Crying at work. We’ve all done it— some of us more openly than others. Whether it’s hidden in a bathroom stall **allergies** or in the middle of a conference room, business environments can be tense and, at times, move us to tears.
Unfortunately, there’s a shame that comes with crying at work, especially when you’re a woman— like you’ve failed some kind of litmus test for feminism (not true). There’s this underlying assumption that if you’ve got boobs and working tear ducts you’re either A. on your period or B. not tough enough to be a part of the boys’ club. You cry at work, and men judge you. So (ugh, sorry!) do other women who act like it sets us back in the workplace. It’s a tricky territory to navigate.
Thankfully, there are CEOs and Founders who are attempting to change this stigma. But let’s be real— very real: We can’t pretend that there isn't a difference between crying when you own the company and crying when you’re the intern.
There are different tiers for tears. So let’s break it down by rank.
CRYING WHEN YOU’RE CEO.
Jen Gotch, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of ban.do (who spoke on a panel at C & C this past March in Los Angeles), posted a selfie 14 weeks ago of her crying at work on Instagram. In the caption she wrote: “Ever wonder what it looks like, really looks like to be the chief creative officer at a rapidly growing company? This is me, today, after my efforts to make something work, well, did not work. In fact they kind of back fired. So I cried, ate some cool ranch Doritos, contemplated getting in my car and driving far far away and never returning and then I did something crazy. I challenged myself to own the part where I failed.” The photo is an un-retouched, raw selfie. Her eyes are wet. There are tears on her nose.
Crying when you’re the CEO is awesome. It allows your employees to see you as human (even if you have superhuman boss powers where you're fully operational on three hours of sleep). That you have bad days like they do, that you feel your failures instead of blaming them on other people, and it signals a shift surrounding the "humiliation" of crying on the job.
When you work for yourself or you own the company, it’s obviously OK to say, of course cry at work. Let it out. It’s good for you. In conversation with Lena Dunham for Lenny, Gloria Steinem said: “Because I am crying, I will live longer than you.”
But no one is firing Gloria Steinem (or Lena, who also has copped to copious amounts of tears) at this point.
CRYING WHEN YOU’RE MID-LEVEL, ALMOST BOSS
It’s a hard position to be in. You have some power, but you still answer to your boss, and you want to be sure that the employees below you, respect you. However, you need to trust that you've gotten this far for good reason, even if there have been a few tears along the way.
Jen Stith, VP of Communications and Brand Development at Bumble told us, “I work for a startup so I wear so many hats. I don't even know what day it is, I don't have time to cry. Although, sometimes I almost cry when I can’t find Red Bull when I land.”
Which brings up an interesting point about the current office environment. So many of us work on-the-go, and the old office model no longer applies. Crying at work might mean crying alone. In which, have at it. It doesn't make you weak. It doesn't mean you've failed. In fact, releasing that tension has proven to lead to better concentration.
Another employee of a major fashion brand, who asked to remain anonymous told us, "One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Some days you’re the dog, some days you’re the hydrant.’ And some people are more comfortable being the hydrant all of the time. But if you want to make moves, you have to be willing to stand your ground, and sometimes that can lead to tears. That doesn't mean you're weak, often times it means you really care about your job."
CRYING WHEN YOU’RE A MINION.
Every. Single. Assistant in Los Angeles has a crying story. Or a thousand of them. People like to pretend it’s character building, that being knocked down a few pegs is all part of climbing the corporate ladder.
When I was an assistant I had a boss who was determined to make me cry. He used to say, “I will break you. I’ve made everyone cry, you’re no different.” It became a sick game, especially given my position within the company. I had no clout, and therefore in my mind, there was no crying. (Not in the office anyway.) I cried in the car, at home, to my mom, basically to anyone that would listen, until finally in between sobs someone talked some sense into me, and I left that job.
I never would have felt comfortable crying at the office, but that was due to the fact I was the lowest on the totem pole in a high-stakes, high-pressure environment.
When we aren't in charge, we worry about jeopardizing our standing or reputation in the company. That is a very real threat and a very real fear. That's not to say you can't cry, but you have to understand your individual situation and make that decision. (Even if that means realizing you might be in the wrong job.)
TO TEAR OR NOT TO TEAR
There is a difference between bringing your personal life to work and crying because of say, a failed relationship, and crying out of frustration when, like Jen Gotch, you're really feeling a failure.
If you're feeling down because something goes wrong, or you feel disrespected and forced to put your tail between your legs, take a moment. Feel your feelings. Where you want to do this, is up to you. There is no one-size-fits-all model. You were hired by your company because they saw something in you that they trusted. Bank on that and your gut. If that means stepping outside to cry, go for a walk. If that means tearing up in front of your co-workers, then so be it.
Even the strongest athletes get overwhelmed by emotion when they cross the finish line, whether they come in first or last.