Never have I cried at work. Not when I was passed over for a promotion. Not when my first marriage broke up. Not even when I was slammed with a written warning from a priggish managing editor for a grievously misplaced apostrophe that should’ve been spotted during editing.


“Your’e a twat, yo’ure a twat, y’oure a twat,” I may have muttered silently as I returned to my desk, but the tears stayed stuck. For 20 years, I’ve fought hard to curb any office eye-prickling (there’s been the odd tissue dab in the loo).

“I’m sure we’ve caused you a few tears over the years,” a formidable London editor guffawed as he gave me a pay rise, having realised the apostrophe-challenged Antipodean could actually do her job.

“I’ve never cried in this office,” I responded indignantly. “The canteen, maybe, but you’d also cry with laughter if you saw Eric from accounts shovelling a third serve of spotted dick into his cavernous gob.” (Except, I didn’t say that, of course, because this was the boss and I was on my pinstripe-best behaviour.)

Imagine, then, my shock – no, my hysterical tears – upon hearing the patron saint of corporate women, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, is all for a good blub at your desk. Or at the watercooler. Or in the boardroom.

“I’ve cried at work,” she revealed – ironically, just days after Mark Zuckerberg would have rubber-stamped her share options. “I’ve told people I’ve cried at work. I don’t believe we have a professional self from Monday to Friday and a real self for the rest of the time.”

It’s all right for Sandberg – “It’s my company and I’ll cry if I want to” – but imagine if Beryl on reception starting bawling over a broken nail. Or if Trev the courier had to pull over on the freeway after Trace had a right go at him.

Perhaps I’m peeved because now I work from home, I can blub whenever I want – and I do. Often. Interviewing parents who have lost a child, national disasters or reading elegantly woven words unravel me. But crying in front of the boss?

I’m all for bringing your “authentic self” to work. Having spent the ’90s in bodysuits with crotch-pinging poppers, I’d happily rock up in jeans, hair plaited, with a tray of ginger slices (it’s good to win people over before they deal with your hapless punctuation).

But isn’t crying – except when you’ve heard bad news or stapled your own thumb – a bit preschool? Career coach and Punch contributor Kate Southam agrees: “Crying at work is still not a good move,” she says. “People might say, ‘There, there,’ to your face, but behind your back make a mental note: she can’t cope.”

But a friend who heads a PR company is all for Sandberg’s ‘tear and share’ culture. “People dump on me because I’ve opened the floodgates myself,” she says. “I like the openness and I’ve heard it all: affairs, threesomes, forgotten birthdays.”

Although women dampen their desks more than men – 41 vs 9 per cent – it’s not career suicide. Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is in demand, says my banking bigwig mate Tom: “It’s no longer about being a corporate warrior, it’s about communicating authentically.”

But surely having a high EQ means you know when to wind up the weeping? Because there’s a reason I never cried at work. Just 22 and fresh out of uni, I was spotted having a sob in the office car park. “Mind her,” I heard one bloke say. “Must be time of the month.”

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22 comments

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    • PhilD says:

      09:27am | 08/07/12

      “Although women dampen their desks more than men – 41 vs 9 per cent”

      41 + 9 = 50%. And the other 50%? Must be a lot of crocs at work. I’ve fallen into a trap, right?

    • Flutz says:

      12:45pm | 08/07/12

      I’d say the %s given are not the % breakdown of all the people that admit they cry at work; but rather that 41% of all women and 9% of all men admit they cry at work.

    • Inky says:

      01:54pm | 08/07/12

      Er, that’d be 41% of women, compared to 9% of men.

    • Mick says:

      02:11pm | 08/07/12

      Must mean that 41% of women cry at work, while only 9% of men do.

    • PhilD says:

      09:50pm | 08/07/12

      Thanks for that, I just laughed til I cried!

    • stephen says:

      10:05am | 08/07/12

      I was only reading about Sherry Lansing recently, who started out as an Actress, didn’t like it, but ended up as head of a big TV/Movie studio and was good enough at her job that Viacom eventually bought the Company.
      I don’t know if she cried a lot, but I’ll bet she thought a lot, and if a sniffle is part of the job, then I reckon the water is worth the outcome ...
      not that someone who may have had a grudge will now feel sorry for you because you have feelings, but a worker should always have an ulterior motive and try for the effective performance strategy like putting on your desk a photo of Derryk and the kids - one of whom should have an arm in a sling - and be playing feverishly with your iPhone, (give the screen a soft kiss right when nobody should be looking) and don’t forget to disappear once or twice come back to your chair, and sit back down ever so quietly ... crying in public is, in my opinion, a cry for attention, (and not necessarily assistance) and should be avoided like peanut butter, Geelong, and Private Health Insurance.

    • PsychoHyena says:

      11:08am | 08/07/12

      Personally I separate work-life from personal-life and if I need to deal with major events in my personal-life I take sick/compassionate leave with a brief explanation of the reason.

