Dim Sum and Tears

The other day at work I had what I term a “crying-day.” I asked my favorite co-worker if she’d like to go to lunch and she replied, “Sure, but can Hallie come too? She’s crying in the bathroom.”

We decided to walk to the dim sum place in Chinatown. I thoughtfully stuffed my pockets full of Kleenex, and we took off. Once we had settled ourselves in the red vinyl booths, poured some tea, and selected our first plate of dumplings, we told our stories, offered each other support and brain-stormed constructive ideas.

Where do you cry at work?

My first job was on a corporate campus that included a lovely park with a duck pond at its center. Jess (a dear friend and co-worker) and I used to circle the duck pond together, crying out our frustrations. It got to be so regular that we started bringing stale bread crusts from home for the ducks.

My second job was at a small company that was purchased by a big company. The big company treated us like total morons and after that fated aquisition we tended to cry together as a group. I remember the development manager getting off the phone with one of the new evil overlords and bursting into tears. (We worked in a big open environment setting.) She was the cheeriest most optimistic boss I’ve ever had, so I knew things were bad when she was driven to that point of frustration. It was nice, in a sick sort of way, to be a close-knit team that could just cry at our desks, together, in a collaborative sort of group-sob. Those were the good old days.

In my third job, I don’t recall crying at work (except for when I my 18 year old cat died, so I guess I should say I don’t recall crying “about” work) but I had started socializing with a group of women who were project managers at Intel. We’d meet for drinks after work once a month and they’d regale me with stories of working in the “big league.” Every story involved one of them crying in the bathroom or walking into the women’s bathroom to find so-and-so crying. The rumor was that if you were caught crying anywhere other than the women’s bathroom at Intel you were dead-meat (this posed a bit of a problem for the male cryers who worked there).

My next job was with The Company (see my Fired and Uninspired thread) which was located in the burbs. The women’s bathrooms were kind of yucky (there was a toilet that never stopped flushing) and since we were out in the burbs there was no duck pond or other pleasant crying spot available. There was a great local “green” grocery store next door that offered excellent browsing and crying, but I could never go there without running into a co-worker. I opted for crying on the cement steps near the garbage cans and recycling center. It was semi-private and more pleasant than the bathrooms.

Now I have all of Chinatown to cry in – my salty tears can drip on dumplings, wonton-noodle soup, baby bok-choy, or crispy duck. Not only does crying help me release my frustrations (my version of punching a wall) but I find my tears add a delicate saltiness to the food that is superior to the bludgeoning salt of soy sauce.

There is a point to this rambling. After 13 years of working in a “career” where I’ve cried about work, supported crying co-workers and talked to employee assistance counselors about this, I know for a fact that crying at work is not a “me” thing. There are so many frustrated and upset employees out there. They are so upset they actually have a favorite spot to cry in – even where you work, maybe even people who work for you.

I have read article after article that advises women (and men, but usually the article specifically targets women) to not cry at work. Never let your boss see you cry. Never let your co-workers see that “weakness.” Blah blah blah… However, I have not yet read an article entitled “Are your employees crying in front of you? Re-evaluate your management techniques” or “How to keep your employees laughing not crying.” If 50% of your reports are in tears once a week – you are failing as a manager. People aren’t crying because they are weak or taking things too personally. They are crying (by my experience anyway) because they are frustrated. They are crying because they are not empowered or supported (by management) to do their jobs well. Some of them are crying because they are bored to tears. Think about it, do something constructive about it (firing them because they make you uncomfortable doesn’t count), try to make your work-place less frustrating. Your employees will be more productive and you’ll be the most refreshing manager out there – well on your way to being a true leader.

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