Zoe Kaplan
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Staff Writer & Content Strategist @ Fairygodboss

Even when we try to distance ourselves from our work, our colleagues or even just our projects, sometimes our professional lives get to us — and cause us to break down or burst out in the workplace. 

45% of workers have admitted to crying at work; another 52% have lost their temper. If you’re one to express your emotions at work, you’re in good company. 

Yet why do we feel such shame and guilt around expressing our emotions, especially when they’re a natural part of our lives? 

Maybe we’re worried about our reputation. Maybe we’re worried about being seen differently at or our coworkers thinking we’re not able to get our work done. Being vulnerable and showing emotion at work is scary and yes, it can be risky. 

There’s even a double standard about crying at work. According to Kimberly D. Elsbach, professor in the graduate school of management at the University of California, Davis, women who cry at work may be perceived as “weak,” “unprofessional” and “manipulative.” When men cry at work, colleagues wonder about the situation that made them cry; when women cry, colleagues wonder what’s wrong with them that made them cry.

We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, a changing work landscape and a childcare crisis. Burnout — especially for women — is higher than ever. There may be bias about our emotions at work, yet the answer isn’t to hide our emotions. With everything going on right now, hiding them might feel nearly impossible. That’s okay.

Instead, we can focus on how to make these emotions another strength for us at work — one that doesn’t damage our professional reputation, but rather benefits it. Here’s how.

1. Address it.

Emotions aren’t a sign of weakness. They’re a sign that you’re invested in whatever you’re reacting to, whether that be a performance review or the success of your project. Address that head-on by telling your manager, coworker or team that your emotions are a reflection of your dedication.

Melody Wilding, author of “Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work,” advises employees who express strong emotions at work to say something like, “‘As you can see, I am very invested in the success of this project, which is why I’m having/had an emotional reaction.’” Reframing the narrative about your reaction helps you get ahead of any potential bias or negative perception. “Employees who attribute their tears to passion are viewed as more competent and promotable, according to a study,” she writes in her recent Harvard Business Review article “So, You Cried at Work.”

2. Help yourself uniquely cope.

Once you’ve addressed your reaction with your colleagues, it’s time to address your reaction with yourself. Give yourself the grace to accept your actions and know that crying doesn’t have to make or break your professional reputation. According to a study, 30% of CFOs and 31% of employees believe that crying has no negative impact on your career — it just shows you’re human.

Having emotional reactions at work is a great opportunity to reflect on your emotional and mental health. It’s helpful to understand what environments or situations may trigger you, ways for you to self-regulate emotions and whether you should try seeking professional help. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with expressing your emotions; however, there may be ways to help you cope and work through your emotions differently.

3. Extend compassion to others. 

If you can extend compassion to yourself — as you should, because having emotions is human! — extend compassion to others on your team when they’re going through something difficult at work or outside of it. Be a shoulder to cry on or someone for them to message when they’re having a hard day. 

Use your unique position to empathize with them. This isn’t just a nice thing to do for your coworkers; it can also help build better relationships with your team.

Expressing emotion at work can be tricky, but it can also be an opportunity to both look inside our own health and extend a hand to others. The next time we feel we may cry, we don’t need to shove it down or bottle it up; let’s express it in a healthy way, one that makes us bond with others and show our passion for our work. 

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for coping with difficult emotions at work? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

This article reflects the views of the author and not those of Fairygodboss.