      I must admit I’m having a good laugh at the part about where someone told their boss about a threesome, just the thought of that conversation. Honestly though if you’re going to have a threesome with a person of the same sex and one of the opposite sex or two people of the same sex, you have to be comfortable with your sexuality, if you’re not then why the hell are you even entertaining the idea?

    • bruised reed says:

      05:40pm | 09/07/12

      so… you’ve never heard of people being pressured into something they don’t want to do?

    • self-confessed workplace cryer says:

      12:08pm | 08/07/12

      It is the most embarrassing bad habit I have, and although it served me well as a small child - crying at the drop of a hat to get my way - I have cursed myself in my adult life. I cry WAY TOO OFTEN at work, and in front of people, and almost every time I screw up, I freak out and start to cry. I have since left my last job to continue with uni. My old boss and colleagues were constantly tip toeing around me, afraid I was going to cry. It’s shameful, and I just can’t seem to stop it. It’s especially bad when I want to confront my boss/colleagues about work related issues, and I want to be seen as a professional. Unfortunately, I never ever ever will be considered a professional because of my ridiculous crying reflex. I need help, big time.

    • Scotchfinger says:

      10:00am | 09/07/12

      during the confrontation, imagine your opponent(s) naked, i.e. sans clothing. This will enable you to see that they are people, just like you. Tears will dry, instead you will giggle or smirk. Good luck, my lachrymose friend.

      PS, you have saved yourself about $5K. Invoice in the mail.

    • Jay says:

      01:36pm | 08/07/12

      I’ve cried once at work and was exceedingly embarassed because it was over something quite trivial, I put it down to pregnancy hormones running riot.  At home I’d burst into tears over the over dishes not being done and all sorts of ridiculous stuff during this strange period. When I blubbered at work, I felt like I’d let all women down, because I’d never been a particularly moody or prone to emotional outbursts and really didn’t have a lot of tolerance for women crying in the workplace over minor issues, because it seemed to be such a ‘typical’ woman thing to do.

      I have also witnessed colleagues crying, somewhat understandabley, when they’ve lost a patient they were fond of , but probably the most disdain I’ve held for crying have been those couple perennial bullies at work, who had no problem picking on vulnerable patients or softer colleagues, but as soon as it came back to bite them on the bum, on goes the water works.
      It worked as well,because the Manager would instantly lose her resolve and ‘gently’ try and resolve the situation, which didn’t stop the bullying one iota.
      Yes,  these types are the real working woman’s worst enemy, one of our own who demand equality in the workplace and then use a feminine ploy such as shedding a tear to manipulate a situation. The same type who ran to the office to make an official complaint about a cleaner’s ‘sexist’ joke, then go on to bully multiple colleagues into resignation. Now that’s having your cake and eating it too!

    • Susan says:

      02:44pm | 08/07/12

      It might be a bit pre-school in your view but sometimes you are pushed and pushed and pushed and without any conscious thought, you realise you are crying and you actually can’t stop it.  I’ve cried in front of a boss, and I’ve tried not to and wound up half choking.  The article talks about it like it’s a choice and most of the time I think it just happens.  You can recognise you’re on the brink and try and deflect but you can’t always walk away and breathe.  I’ve cried when I’ve been bullied, over time, and the relentlessness of it has just undone me.  I think the tears are a response to feeling powerless and attacked.  And strangely enough, it’s often been quite a minor straw that has worked that ultimate undoing of emotions.  And sure, some will simply say “time of month” but then you tell them you’ve had a hysterectomy.  That tends to stop that flow (in more ways than one).

      I also burst into tears in a shop once.  Never done it before and not since…but it was over a silly thing really.  I had moved into a place and the roof was badly leaking. I’d also just had an operation and the thought of needing to move again immediately was agony.  In the process of trying to deal with the major rental issue and the landlord’s poor behaviour, the place was hit by lightning…twice.  Twice it blew out the phone.  Clearly the place wasn’t properly earthed either or something.  Then my relatively new TV went on the blink and I went to the store and asked about a service. I was told I had to bring it in BUT they could only return it to the manufacturer if I had the original packaging box.  Without it, they claimed, they could not help me.  I stood there stunned and said…but…when I bought the TV, nothing was said about needing to keep the original packaging….. and on the discussion went. 

      I am no slouch when it comes to dealing with my consumer rights, but on that particular day, with multiple issues mounting up, I just burst into tears because I didn’t have the energy to deal with a ridiculous salesperson and their prohibitive behaviour.

      Once I cried he kept saying “This can’t have upset you…other things must be going on in your life”.

      I just had to turn my back on him…but he stopped demanding that I required the original packaging.

      But it’s not just a female behaviour.  I have had men cry in front of me.  Once when a man was also pushed and pushed beyond what he could deal with at the time, and another when I picked up someone from work as a favour and he got in the car, began to chat, and just burst into tears.  Issues were mounting up for him too.

    • scumbag says:

      03:53pm | 08/07/12

      Angela, you must be a highly sensitive,  feminine, sexy, attractive lady, and the object of studious understanding of the feminine psyche, by women and the men, not of the killer ‘sports without borders’ variety, and of other activities like hang gliding without an iPad, personal survival contests without a camera crew, and other genuine bravery award presentations like the world’s longest face suck. There are possibly a proportion of ac/dc individuals who do already; understand that is. I am unfortunately, not one of the above.That’s not to say I’m unsympathetic. I am.

