Crying At Work: How Do I Save Face?

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QUESTION: After a particularly stressful couple of weeks at work, I burst out crying in a small team meeting. It was a culmination of work, personal things, and not sleeping enough. But now I'm so embarrassed. I don't think people should cry at work and I think it undermines us as women. How do I save face?


I'll start with this: Lots of people cry at work -- I've seen it. Those who identify as women, men, or human. We are all humans, and while the majority of our time is spent at work, the most important moments of our lives are spent outside of the workplace. To think that we can shut off a part of our selves by walking through our workplace doors, separating our personal and professional lives, is crazy!

Jennifer Palmieri, former Director of Communications for both the White House during Obama’s term and for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, summed this up really well:

“I think that is what this time is for women now,” she said. “We get to decide what we think is professional in the workplace, what works for us, and what makes an environment a place where we can succeed. Do not mute your passions and do not mute your emotions. If you are moved to cry because you are angry and frustrated or because something is that important to you — do it.”

But, back to your situation.

It seems as though by not taking care of yourself, not supporting yourself personally, you've done something out of character for you professionally.

Use this as a wake-up call for yourself and turn it into a learning lesson, for you and your team. Challenge your peers to start thinking about how everyday life stresses can affect work. At your next team meeting, say something like:

"Hey everyone, I wanted to talk about last week and how I broke down. Between work, family, and a few others things, I've been feeling really stressed lately and not taking care of my mental health in a way that I should be.

That moment last week pushed me to pause and look deeper at some of the stressors in my life, and I've made it a point to slow down, meditate, etc. I wanted to bring it up because I know all of you have things going on outside of work too and it can be so easy to want to push it down and try to bury it under work. But it doesn't mean we're not affected. I want to remind each of you, and myself, of how important is to take care of ourselves, personally and professionally."

Not only does this become a learning lesson for others, but you're also seen as a leader and a human being, and people can relate to you on a more personal level. This acknowledgment of your "break-down" turns judgment into empathy.

The next time things are getting tough, I encourage you to talk to your team or your manager early on and let them know you're going through something, and you may not be 110% over the next few weeks. If you've got a good team, they'll absolutely appreciate the heads up, and they'll be there to support you.

Then take time for yourself. Take care of yourself personally so you can show up the way you want to professionally.

Return to the weekly column.

Jessica Eggert