Have you ever failed to hold back the tears at work and then felt ashamed of yourself? Read this and you may feel differently.
There’s nothing more shameful than letting the tears fall at work.
I’m not talking about crying for personal reasons — if a family member dies or you receive some horrific health news then, by all means, let it out. I’ll even hand you a tissue. I’m talking about crying over work issues, when you have a disagreement with a colleague, make a mistake or when the frustration and stress take hold of you so strongly you have no choice but to collapse in a crying heap to keep yourself from Hulking out in an angry rage.
What’s horrifically inconvenient for me is that while I detest crying in the workplace, I also can’t help it at times. I’m a slave to tears of anger and frustration and during my career the salty little bastards have reared their heads more than I’m proud to admit. Even worse still is that once I’ve succumbed to tears I find it impossible to hide the evidence. My face and neck turn the color of overripe beetroots, my eyes fill up faster than the Titanic post-iceberg and my nose gets so red I fear it will be mistaken for a traffic light. And that Rudolph thought he had problems. Amateur.
Then there’s always the question of where to hide once said tears start falling. A friend recently told me she hides down beside her car in the gutter when she needs to let the tears free at work, hidden from prying eyes. Another friend volunteers to refill office supplies so she can cry in the privacy of the storeroom. I guarantee that you could pick out any woman in your workplace and they would have a crying story to tell and a place they like to hide. They might not share it with you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have one.
So if I’m doing it, and everybody around me is doing it, why do I think crying in the office is so shameful?
I’ve always thought the reason was because of the way I’ve heard some women around me speak since I entered the workforce. Just so you know, a puppy is subjected to the gender pay gap every time a woman instructs another woman to ‘turn on the tears’ or ‘just cry and he’ll back down’. It makes my blood run cold. It gives all women in the workforce a bad name and I saw my own tears as adding fuel to the sexism fire, when I only sought to put it out.
However, it was only a few days ago that I really came to understand my hatred of workplace tears and it came from the most unlikely of people.
Julia Gillard and I have never had much in common. She was the first female Prime Minister of Australian, I write stories about awkward celebrity encounters or tales of nearly dying in the wilderness. She crotchets and knits in her free time for fun. I have yet to figure out how to sew on a button. Yet, when she visited Brisbane last week she put into words a feeling I now believe many woman hold inside when they feel that familiar sting start behind their eyes.
When asked why she’d been so averse to crying in public, even after male Prime Ministers had been known to shed a tear while leaving the top job, Ms Gillard had this to say.
“I was very conscious, as the first woman doing the job, that if I was seen to be cracking under the pressure it wouldn’t have been perceived as ‘Julia Gillard can’t take it’. It would have been perceived as ‘women can’t take it’ and I wasn’t going to let the team down.”
Letting the team down.
It’s what so many of us fear and at the end of the day that’s what we find so shameful about our tears. It’s not just about us, it’s just another drop in the raging ocean that is inequality between the sexes.
However, this is not to say that our male counterparts have it any easier than us, and unfortunately there’s enough room on the old shame train for everyone. While women have long been reassured that they can ‘turn on the tears’ at work to get what they want, men have been brought up to believe the opposite. Sure, the tears card can turn into a get out of jail free card when we need it but there is the little catch of having to give up your dignity to use it.
Cry and let the team down, cry and never be taken seriously again, cry and be just another woman who can’t take the heat and shouldn’t have the top job.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way out of this problem for either sex but I will say this. Ladies, if you need to cry at work because you’re sad, angry, tired, frustrated or any other emotion that causes you to well up, you’re not letting the team down. What lets us all down is the archaic notion that women cry to get want they want, or the idea that you can’t get on with the job and do it well even when your mascara’s running.
It’s time to step off the shame train, guys and girls, because it’s your career and you can cry if you want to.
Have you ever cried in the workplace? How do you handle it?