No Woman, No Cry (on the Job): Why Not, Bob?


Holding back tears, anger, sadness, and fear takes a physical and mental toll; in fact, the American Institute of stress estimates that "annual costs to employers in stress related healthcare and missed work [amounts to] $300 billion" annually. Although the value of the 'corporate robot' has greatly diminished for companies trying to be 'more human,' the notion that it's ok to show emotion in the workplace is still tricky business for women, for the 'emotional sex.' Yet, if we've learned anything from the political landscape of the last two years (and we won't be veering far down that rabbit hole), it's that men in leadership roles can parade their emotions in the office, on social media, in public--so what about women? Can we finally shed a few tears at our desk without shame? Can we really engage our emotions at work?

On Emotions in the Workplace

In an academic sense, we professionals understand that both men and women are emotional creatures. Yet, somewhere along the line, it became a mark of strength to hide those emotions, possibly even to pretend that negative emotions like fear and sadness didn't even exist. Today, however, many companies are attempting to create more emotionally intelligent workplaces. In these cases, the office is committed to providing empathy in order to understand someone else's perspective even when it differs from their own. That isn't to say that an emotional tirade is welcome, but in the emotionally intelligent workplace, showing emotion isn't necessarily frowned upon. When the culture of the business allows managers and employees to engage emotion rather than ignore or condemn it, improvements to morale happen; resolution conflict happens; and improved collaboration happens too.

Building a Culture of Trust

To show emotion at work is to take a leap of faith—and that takes trust. The simple truth for many women is that if they don't take their tears to the last stall in the restroom, they'll be viewed as weak or unstable—and that means they could make poor leaders. This has and will likely continue to be a challenge for women as emotional intelligence is still a relatively new term for many companies and—let's be honest—there are many who have never heard of it. Employees must be able to trust that their displays of emotion—perfectly healthy displays of emotion—will not be held against them; otherwise, the notion of the pent-up, emotionally repressed employee hidden within their cubicle will persist.

So, how do employers build that culture of trust? First, they can address it. They can discuss their goal to make improvements in their culture's emotional intelligence in order to improve their employees' sense of well-being, their need to communicate, and their need to be listened to and addressed. Training, workshops, lectures—these elements can help lay the groundwork for demonstrating that it's ok to show and engage with emotions in the workplace. These workshops also provide employees with resources and help for managing negative emotions, providing them with a roadmap to safely deal with them through expression and discussion.

According to a recent survey, 45% of office workers have admitted to crying; yet, about a third of CEOs and CFOs responded that they believe it's never ok to cry on the job. Maybe they didn't get the memo about emotional intelligence and its ability to fuel business success and high employee morale. So, unless you happen to work at one of those progressive companies where emotions are welcome, you may need to continue to heed Mr. Marley's advice and "don't shed no tears." Or, you can take that first step: talk to your boss about what you've learned about emotionally intelligent workplaces—how they help employees deal with stress and how they improve employees personal and professional lives.