Why We Should Be More Honest About Our Emotions At Work

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Who here has cried during work?

I certainly have. I've cried while negotiating my salary and promotions with supervisors, while reading news about horrific tragedies at my desk, while giving my two weeks' notice, and sometimes just when my personal life felt overwhelming and spilled into my consciousness while I happened to be at the office.

Life doesn't stop when you arrive at your company doors; we don't suddenly become emotionless in our cubicles and conference rooms, nor should any employer want or expect us to do so. Moreover, work itself is one of the leading causes of stress in most people's lives, and so it's absolutely unsurprising that some of us can find ourselves in tears at the workplace from time to time.

That's why, as a fitting end to Mental Health Awareness Month, happiness-focused lifestyle brand ban.do has decided to dub May 31 International I Cry At Work Day.

"We spend so much of our lives at work, [and] we are certainly going to spend a percentage of that emoting," the company's founder and CCO Jen Gotch tells mbg. "It's a day to encourage all of us to embrace something that is so common and yet strangely stigmatized and rarely talked about."

Showing emotions at work is healthy.

A 2019 report by mental health tech company Ginger found 48 percent of workers have shed tears in a work environment, including 12 percent who say they do it frequently. And if you're wondering, while women were indeed more likely to cry in professional settings, 36 percent of men admitted to doing it too.

The meaning of work and the expectations people have for their work lives have changed enormously in the last decade, with new attention being placed on burnout, mental health, and empathy and emotional dexterity as key leadership skills. Millennials have led the charge against old, hypermasculine corporate culture, instead choosing to prioritize comfort and playfulness in the workplace, passion over professionalism, and a more humanized approach to business. (Why do you think company leaders become internet personalities these days, why are brands posting memes on their Instagram pages, and why are workplace wellness programs becoming a standard job perk?)

The truth is, shaming crying does more damage to the workplace than actual crying.

Crying at work is traditionally considered unacceptable conduct, if not a sign of weakness, but that kind of stigma isn't as common in the modern workplace. As psychotherapist Perpetua Neo tells mbg, having no emotional struggles or mental health difficulties throughout your life is a sign that you're not really engaging with the world or anything that's filling up your time.

"Here's the truth: Good workers prioritize their mental health," she writes. "It is not a badge of honor to say you have been free of mental health difficulties your entire life. Instead, you should be proud of how you have risen through, like the mythical Hydra who grows three heads when you cut off one."

Not to mention, bottling your feelings is detrimental to your physical health: Emotional suppression and the stress that comes with it is associated with higher rates of heart disease, autoimmune disorders, memory problems, and of course mental health disorders. "Deciding to bury your feelings, ignore them, internalize them, pretend they didn't happen, or convince yourself that there is no need to deal with them can literally make you sick from the stress," psychotherapist Emily Roberts writes at mbg.

It also takes energy and attention that could be spent elsewhere. Research shows managing your emotions and mood to be palatable to others (aka emotional labor) takes real effort and leads to more burnout. Having to be "on" and acting chipper when you're not is simply exhausting. Meanwhile, just crying it out might actually boost productivity by decreasing stress hormones and creating more a relaxed state of mind.

The truth is, shaming crying does more damage to the workplace than actual crying.

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How to cry at work.

If you tear up during a stressful situation or meeting at work, I love professional coach Lisa Rogoff's advice to never apologize after crying: After all, you haven't done anything wrong. Instead, just take a moment to collect your thoughts, pat down your wet cheeks, and then acknowledge what's getting you worked up. Then continue with your conversation. There's no need to dwell on it or make it into a big deal—it's not. 

If you're navigating a particularly trying time in your life, Neo encourages having open and honest conversations with your boss about the hurdles you're going through. "Tell your boss, sharing briefly on the cause and triggers," she writes at mbg. "Be confident but also honest. Owning your struggles demonstrates that you're taking responsibility, and being vulnerable helps you connect as a human being. After all, your boss has likely had their fair share of ups and downs, too."

Neo also stresses the importance of demonstrating that you're being proactive about getting better and that you've got the team's best interests in mind as you're crafting your strategy for handling what you're going through.

Once after a particularly harrowing breakup, I took a sick day to care for my mental health. After that, I decided that instead of taking a bunch more days off and inconveniencing my whole team by making them pick up the slack in my absence, I'd just be real with them about what I was going through. I sat down with my boss and told her I'd gone through something terribly painful in my personal life and that she may see me cry, so she wouldn't be alarmed. She thanked me for my honesty, offered support, and encouraged me to take breaks throughout the day as needed.

Not all bosses are so kind, and not all workplaces are so progressive yet. But hopefully movements like #InternationalICryAtWorkDay encourages more people to talk openly about their experiences with crying at work and more workplaces to embrace cultures that support their employees owning their emotions. There's no shame in needing to cry.

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