Is crying acceptable in the workplace?

Onscreen, Tom Hanks once asserted that there’s no crying in baseball. Fine. But should professionals shed a tear on the job?


It’s a powerful thing that often gets the better of us. At home. On the playing field. And sometimes, at work.

But is breaking down and shedding a tear acceptable in the workplace?

You’ll get arguments on both sides. Here’s where I stand on the topic.

Emotion is a part of life

Jim Valvano said it best in one of my favorite videos of all time: “If you laugh, think, and cry in one day. That’s a heck of a day.”

Crying is a part of life—a big part of life. So, why would we want to remove it from the workplace? Of course, there’s a time and place for it. Should tears be shed when things don’t go your way work-wise? Probably not. In other situations, I don’t think we should shun people who shed a tear when the situation calls for it.

Keep your feelings to yourself

As much as I believe emotion is a part of life and you cannot remove that from eight to 10 hours of your day, I do think you should do whatever you can to keep it private. Missed out on that big promotion and need to just let it out? Find a conference room with no windows, and have it out.

There are going to be situations in which you simply cannot avoid this, but for the most part, try to keep it under wraps. And don’t let crying become a habit at work. Shedding a tear every once in a while under extreme duress is to be expected. Crying at the drop of the hat when things go south? That’s a different story.

Emotion isn’t rewarded in the workplace

Let’s face it. In our culture, emotion and crying are seen as signs of weakness in the workplace. So, you could make a fairly strong argument that crying at work is a “career-limiting” behavior.

Think about it. Executives want professionals they can count on in their most trying times—and they need those professionals to be strong and confident. Crying just doesn’t inspire that kind of confidence, no matter what we think or feel.

So, despite my first point, which is more idealistic in nature, this is the harsh reality.

Keep in mind that these opinions are coming from a pretty stoical guy. I’ve probably cried about five times in my entire life. And I come from a long line of non-crying Norweigans. (I’ve only seen my parents cry once each—ever.) But I’m curious about your thoughts. Surely you’ve witnessed someone crying in the workplace. What do you think? Acceptable? Or should crying be kept behind closed doors at home?

Arik C. Hanson is the principal of ACH Communications in Minnesota. He blogs at Communications Conversations, where a version of this story first appeared.

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