      I have cried. Yes I have. I remember, it was when Bob Menzies declared that as Britain was at war with Germany, and as a consequence, we (Australia), was also at war. But since, I have understood that the fight for freedom was not just for myself, it was for the freedom of the world, the right to express freedom of opinion, just as you have done, misunderstood by some, understood by others. May I also mention in passing, The Maroons won the State of Origin series for 2012. Thankyou Angela.

    • gordie says:

      05:12pm | 08/07/12

      Is all this crying at work bullshit all Sarah Hansons Young fault?

    • Rose says:

      11:58pm | 08/07/12

      Crying at work can’t really be simplified to good/bad, there are degrees of appropriateness. Some one who turns the waterworks on at the very sniff of pressure or trouble is quite different to the person who is normally composed but who has a bit of a cry when something terrible happens. Not everyone can leave their private lives at the door, and occasionally people have personal problems that are quite consuming and no, it’s not always possible to take time off when you’re going through a bad patch. That again is different from the girl who has a cry every time her partner upsets her or argues with her (which for some people is a lot). There’s also the type of crying, the loud, tearjerker, every one has to notice cry, or the quiet sob. The half hour howler and the brief couple of minutes it takes for some one to compose themselves. As for blokes crying at work, that’s tricky. Logically we know that it shouldn’t be any different but few of us are comfortable when a man cries, we are so conditioned that they shouldn’t. However, I think I’d rather a man have a bit of a (controlled) cry than have him be a bear with a sore head, having temper tantrums or using abusive language. In fact, maybe crying at work for everyone would be preferable to some of the bad tempered, bitchy, snide and abusive tactics some people use when things don’t go their way.

    • M says:

      08:43am | 09/07/12

      “But isn’t crying – except when you’ve heard bad news or stapled your own thumb – a bit preschool? “

      Very much so in my opinion.

    • Jay says:

      10:31am | 09/07/12

      No, stapling your own thumb (is it wrong I laughed?)  probably is a reasonable excuse to wince and tear up a bit.
      Two girls in the sewing class having a grand old fight.
      Girl One, puts her hand down to stop the other sewing to force the continuation in the exchange of cursing.
      Girl 2 promptly sews over the top of Girl One’s fingers until the needle jammed.
      Yes, there were tears (screaming and the f-bomb..) on that day, oh, plus x2 two week suspensions.

    • Work place crying make me sick says:

      11:39am | 09/07/12

      I’ve had tears of laughter at work but never tears of sadness, work just doesn’t mean that much to me. Work to live not live to work and all that.

      Besides having grown up in a house where my sister would cry to get her own way (even into her 20’s) and a very manipulative Ex-girlfriend who was cheating on me cry every time I raised my suspision to divert me away from discovering the truth. I am actually disgusted by adults who cry for what I deem to be the wrong reason.

      I have had to have that “talk” with people at work and had them start to cry.  Only to tell them “If your crying over this then your in the wrong industry or think I am as pathetic and gullible as X (the previous person in my position) so either drop the act or its time to reconsider your postion here”  the tears were gone instantly and he (yes he) realised the BS was over, stepped up and went on to replace me when I moved on.

    • kitty says:

      04:39pm | 11/07/12

      I HATE crying, Absolutely HATE it… yet my Tear-jerk reaction flares up at the drop of a hat when it comes to any kind of self appraisal (good or bad). It is so embarrassing to be talking to someone about something that is very important to me and quite serious only to feel the tears starting to well up.
      Luckily I have only lost it a few times in my working career, and generally I get away with just red eyes or a single tear.

    • Kate says:

      12:50pm | 09/07/12

      I have cried at work twice - once when I got fired (sorry, made redundant) and instead of just telling me and letting me go, they kept me in that office for about 20 minutes until I couldn’t hold it in anymore.

      The second time was when I can back from maternity leave.  The plan was to return part time and stay part time, but my husband lost his job and I had to go full time.  I cried when I told my boss I would like to go up to full time - thankfully she was brilliant about.

      But just having a general blub at your desk - ummm no.  I don’t think so.

    • Stone age liberal says:

      04:31pm | 09/07/12

      depends a lot on your job I think, My mother worked pallitive care nursing for many years and when young patients would pass away she would quite often burst into tears. This is perfectly acceptable IMHO. and if you are the sort of person who would not shed a tear at the passing of a young life because it is at work I think you need to look at your priorities.

    • colroe says:

      05:07pm | 09/07/12

      I believe it is now trendy to shed a few tears.  What with pollies and their faked emotional tears, (that dreadful Hanson girl, and of all people big tough Joe Hockey!!!!)  Made me cringe.  I can understand true emotion, and have shed a few tears myself when loved ones have died, but the trend now to dissolve into a blubbering nitwit at the drop of a hat is common.  Stop Press!!! Tim Henman!!!

 

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