STYLE

Daily Debate: Is It Ever Okay To Cry At Work?

23/06/2011 13:10 | Updated 22 May 2015

I've done it, you've done it. If we're honest everyone's probably done it at one time or another, with the possible exception of Ruth Badger. But is crying at work ever really acceptable?

The crop of scary wannabes populating the current series of The Apprentice clearly think not: when a (female) team leader cried during one of the tasks, the team mates she brought back into the boardroom (also female) had no compunction in using it against her. She was accused of having "fallen apart" and of not being good for team morale.

In her case, I think they had a point. With their manager in tears, other members of the team were forced to step in and take on the role of motivator. But are there times when letting those big fat tears drop freely onto your desk or meeting room table is only natural?

My first proper job after leaving university involved working in the basement of a London hospital in an entirely female department (don't ask). I'm not sure whether it was the excess of oestrogen, the fact that there was no natural light or the frequent and unsettling visits by some of the more unhinged members of the public who tend to hang around warm accessible buildings, but rarely did a day go by when there wasn't a veritable tear-fest going on in one of the toilets.

Many was the day when one or other of us would scuttle teary-eyed from our desk in a none-too-subtle attempt to hold our breakdown in "private", only to be joined some minutes later by at least one colleague bearing hugs, words of reassurance and bog roll.

By contrast, when I have worked in predominantly male environments (newspapers in the days when smoking at your desk was considered totally normal) barely a tear has been shed. Deliberately loud and public dressing downs: yup. Red-faced (and drink-fuelled) shouting matches: double yup. But workplace sobbing? Only rarely, and, as far as I know, always by the women.

Having been a bit of a crier myself in my younger days, it's difficult to admit that it can actually be seen as rather manipulative and, dare I say it, childish. And although it might yield "results" in the short-term – there are few better ways of getting people off your back and eliciting sympathy, however insincere – I don't think it helps improve one's professional reputation long-term, especially if you're a woman.

That said, real tears do usually signal that something is wrong and simply holding them in isn't necessarily the answer. Taking time to think about what's going on and whether it's really a work problem or something else is better than sitting at your desk and putting on a happy face while inwardly falling apart. Expecting people to become buttoned-up automatons as soon as they walk into the office is totally unrealistic. However much workplace culture may seek to deny it, work is emotional and how we do in our jobs is integral to our sense of self-worth. A healthy workplace should be able to cope with honest displays of emotion, even when they are a bit embarrassing for all concerned.

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