The University of Utah now has a crying closet for stressed students. Workers tell Moneyish why they still keep their tears secret.
To tear is human.
Almost half of workers (45%) admitted to crying at work in a recent survey by staffing firm Accountemps. What’s more, about the same proportion of CFOs (44%) said that crying on the job is “acceptable” — as long as it’s not an everyday occurrence.
Finding a safe space to let off steam is a struggle, however, which is why a visual arts student at the University of Utah recently installed “A Safe Place for Stressed Out Students, Otherwise Known as The Cry Closet” in the main campus library. Overwhelmed undergrads are encouraged to duck inside and decompress for 10-minute intervals.
“The inspiration came from my own experience of stress and anxiety,” artist Nemo Miller told the university blog. “I wanted to create and provide a space where students like me could decompress. The stress of finals is real for many students, and we’ve even seen from the overwhelming response to this piece that people in the work world want and need places to safely emote, as well. The need is universal – because it’s human.”
so my school installed a cry closet in the library LMFAOOOOOOOOO what is higher education pic.twitter.com/6rGcJv9qjr
— jacks (@aJackieLarsen) April 24, 2018
Anne Kreamer, author of “It’s Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace,” told Moneyish this closet isn’t such an unusual idea. “The New York Times had a room they called ‘the crying room,’ and I was just at the Slate offices, and they have little pods you can go in,” she said. “It’s now not an uncommon part in open office environments for there to be rooms that are not necessarily called ‘crying rooms,’ but they become that de facto place for people to go and save face if they are worried about their behavior somehow affecting their personal lives.”
And workers say venting boosts productivity. LaToya Little, a New Jersey account administrator, told Moneyish that the occasional workday catharsis puts her right back on track. “It works for me, letting a cry out privately at work, versus snapping and cursing out my supervisor,” said Little, 32, who counts on the occasional weep and a prayer while in her car or the office bathroom. “We all have personal stress, no matter what our occupations or job titles. Take a few deep breaths, put lotion on your face, fix your makeup, wipe your tears and get back to it!”
Andrew Thornton, co-founder and creative director of Pennsylvania’s Allegory Gallery, which encourages employee expression, equates a quick cry to removing a pebble from your shoe. “You can walk around with the pebble digging into your foot, and even though it’s a tiny thing, it jumps to the forefront of your mind,” he said. “If you take a minute to shake your shoe out, the pebble is gone and your full focus is returned, and you’ll be better at whatever you’re doing.”
But Little also doesn’t broadcast her occasional breakdowns, because “no one supports it” at her small company. And she’s wise to be wary, despite high-profile execs like Sheryl Sandberg saying it’s OK to cry sometimes. While the Facebook COO and “Lean In” author told India’s Mint business daily, “I cry at work. I think we are, all of us, emotional beings and it’s okay for us to share that emotion at work,” there’s still stigma attached to tears — especially for women.
Kimberly Elsbach, a professor at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management who has studied crying at work at length, has found female employees are more likely to be penalized for getting emotional than males are; they are seen as “weak, unprofessional and/or manipulative.”
And that’s a view shared by media maven Kelly Cutrone, CEO of the People’s Revolution fashion PR firm and author of “If You Have to Cry, Go Outside.”
“It’s not professional. Remove yourself and go outside,” she told Moneyish. She suggests taking a yoga class or going for a walk to decompress, instead of welling up in the workplace.
“Everyone is stressed. Everyone is suffering; it doesn’t matter. When you go to work, you are providing a service. Someone is giving you money,” she said. “So if somebody is going to have a nervous breakdown in the middle of the day … this is probably not the place for them to be.”
But women cry more than four times more often than men do — and it’s often out of our control, Kreamer says. “Women do not really cry at work because they’re sad; they cry because they’re angry and they’re frustrated,” explained Kreamer. (Not surprising considering the pay gap and unconscious gender bias that often handicaps our career advancement.) “And women produce six times the amount of prolactin (the tear-making hormone) than men do, so we’re naturally wired to cry more. And our tear ducts are smaller than men’s, so tears will stream down our faces more readily. So we look like we’re more emotionally out-of-control, when we’re not.”
The problem is, we’re still hard-wired for “fight or flight” even though our threats have largely evolved from being a huge predator to a huge deadline coming toward us. “Whether it’s the mansplaining colleague at a meeting, or you’re overwhelmed with too much work, you get angry about it … and your body reads this stress as a physical threat to the body,” she said. And so the body produces the hormone that makes you cry.
Yet women often kick themselves for crying, especially at work. “In spite of the cathartic physiological benefits, women who cry at work feel rotten afterward, as if they’ve failed a feminism test,” Kreamer has written. “[Women] feel worse after crying at work, while men feel better.”
We need to cut ourselves some slack. “There is no ‘tissue ceiling’ — I found people at all levels of management report that they have cried on the job, and it didn’t affect their ability to advance; in fact, people who showed more compassion and empathy were viewed as better leaders and bosses,” she told Moneyish. “So I think, sure, having a separate room to go and pull yourself together if you’re feeling super angry or upset is a perfectly fine thing — but getting at the underlying issues, and teaching people how to manage their emotions, is much more important.”
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