During her presidential campaign in 2016 Hilary Clinton was hospitalised because of stress and dehydration. It emerged that the cause of the stress was that she didn't feel as though she could openly express her emotions or acknowledge the pressure she was under. While the association of women being overly emotional and therefore 'weak' is still common, it was Clinton’s inability to express emotion, rather than being emotional, that was detrimental to her campaign.
Clinton’s former head of communications, Jennifer Palmieri, offered an interesting piece of advice to women following the incident. Rather than feeling pressure to adopt typically ‘male’ characteristics such as strength, security and fewer displays of emotion, Palmieri advised that if a woman wants to be emotional then she can be. Palmieri stated: “it’s our world and we should be able to cry in it if we want to”. If women feel they are able to do this then in Palmieri’s view the act of crying in the workplace will be normalised. In light of what happened to Clinton, displaying emotions rather than attempting to conceal them will benefit the productivity of individuals and therefore those they work for.
Yet the question as to whether or not women should cry in the workplace is not a simple one. Covering a range of issues, from gender to mental health to business productivity, there is a lot to consider when approaching the topic. Here are some tips for methods of coping with personal difficulties and emotions when at work:
Deal with issues early on – Businesses have a duty of care, and as such have a responsibility to detect if an employee is suffering from so much stress and anxiety that they are likely to be unable to control their emotions when at work. Encourage open communication as then employees have a chance to express their feelings in a controlled way, rather than feeling ignored and unable to deal with the situation. An unhappy employee will also be distracted and unproductive, so it’s of benefit to the business to provide emotional support when necessary early on.
The employee can take responsibility – While a manager is unlikely to want to have members of their team crying at their desks, the employee wants to avoid this even more so. If an employee is able to tell a manager or another team member their feelings before they escalate it will save them from any display of emotions that they might not have intended on. An employee might be crying at work because their workload at first seems too great, but it could be dealt with through better organisation.
Find the right balance – That being said, if an employee is dealing with something difficult in their home life, a no crying in the workplace policy is likely to discourage workers from even turning up for fear of being too emotional. They might feel they cannot cope with all the tasks in front of them and need some time to think about what they need to do, without the pressure of everyone else in the office telling them they shouldn’t be crying about it. If an employee confides in you, find a balance between letting them know they don’t have to hide their feelings but also that you need to run a workplace.
Distinguish between one-offs and poor productivity – Like laughter, sneezing and coughing, crying is a natural reaction and not one that can necessarily be controlled. In most instances once the employee has had a chance to air their emotions it may not happen again. However, a business has to run efficiently and productively and if someone is at their desk distracted on a daily basis then this simply won’t happen.
Ben Edwards is a life coach, qualified NLP practitioner and motivational speaker