When Employees Cry: Emotions in The Workplace

Emotions in the Office: What do you do when employees cry?

Almost everyone knows the feeling: your throat burns, you jaw begins to shake and your eyes water up. Sometimes, you just can’t help bursting into a flood of tears. The situation is compounded if it happens at the office – in front of your boss and work colleagues. It’s not only an embarrassing situation for the employee concerned but also for superiors, whose job it now is to deal with the situation professionally. But many senior managers must first learn how to deal with emotional employees.

If the reason for the tears are of a personal nature – for example, the loss of a relative or a split from a partner – the best reaction is usually to give the individual some room, delegate work to others or allow some free time. Anyone crying due to their personal circumstances is usually met with a wave of understanding in their professional life. It is more difficult if the reason for the emotional outburst lies within the office itself. Here, the management skills of superiors are put to the test.

when employees cry


Tears are seen as unprofessional

Tears do not belong in the office, but crying is part of being human. Statistically, women cry more often in daily life than men – mainly due to differing emotional roots. Surveys show that in women, catalysts can be conflict or because they do not feel they have grown into a role. Men on the other hand tend to cry out of sympathy or due to difficult personal situations.

The individual’s first reaction is usually to retreat to avoid colleagues and superiors witnessing an emotional outburst. This is not without reason, as crying is usually interpreted as a weakness and a lack of professionalism. Regardless of the genders of the members of your team, those not in control of their emotions will generally –albeit in most circumstances unfairly – be less trusted in their position and are less likely to be given responsibility.


Protect individuals from prying eyes

When employees cry, it is in the best interests of the emotional employee for their tears to have as few witnesses as possible. Managers can help by interrupting a conversation during a meeting and continuing it privately later, for example.

Even when the floodgates open during a one-to-one meeting between manager and employee, remember: discretion is the better part of valour. The tears should not be mentioned to other employees – not even to try to encourage some understanding.

A short break following the meeting allows the individual to return to their colleagues after tell-tale signs such as puffy or red eyes have disappeared. If further discussion is needed due to a conflict with another employee, the discussion should not take place on the same day. It is better to give the employee concerned time to calm down and get their thoughts in order. The meeting to clear the air can then be conducted in a tear-free, objective manner. Further suggestions on how such mediation should be handled can be found in our blog.


Senior managers: stay neutral!

Even when employees’ emotions are running high, a senior manager should always try to remain neutral in the meeting and discuss problems objectively. At the same time, you must show support for the employee and prove that you respect their authenticity.

However, exaggerated sympathy is just as uncalled for as a dismissive reaction to tears. Men are particularly grateful when their “mixed-up” emotions are not made the centre of attention.

At the same time, an objective reaction avoids the situation where employees consciously use tears to get their own way. A senior manager or executive who constantly gives in to the tears of the same employee not only loses credibility but also sets colleagues against the employee due to his unfavourable leadership style. The consequences: more tension and further tears.

'When Employees Cry: Emotions in The Workplace' have 3 comments

  1. February 26, 2016 @ 12:27 pm Marvecs

    This article is written with the same sensibility which is, like you say, needed to handle the issue.
    I am not surprised to hear that
    – men are supposed to cry less than women
    – office people don’t like to see other office people cry or think “oh what a cry-baby”
    – it really HAPPENS that office people can’t handle their situation no more and because of that burst into tears.
    We live in a world where everything is about pressure, dead lines and career. Everything has to be done as fast as possible, but as PERFECT as possible at the same time. Althought who ever had some business basics at school, knows the following basic fact: There actually is no “Minimum Maximum Principle” … but today, everyone just wants exact this principle: We want to buy goods which are as cheap as possible – but also as worthy, delicious, healthy as possible. We want to do our work in the best way possible, but of course we don’t want to admit that we’ve needed to spend some extra time on it. So we do work in the evenings, or even in the breaks … and don’t realize how we destroy ourselves because of that.

    Ist something, we Germans call a “Teufelskreis”. 😉


    • Margaret Quigley

      February 26, 2016 @ 2:06 pm Margaret Quigley

      It’s no secret that work/life balance is an increasingly important topic – not only in countries like Germany, where vacation days and wellness are already considered a top priority. But the pursuit of this “Minimum Maximum” principle can lead to more stress and working overtime, a bad habit for many Americans. It’s true that these factors are a leading cause for emotional burnout in the workplace, as you mentioned. This is where expectation setting is key – knowing how to prioritize, and having a manager who recognizes their employees’ capacity can save many employees from unnecessary turmoil.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


  2. May 19, 2017 @ 6:23 am Boff Scampman

    I find, and I manage many people with many issues, that the best thing is nothing. Act like it is a normal human emotion and it happens, because it is. Don’t pander, but don’t agitate. Sally forward with whatever the task, ask if they are okay, but keep on mission. They may cry all they wish, they are grown human beings for god’s sake. There is nothing weak about it. Some people are lactose intolerant, some people cry when their cortisol is up, some don’t, its physiological.


Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.