It's Not Normal For Our Work Places To Leave Us In Tears

There's no shame in showing emotion at work, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't question the crying.
Have you been crying at work?
studiostockart via Getty Images
Have you been crying at work?

You’re reading Life-Work Balance, a series aiming to redirect our total devotion to work into prioritising our personal lives.

Finding a quiet toilet cubicle, a vacant conference room, or any corner of the office or work floor you can privately sob. Sound familiar?

Crying at work isn’t an alien experience for many of us. And since the pandemic, those who have been propelled to the WFH environment can weep away without shame and the judgemental glances of their co-workers.

It can be a cathartic experience, to let out your work frustrations and stresses before carrying on with your responsibilities. You might even have an open policy at work where all sentiments are welcome.

While it’s good to let your emotions out and express yourself, we must also ponder the question – should our work places be making us cry?

It’s no secret that employment, no matter in which form, is stressful and occupies much of our thoughts. But our employment isn’t supposed to dominate our emotion in the way it does.

Work under capitalism has terrorised our emotion – we’re forced to constantly be switched on, available, regulate our feelings on demand (think how often we have to suppress anger, indignation, sadness at work and put on a face), and offer ourselves as capital toward businesses much more successful than we as workers are.

So when it feels like we’re hamsters on a never-ending wheel, with the bills and responsibilities mounting on us, with little room to breathe, it’s easy for our emotions to overspill and reach breaking point – often ending in tears.

Lucy*, 43, from Northampton, can relate all too well to this. “In my 20s and 30s, I cried a lot at work, for various reasons. I was figuring out who I was and my work place often wanted me to be someone that just wasn’t my personality. I ended up in tears because my work kept expecting me to be more assertive and forceful, which is the opposite of who I am.”

But Lucy had to keep her feelings private because, she says: “I think they would have seen crying as a weakness or unprofessional and unbusinesslike.

“Our workplaces just expect us to navigate our own emotion without any effort to remedy any ill feelings.”

But, Lucy admits, it does also depend on your profession. “Some are better than others with helping people. My workplace also provided a certain number of therapy sessions per issue you were having but I don’t think a lot of people even knew about it.”

Similarly, for Nora*, 29, a deputy lighting director at a theatre in London, not only has her job left her weeping in the past, she doubts little would change if bosses were aware of the toll they had on her.

She tells HuffPost: “My work place made me cry because of severe lack of resources and time and constant pressure to complete goals by an unmovable deadline under adverse circumstances. I was regularly working 60hr+ weeks with minimal breaks, high levels of physics and mental work and increasing demands of productivity.”

Like many of us, Nora kept her feelings hidden.

“I didn’t let work see me cry, instead I removed myself to a private location. If they had seen I think they would have responded well emotionally, i.e being initially caring and empathetic but fundamentally no actual structural or practical changes would be made.”

The experience has left Nora with little belief in workplaces to care genuinely about their employee’s wellbeing.

“I think workplaces put on a show, in most cases even earnestly, of supporting our emotions and mental health but in practice don’t actually have any infrastructure or ability to back these up,” she says.

“Most middle management are not themselves emotionally equipped or trained to deal with mental health or emotional breakdowns and yet are expected to solve problems usually caused by industry wide issues created and perpetuated by those at the highest level.”

So why is work so emotionally charged and how can we have a better grip on our emotions?

Well, it’s due to the nature of work itself and not a personal failing, says wellbeing psychologist Dannielle Haig.

“The workplace can be highly charged emotionally due to the fact there are numbers of humans grouped together in an environment that can be highly pressured with difficult interactions, personality differences and deadlines and so on,” she says.

“You become so emotionally exhausted that you’re vulnerable to external stressors and can no longer control your emotions. This is a sign that you need to take a break, you need some recovery time where you are investing in yourself and allowing your emotional batteries to recharge.”

But emotions arise from somewhere. You might consider addressing the stimulus – is it a difficult boss, a toxic environment?

Haig adds: “If you are feeling resentment for example, then it is time to build your boundaries and to start saying no to others and yes to yourself. If you’re feeling anger, then it’s a signal for you to remove yourself from the situation and once calm, to approach a situation from a different angle. The more you lean into your emotions and get curious about them rather than just allowing them to happen or trying to stop them, the more emotionally agile you’ll become.”

In an ever precarious job market, compounded with the cost of living crisis, most of of us are hyperaware of our earnings and employability, we might even be willing to put up with mistreatment, regardless of its emotional and mental cost.

But we’re also protected by labour rights and, in most places, a nascent understanding of work place harms and toxicity.

If we’re left in constant tears, it’s okay to question our employers, table open discussions, speak to HR, and try to change the environment, instead of toiling away to our own detriment, emotionally and physically.

*Names have been changed.

HuffPost UK/ Isabella Carapella

Life-Work Balance questions the status quo of work culture, its mental and physical impacts, and radically reimagines how we can change it to work for us.