2017 Update: We still stand by this discussion of crying at work — you may also want to check out our recent discussion of how to get a poker face at work.
OK, ladies and gents, let’s discuss: How do you keep from crying at work, whether due to personal reasons or as a reaction to something work-related? What are your best tips to prevent it, explain it if it happens, and clean up your face once you’re done?
First, in case it needs to be said: No one’s judging anyone when you’re crying about some horrible recent news — the death of a loved one, for example. But there can be a huge sliding scale of appropriateness and acceptability at different offices, depending on your boss, your team members, and so forth.
Yep, I’ve Cried at Work
I can remember two times that I cried at my BigLaw job, although I’m sure there were more. The first time, I was working lateish (8PM maybe), with hours to go on a project that I had to be at the office for and got into a fight on the phone with my father. I hung up in anger and literally crawled under my desk to sob, hoping it (and my closed door) would muffle the sounds.
The second time, as I’ve mentioned before, was the time I missed my best friend’s wedding because of work. We had to meet a deadline at 5PM on a Friday, and my BFF’s last-minute, mostly-family wedding was slated for noon the next day — in London. My bosses and I had discussed the situation, and everyone (including me) agreed I had to stay. This didn’t do anything to alleviate my self-pity (and self-fury). On Friday, in a meeting with the partner and senior associate, the partner brought it up again in what struck me as a daffy way (gee, such a pity you couldn’t find a commercial flight!) and I lost it. Tears flowed onto my suit — hell, probably onto the partner’s fancy rug — although I maintained my composure as far as breathing was concerned. The meeting ended with neither the partner nor senior associate directly mentioning my distress. Later the senior associate came to my office, nearly crying herself, and shut the door and told me to feel free to let my anger out. I sputtered something about being SO. FRUSTRATED. WITH. MY. LIFE. but that I’d get over it.
Telling both of these stories now is mortifying — but I know I’m not the only one. (Um, right?)
How to Stop Yourself from Crying at Work
So: what the hell do you do to stop this annoying show of emotion? One friend told me that he sang the MacGyver song to himself whenever he felt overwhelmed by his feelings. The best practice regarding crying at work is probably to hold it together long enough to get out of the building and go for a walk or even to a public bathroom like a Starbucks and have it out.
Of course, it helps to get adequate rest and relaxation — if you’re sleep deprived and stressed it primes you for crazy emotions. We’ve also talked before about how to mitigate hormonal mood swings, such as with calcium. Keep your blood sugar stable and eat foods for energy at work, stay hydrated, and try to fit exercise into your day, like with lunch workouts.
Also, I’m curious to hear what readers think about this: is age a component to controlling your emotions? Or does one just get jaded, or perhaps have lowered expectations, as you get older? I find that I rarely cry these days, or if I do it comes on like a flash and then is over. I suppose in general it’s good advice to everyone who is very emotional to take a close look at your expectations for the situation, and make sure they’re set at appropriate levels.
How to Pull Yourself Together After Crying at Work
As far as cleanup after crying at work: Visine plus one of those cold gel face masks is the best advice I’ve got. Running cold water over your wrists (or pressing something cool against them, like a soda can) can also help get the redness out of your skin. Feel free to use Visine liberally, either by squirting it onto a tissue or directly onto other red, puffy parts of your skin: as a vasoconstrictor, it narrows blood vessels and can make skin look less red. After the day is done, check out some of our tips for how to turn a bad work day around.
Ladies, what are your best tips for avoiding crying at work? (God, I’m not the only one with these stories, am I?) What makes a “junior employee crying at her desk” story better or worse? If she carries on afterward as if nothing happened? If she explains it later? Also, what are your best tips for cleaning yourself up after crying at work?
- Do You Have to Control Your Emotions to Be Professional? [Ask a Manager]
- How to Look Like You Weren’t Just Crying in Less Than Five Minutes [Rookie]
- Big Girls Do Cry, and That’s OK [Boston Globe]
- What 15 Female Leaders Really Think About Crying At Work [The Huffington Post]
- When It’s Okay To Cry At Work (And When It Isn’t) [Fast Company]
- 7 Steps to Avoid Crying in the Workplace [The Muse]