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Tears For Careers: Is Crying at Work Acceptable Now?

Career Advice |

There are certain things that are never supposed to be seen in the workplace: Cutoff jean shorts, for example, or your pajamas, hooker heels, or having a full-on sobfest. But believe it or not, the last one, in today’s modern workplace, is becoming less taboo.

In fact, crying (ONCE IN A WHILE) may actually be looked upon as an effective tool rather than a form of career suicide.

In the clip below we see Carrie Mathison from Homeland (played by Claire Danes, one of the best criers of all time) being completely honest with her boss and having a complete breakdown. Ten years ago, crying at work was a sure way to be labeled as unstable (which doesn’t work well with this clip, since Carrie is actually revealed to be mentally unstable, but you get the point).

But today, with workplaces valuing emotional intelligence more and more, someone who cries at work can now be seen as a person who is very passionate. And with power players like Sheryl Sandberg and Tina Fey telling us that crying at work is acceptable, we may be changing our views on tears in the workplace.

A new study by CareerBuilder, which surveyed 2,662 private sector U.S. hiring managers, even found that emotional intelligence is starting to be seen as more of an asset, as opposed to a hindrance, in the work environment.

In her new book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Sandberg talks about crying at work and how it actually helped promote a better environment. In fact, being honest with Mark Zuckerberg and letting a few tears come out helped facilitate a “breakthrough” between them. She writes:

“Sharing emotions builds deeper relationships. Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from working with people we care about.

“Emotion drives both men and women and influences every decision we make. Recognizing the role emotions play and being willing to discuss them makes us better managers, partners, and peers.”

Tina Fey, another amazing lady, recently said in an interview that “a lot of times people say to you, ‘don’t cry in the workplace,’ but I find that if it’s genuine, if something is so frustrating that it makes you cry, it actually often scares the sh*t out of people.”

We are not condoning crying in job interviews or every day at work, but if you are passionate about a project or are frustrated because work is not getting done and you are naturally moved to tears (don’t force it!), then know that crying at work will not kill your career.

Have you ever cried at work? Do you think it hurt or helped your career?

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tina fey sheryl sandberg


Sorry, I'm going to go ahead and disagree. I work in an industry that is pretty male dominated (Middle East/national security) and I've had a reasonably difficult time breaking into the office culture. I think having a breakdown at work would derail that, substantially. When you work with mostly men, there is a different culture that can exist in the office- talking about sports, making jokes of questionable appropriateness, etc. I want my coworkers to trust me, and feel like I'm really part of the team. You need to build trust among your coworkers to access certain business intelligence (who is leaving, who is about to be promoted, which high-profile projects are in need of more assistance) and if I cried, it would really risk the rapport I've built and cause my (again, mostly male) coworkers to look at me like a silly girl. Maybe its different when you work with more women, but I don't.


I definitely understand your point. Annika also makes a good point as well. Tina Fey and Sheryl Sandberg are definitely in more creative industries where crying may be more acceptable.


I agree with Kaitlin that it's still an iffy subject. I've broken the "don't cry" rule at work a few times over frustration, disappointment, and being moved by a speech at my going away party.

Results have been a mixed bag based on the audience. Tina Fey is in the creative world, and Zuckerberg is a creative disruptor aware that he's flawed. If you have a stoic, task oriented all business audience - they'll freak out if you cry and heaven only knows how to restore your reputation then.


Another great article Meredith! I agree that if you're passionate about a project and are getting frustrated about tasks not getting done, then it's okay to be human and cry!


I have definitely cried at work, it's ok. But, don't apologize for it. That is counter productive. Feel what you feel. It exudes passion, just don't do it all the time.


That's a good point. Apologizing for your emotions takes away from the reality of them. I have definitely cried at work, but I think it showed passion and frustration,.


In full disclosure, I cried at work once and it led me to a breakthrough with a colleague I had a hard time working with. I was so frustrated with an impossible task at hand that I excused myself to another room (to cry). When I returned to the room (and thought I had dried up my tears) she let me know she was on my side and ready to work through it with me.

Meredith Lepore

Meredith is the Editor at Large for Levo League. Before that she was the Editor in Chief of The Grindstone and was on staff at Business Insider. She has written for magazines including Marie Claire, SELF, Women's Health and Cosmopolitan. She earned her Masters in Magazine, Newspaper and Online journalism from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. Meredith resides in New York full time and enjoys SoulCycle, jogging and playing with her Yorkshire Terrier Otis, who also loves SoulCycle.