sign of weakness, especially for men,” notes Macleod. “This isn’t accurate. Crying is a normal human release and often those who cry feel significantly better and more positive once they’ve finished.” That includes dudes, everyone.
“If everyone were genuine about their feelings, both men and women, it would accomplish both removing the stigma from men who cry and changing the view that feminine traits are associated with weakness,” Petrazzuolo says. “This could have wider-ranging implications for women being viewed as better leaders in general and help women to advance in their professions to levels where they are usually in the minority.” We definitely hope this happens someday.
7. Self-care can help prevent workplace tears. If you’re dealing with something really tough personally or are struggling with difficult dynamics at the office, crying at the office can become a more regular thing. If this happens, there are some ways that you can try to minimize its frequency. “Get plenty of sleep and eat properly,” suggests Macleod. “When resistance is low, we get more sensitive and are more apt to get teary, so stay healthy.”
In the moment when you feel like you’re about to cry, she recommends repeating positive things about yourself in your own head. Also, “give yourself permission to cry later. This lets your body and mind know you’ll get a chance to release all the emotion. Then, notice and remember every time you wanted to cry and didn’t.” This will help you gain confidence and remember what a strong and awesome badass you are.
Have you ever cried at work? How did you deal with it? Tell us about it @BritandCo.
(Photos via Getty)