If you have followed my writing for the last ten years, it will not surprise you that I do not advise crying at work — unless it is behind closed doors and the telltale hints of crying are erased before you re-enter the office common space. Or unless you are facing some devastating personal loss.
So, when I saw the article “It’s Okay To Cry At Work” on Above the Law recently, I had a visceral reaction. Visceral because I am trying to help you become the most competitive and highly competent and regarded professionals possible — and crying at work is not the way to reach those goals.
The question of whether you should cry is different from whether you have a right to cry. Your “right to cry” is firmly established. You have a right to cry because there is a lot that women lawyers have to cry about. They are outnumbered by men in a profession that is also hugely male dominated. Only 20% of the partners in law firms today are women and that leaves a lot of management and leadership that does not understand the challenges to women lawyers and/or does not care about them. Women lawyers with children and family responsibilities are pulled in so many different directions that they are sure their limbs will become detached at any moment. And there is still far too much gender discrimination and implicit bias running rampant in the profession that it stretches the causes for optimism, even on a good day.
Yes, there is a lot to cry about. But, don’t do it. It makes you look weak — as recognized by Kathryn Rubino, the author of the ATL article. Why would you want to look weak in a shark tank? That just does not make any sense. The fact that women have traditionally been the criers does not change that result either or establish the wisdom of weeping openly in the workplace. In fact, in a profession as challenging as the law, where criticism comes from all directions, including the client, the senior counsel, the opposing counsel, the managing partner, and the judge, why on earth would you want to look weak???
Apparently the men have figured this out. I have been a lawyer for almost 40 years, and I have yet to see a male lawyer cry in the workplace over stresses related to the job. Yes, I have seen tears in male eyes on 9-11 and at the images of Sandy Hook Elementary, and I would expect that. But, I do not expect it for the reasons suggested by the ATL article.
And I am not interested in the health benefits of crying in this context. Although I generally am interested in women lawyers paying attention to their psychological and physical health, this is not one of those times. You will find yourself in a much more “healthy” state if you safeguard your professional future. Job security trumps endorfins every time. Trust me.
Your job always should be to keep communications open, and crying will shut down a conversation in a nanosecond, especially if the person on the other end of the conversation is a man. Men do not feel comfortable seeing women cry, and they will do everything possible to wiggle out of the discussion. So will a lot of women. The reason for that is that shows of emotion like crying are personal and — as a rule — do not belong in communal settings. Sure there are exceptions, but do not strain your brain looking for them and trying them out. There is a law of diminishing returns associated with academic exercises like that.
You are a professional, and you are expected to act professionally. I have a rule of thumb that is appropriate here: If you would not exhibit certain behavior in the courtroom before the judge or jury, don’t do it in the workplace. It is an easy rule to apply.