Crying at work

The Telegraph asks: Is it ever OK to cry at work?

Sheryl Sandberg says yes. Nigella Lawson says no.

I agree with Nigella. I have no idea who she is, but I agree with her anyway.

Other than tears of sadness upon saying goodbye to graduating students or retiring colleagues, I have cried at work exactly once in my life. It happened while managing the opening shift at a McDonald’s restaurant in Hartford, Connecticut about 18 years ago.

At the time, I was attending Trinity College and St. Joseph's University more than fulltime while working more than fulltime at McDonald’s and part-time in Trinity’s Writing Center in order to make ends meet.

A busy time in my life to say the least.

And it was exam week.

When I arrived at work at 4:30 in the morning for my opening shift, I hadn’t slept in more than 48 hours because of the mountains of end-of-semester work that I was attempting to complete. While handing food out the drive-thru window, I started to cry. I wasn’t feeling sad or even overwhelmed. I was simply exhausted. One of my employees turned to me and said, “What’s the matter?”

Between sobs, I said, “Nothing. I’m just really tired.”

My tears were a physical reaction to a lack of sleep.


Other than that moment, I have not cried in the more than 25 years in the workforce. The reason I have not cried is simple:

I have yet to face a workplace situation that might cause me to cry. Regardless of the pressure, conflict or stress of a situation, work has never been so overwhelming to bring me to tears.

Unfairly so, perhaps, I tend to see people who cry at work as lacking perspective or significant life experience. Between their sobs, I find myself wanting to remind them that their job does not constitute a life or death situation and that there are far worse things in the world than a tough day on the job. We didn’t just lose a patient in open heart surgery. We didn’t just cause two planes to crash in midair. We didn’t cost 10,000 people their jobs because of a stupid financial decision.

Perhaps if I were in one of these positions, I would cry more often.

I’m not.

As a teacher, I have an enormous responsibility to the children who are in m classroom and the families who depend upon me to educate their kids. But a poorly delivered lesson, a less than glowing evaluation from an administrator or a meeting with a disgruntled parent will not make or break my school year, and it will not permanently damage the future of my students.

On most jobs, no single moment  on the job will cause irreparable damage to anyone. 

The same goes for every job that I have ever had. In fact, the highest pressure job that I’ve ever held is probably wedding DJ, where a faulty piece of equipment or the accidental press of a button can ruin a moment that a bride has been dreaming about for years.

As a wedding DJ, I have five or six hour to ensure perfection, and if I don’t, a day that has been planned for months or years can be ruined.

Still, I’ve never cried, perhaps because I’ve never ruined someone’s wedding day, but even if I did, tears would not help me in that situation. I would be too busy repairing, recovering and attempting to salvage the day as best as I could to spend a moment consumed with my own emotions.

I realize that it’s almost always wrong to base my opinion of this or any other subject on my own personal reaction. The way that I handle a situation is not automatically the correct way to handle a situation. It’s at the very least stupid and self-centered to think, “I don’t cry at work, and therefore it’s wrong and no one else should, either.”

But I’m stupid and self-centered, so I’m saying it anyway.

Save your tears for home. No one wants to see you sobbing at the workplace. It’s awkward. It makes people uncomfortable. Unless something legitimately terrible has actually happened (and it almost certainly hasn’t), crying only serves to undermine your credibility and demonstrate your lack of perspective.

Save your tears for something that really matters.

And if you must cry, take a walk or go to the restroom.

Seriously. No one wants to see it.