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Crying at work

I cry at work. Not everyday, but I have definitely cried in front of colleagues. What follows is not confession, nor self-congratulation, more just a recognition that I’ve started to embrace the tearful side of my own workplace.

What got me thinking was a quote Max stuck on Chatter (our internal comms platform):

organizations are, fundamentally, mysteries and miracles of human relatedness; they are living systems, alive and embedded in ever widening webs of infinite strength and limitless human imagination. In short organizations are universes or centers of connected strengths
I’m not entirely sure on the context and purpose of the quote, but something relating to emotions stood out for me, particularly “miracles of human relatedness”. Made me think of my own relationship with work, and my increasing ability to feel quite raw emotion within work situations; again, without wanting to turn this blog post into a confessional, I won’t dwell on the specifics, but recently in discussions with colleagues I’ve noticed my eyes glazing and either intense feelings of happiness, sadness or despair. I’m not sure if this is a product of the environment (we’re encouraged to talk about our feelings a fair bit at NM), or my own emotional state, but either way I kind of love being able to really feel what I’m feeling in a work context. 


DISCLAIMER: I’m fully aware of how wanky this is all sounding. 


Aside from being able to be honest and let people know what’s on my mind, being emotional means that I can be more aware of the emotions of people I work with outside of NM. While technically a geek interested in networks and data, 100% of my work is dealing with the very human impacts that technology has within and around large organisations. And this is where I come back to Max’s quote above – regardless of size or industry, all of my clients are people with feelings, working within living systems.


So what? 


Well I’m hoping the idea of admitting I cry at work is still a fairly odd one. Many of my friends have ‘normal’ jobs in ‘normal’ organisations, and whenever I talk about the more emotional side of my own workplace, they are fascinated and mocking in equal measure. It’s weird I guess. And worrying. People don’t cry unless they’re hugely upset (or hugely drunk), and so what place does it have in work?


It’s this question that intrigues me, for we’re all super happy moaning about our jobs, and perhaps some of you reading this have cried behind closed doors or in the toilet, dreading a particular meeting or simply feeling intense stress over a deadline or target – but how many would feel comfortable expressing raw emotion in a meeting with senior colleagues, or dealing with a client who was distraught? Obviously workplace stress is no new subject, and I’m definitely no expert, but as someone working at the point where technology and organisational culture meet, I think it’s important we acknowledge the emotions that change can bring. 


Twitter, data, mobile etc are all wonderful, and I’m definitely one of those people excited to be alive at a time when technology is doing amazing things to the way we live, but I’m also aware of how unsettling it can be for some. For every social meedja case study lauded by wallies like me, there’s a swathe of people worried about job security and their ability to cope with this connected new world. For every social network to rise and fall, there’s a human skill-set made redundant. I hope that by talking about this darkside, and the feelings it can illicit, that we can all be more adult and open about the fears we all have about this amazing and bewildering technological march. And if crying at work means we alleviate a little bit of stress, and form closer bonds with colleagues, then tears can only be a good thing.


There is no real point or conclusion to this post, other than to out the topic and perhaps encourage some conversation.


This post was filed under Working culture Comments are currently closed.


  1. Thanks Ross – this is a thoughtful post. I’m certainly no stranger to crying at work and rather confusingly for those around me I cry when I’m angry as well as I’m upset. What’s really interesting though is what happen to those emotions when we don’t express them. They don’t just go away. They come out in other behaviours – when we close down colleagues’ ideas or overreact to what’s said or silently ignore what we’ve been asked to do or snipe and undermine behind peoples’ backs. We don’t stop being human just because we’re at work – we just hide and become harder to read.

    Posted 18th October 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink
  2. Wow Ross – this is fabulous. Business has always shied away from emotion, and in that, has cut out most of what it means to human. Your post goes a long way to helping others understand not only the importance of acknowledging such feelings, but also the benefits accrued when organisations make people feel comfortable enough to experience them!

    Posted 18th October 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink
  3. Paul Hutchings

    I’ve cried plenty at work but don’t think I’ve ever cried about work. It’s been phone calls about separation (in a world of pain) or a particularly poignant video or story I’ve found on the net (just being soppy).

    Whatever the reason, I don’t mind the crying, but I don’t like how my face looks when I cry, all crumpled up and wet. So I need to trust who I cry in front of – not sure that many of us have that luxury in an open plan environment,

    Posted 18th October 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink
  4. To cry in public, at work? Is this a question of gender or culture? When I was younger I fell out of a tree and grid. I was so ashamed by my response that I swore never to cry again. At my fathers funeral, surrounded by the tears of my family, I stood stoic, a statue, a rock for others to lean on.

    My crying was for a more private time.

    Is this healthy? After all, we laugh with others – if you sit in a dark room laughing to yourself, well… – we show exasperation, anger, joy – the full gamut of emotions – but something in me would find my tears an embarrassment to far to share with colleagues, friends – even family.

    Posted 18th October 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink
  5. Marvin

    Ross – faciniating topic, very refreshing.

    Jenni – you’re so right about us not stopping being human the minute we walk through the office door. If we could move away from this and towards the opposite what an impact this could have.

    I personally feel that any work we do around the expression of emotion can be transformational, but frightening for most and understandably so.

    I think this is where the real power can be found (and even more so for men), feeling safe to express ourselves regardless of where we are or who we’re with. This is also sometimes just being honest about how we really feel, perfectly demonstrated several times above by the blogger, and you guys leaving comments.

    Bravo : )

    Posted 18th October 2012 at 9:17 pm | Permalink
  6. An old Chinese proverb:
    He who cries at work needs to find a new job.

    Posted 18th October 2012 at 10:43 pm | Permalink
  7. Feeling love for you Ross, and if you ever need a shoulder… Tweet me ;)

    Seriously though, the world will only be a better place when you can truly say these things without having to feel the need to apologise for the wankyness.

    Posted 19th October 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
  8. Lovely post Ross

    You say “I think it’s important we acknowledge the emotions that change can bring.”

    I agree and I also think “it’s important we acknowledge the change that emotions can bring.”

    At times in my life, I have not always thought well of my emotions. But these days I try to remember that emotions are signals – perhaps more than anything they tell us what is happening in a social situation.

    They tell us things about our relationships, the people we are with, and the patterns we are in.

    In other words, emotions are valuable clues to what needs to change in us and around us.

    If we repress them we risk hurting ourselves and others. And we miss the information that could help us develop and more forward.


    Posted 13th November 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  9. Deborah Milstein

    Love this: “For every social network to rise and fall, there’s a human skill-set made redundant. I hope that by talking about this darkside, and the feelings it can illicit, that we can all be more adult and open about the fears we all have about this amazing and bewildering technological march.”

    Thanks for being “wanky”–that is, emotional and human. I especially appreciate men bringing up this important, oft-avoided topic, as women are usually considered the “overly emotional” culprits.

    Well done, sir!

    Posted 16th November 2012 at 9:09 pm | Permalink
  10. Lovely, thoughtful, reflective post. The thought i would add to those above from others, is that even if you choose NOT to cry/express emotion, the feelings are still there. They will be influencing your behaviour, and in turn the pattern of conversation around you. in other words, it is simply a question of how and when emotion reveals itself, not if.


    Posted 23rd November 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

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