Monday, January 29, 2018

What Crying at Work Can Do to Your Career

When I appeared on the Today show many years ago, one of the female newscasters and I were chatting before my interview. At the time, she told me that she had recently had a disagreement with a high-powered female business executive over whether it hurt a woman's career to cry at work.

"I've cried many times (at work) to get what I want," the newscaster told me. "It always works. I just go into my boss's office and start crying."

I didn't say anything.  To be honest, I was shocked and annoyed.

I'll admit there have been a few times early in my career when I cried at work. Usually it was because I was frustrated with my performance or felt I was being unfairly treated. I remember  breaking into tears while talking to a male boss one time, and he offered me some advice. "You are burning the candle at both ends," he told me. "You cannot keep up this pace in your career without burning out. You've got to have more of a personal life and stop spending all your time at work."

Those were very wise words, and I appreciated them. Once I learned to have more balance, I was able to keep my emotions under better control and was able to deal with frustrating situations in a more professional manner.

A new study by Prof. Kimberly Elsbach of the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis, finds that there are four stressful situations that can cause women to cry at work: personal issues, response to feedback, daily work stress or heated office meetings.

Elsbach, who did the research with Beth Bechky of the Stern School of Business at New York University, says that some crying is OK.  But it can get tricky when women don't behave as others believe they should, or stick to a "script" of how others see them. If they don't, then they are seen as emotional, weak, unprofessional or even manipulative. And those are the kinds of attributes that tank careers, she says.

As children, boys are socialized not to cry and so don't have to even think about it as adults. But for girls, they are socialized to cry and so find that crying at work later in life isn't something they can control, she says.

On the other hand, men in power often yell when under stress -- something that can even give them stature. However, such behavior is not seen as OK for women. Such differences between accepted behavior for men and women will take "generations and generations" to change, she says.

In the meantime, I'd advise any woman to think about the triggers listed above, and work to overcome them. Enlisting an ally to diffuse tense office meetings, being better at having discussions about performance and finding ways to have a more balanced life can give women more control over their tears. And, hopefully, never use them to manipulate anyone in the workplace.

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