Is it Okay to Cry at Work?

Traditional wisdom has told us that emotions don’t belong at work. This idea isn’t just wrong; it’s insane.

When was the last time you heard a CEO say, “I wish my people weren’t so excited?” Have you ever wished that your suppliers were less passionate? Have you ever wanted a customer service person to be a little less caring? Have you ever wished that you yourself were less enthusiastic about your own work?

Of course not.

Yet somewhere along the line we decided that for the workplace, only the positive emotions are acceptable. You can be excited, you can care, and you can be passionate. But if things go wrong, don’t get upset or angry.

Human beings don’t work that way. If we care passionately about our work, we’re going to cry and we’re going to get angry. When you’re emotionally engaged you show up as your whole human self.

Once, when I was working for a failing company, I had to fire someone. It was solely for budget reasons. The young man was a solid performer, and a good guy. But the company was circling the drain, and we were cutting everything we could.

When I let him go, I started crying. My first thought was, how embarrassing, I’m firing him because we can’t make this company work, and now I’ve demonstrated that I’m an even worse leader because I’m crying about it.

I apologized for being so emotional. The young man was as gracious as he could be, he said, I’d sure rather have a boss who cries when she fires me than a boss who doesn’t care about me.

That was the last time I apologized for crying at work. People cry. Women may cry more readily than men, but even men cry. None of us should have to apologize for it.

It’s the same thing with getting frustrated or angry. You don’t want to make a regular practice of losing your temper with your team. We’ve all had that crazy shouting boss. But if you’re a sane normal person on most days, it’s okay to get frustrated and curse when something bad happens.

One reason leaders try to tamp down emotions at work is because they’re often unprepared to deal with them. When someone is angry or upset, we think we need to respond in a way that will diffuse things. However in most instances, the best response is often simply giving the person the space to feel however they are feeling without judgment or blame. When you acknowledge negative emotions, they often pass more quickly.

Another reason we sidestep emotions at work is because people often believe emotion gets in the way of making money. So instead of emotional engagement, people default to reports. As if measuring money would somehow produce money. But money is not produced in a vacuum. It’s the output of a multi-faceted human ecosystem. The current crisis of disengaged employees proves what we already know in our hearts to be true. You can’t spreadsheet your way to spreadsheetpassion.

We shouldn’t try to tamp down emotions at work; we should capitalize on them. When people have the opportunity to bring their whole human self to work, they become more emotionally engaged. Their jobs become more meaningful, which ultimately makes their organizations more successful.

Next time you see someone cry in the office, or if you find yourself crying, don’t be embarrassed. Be glad you care enough about your job to shed a few tears over it.