Push Through Your Tears
I Asked 1,000+ People About Crying at Work and the Answers Are… Emotional
01.21.20

Sometimes when I’m on a crowded subway car, I’ll imagine everyone around me crying. I’ll picture the woman next to me sobbing, the eyes of the man across from me filling with tears, everyone’s shoulders shaking—things I’m certain have happened at some point, even if not right then, or for a while. I don’t take sadistic pleasure in this image, but I’m comforted by the idea that, despite knowing nothing about these people, I do know something: They’ve cried. They’ve been soft and moved and vulnerable, despite appearing before me now like their hearts are filled with packing peanuts.

Like hysterical laughter and genuine surprise—things I also picture on the train en masse—tears are a universal human response. Cutting and pasting moments we’ve all shed them to create a histrionic collage of 50 lachrymose people may seem a little deranged, but doesn’t the result sound kind of touching and human? (Please nod.) I’ve been thinking a lot about this image over the last week, because it’s been repeating in my mind in various iterations since I started researching the phenomenon of crying at work—an experience nearly as universal as crying itself, according to my unscientific polls.

As responses poured in about people weeping in their office bathrooms, holding back tears in meetings with their managers, and running to parking lots for good car cries, I couldn’t help but picture the entire Earth-bound workforce sniffling at the same time. And just like on the train, the result was strangely endearing and unspecifically distressing, but on a global scale. What I quickly learned is that crying at work is almost its own emotion—with distinct rules, norms, and idiosyncrasies. Below I’ve organized my research for your perusal. It covers where people are crying, from freezers to classrooms; who is crying—do men cry as much as women?; why we’re crying; and interestingly, how to cry at work with more panache (a skill I now possess).

I offer up this important research, whittled down from 1,200+ responses into a representative few, to anyone concerned with establishing work boundaries or, conversely, a better repertoire of low-key places to let a few go.


A Humble Map of Workplace Breakdowns

The Most Popular Place to Cry at Work

“I go to the bathroom or just silently weep at my desk and hope Matt the developer doesn’t make eye contact with me…. I try to keep it a secret because if anyone asks me what’s wrong, it just gets worse. “

People cry in their work bathroom more than anywhere else.

“When my company was considering introducing gender-neutral toilets, management held a meeting for people to vocalize opinions. There was one comment made that I thought was interesting—a colleague felt that ‘lots of women cry in the toilets but wouldn’t feel comfortable in front of men.'”

“I cry in the toilets. And it’s not ‘ugly’ crying—it’s worse, because I try to keep it together and I end up feeling even worse for being this emotional while at work.”

“I often tear up at my desk and try to hide it. When I can’t hide it and it’s too much, I go to the bathroom where there’s a stall that’s darker than all the others. Somehow it feels more private.”

“I cry in the one-stall bathroom at work (it has a door that locks so you’re alone). I get overwhelmed occasionally; it’s not that anything is ‘wrong,’ just that my emotions come to a head and I need a release.”

Determining Where to Cry

“I lightly cry at my desk if I think it will go away quick—a single tear and no body-shaking. If it’s a semi-bad cry, I go to the fourth stall in the bathroom because it has a cool tile wall to lean against. For bad sobs, I go over by the freight elevators because it has little-to-no foot traffic and is loud.”

“Either bathroom, freight elevator, or stay at my desk and cry right into my computer.”

“If I can hold it in, I’ll escape to the bathroom to cry, but I’ve also cried in meeting rooms with colleagues during stressful discussions. Our office is ‘open concept’ and most of our meeting rooms have windows so anyone who walks by in the office can see in. But we have one meeting room with no windows that people in the office have dubbed ‘the crying room.’”

“In the summer I cry on the office roof because no one really goes up there, but in the winter I’m more of a backstairwell crier, lol.”

The Poetically Placed Cry

“I cry behind ancient ruins! I’m a grad student who works on an archaeological dig in Greece and when I’m overwhelmed (often), I say I’m going to measure something in the furthest hidden block fields (where we arrange ancient marble blocks from temples, etc) and have a little cry.”

“I work at a university, so when I need to cry I go to the fourth floor of the library and cry in the stacks, private and quiet, good for meditating too.”

“Depends if you can hold it in and manage to run before anyone sees you. I personally used to hide in the microscope room during my PhD. It was dark and hidden.”

“My experiences as a fashion intern have triggered many (often UPS-related) breakdowns. Thankfully, working in a fashion closet allows one to simply shut the door and cry one’s heart out to the nearest Bottega boots or Marc Jacobs gown.”

Crying at Work When You Don’t Work in an Office

The Walk-In Freezer Phenomenon

“Walk-in fridge! (Restaurant staff KNOW THIS.)”

“When I worked in a restaurant my boss got so mad when I didn’t know the table numbers for a party and he was very scary when he was mad, literally raising his voice and stuff and he used to be in the army, so I just felt awful. And so I cried in the bathroom, the freezer, the kitchen, the fridge, and in the server’s station…”

“The freezer or the bathroom—but I prefer the freezer because I can say my face is red from it and it also helps in depuffing my face. I prefer to keep it a secret at work so people don’t consider me weak/don’t want it to spread as the hottest workplace gossip!”

“I cry in the walk-in fridge (restaurant job) or outside (office job). Queen of the crying at all jobs here.”

Crying Inside (and Outside) the Classroom

“I’m a teacher and I have been crying at my desk 0.5 seconds before students came in and then had to suck it the fuck up, teach for 45 minutes, only to immediately go back to crying. Sometimes my kids will say things like, ‘Why are your eyes so red?’ and I usually chalk it up to bad allergies.”

“I’ve cried at work hearing about the home life of some students. Also teenage boys cry quite a bit in my experience. And the ‘tougher’ the boy comes across, the more likely he’ll cry when in trouble with the principal. I watch them get older and train themselves out of it. The shift is around 15-16. Many then channel the emotion into anger/rage or they ‘shut down’ and stop caring—the ‘too cool to care’ approach.””I’m a middle school teacher and if I’m not crying in front of my students (it’s US history and we get into a lot of powerful social stuff), I sit in a corner of my classroom and turn the lights off. More recently I’ve been trying to cry in the ~bosom~ of other teachers though! I’m working on being vulnerable with emotions so I can experience the profundity of realizing I’m not alone. It also invites my coworkers to be similarly vulnerable.”

“Only did it once because I am a high school teacher, and if I have to cry, I try to ‘hold it’ until ‘m done for the day…. In jobs where you have to maintain a strict affect, you don’t have the luxury to be quite as conspicuously distressed.”

“I cry in the bathroom or my own classroom if there isn’t a class in. The bathroom sucks though because inevitably someone else always wants to use it when I’m right in the middle of a good cry. I cry at work a lot and I told a male coworker this once over drinks, and he surprised me by saying, ‘Yeah, me too,’ and then I wondered why I was so surprised. Guess there’s some internalised sexism happening there that I totally need to work on.”

But Do Doctors Cry at Work?

“I cry at work a lot. I’m a doctor in early training so we all cry, including our male colleagues. We cry in supply closets, bathrooms, low-volume badge-access hallways. It’s a communal lifestyle.”

“I’m a doctor in a fellowship program and I let it all out with my co-fellows who have had the same rough days. I try to never let my bosses or people who report to me see me cry! There is definitely a pressure in medicine to be tough and not display weakness or vulnerability. Things I cry over: sad patient outcomes or deaths, bad personal insults/slights, issues with interpersonal relationships, and also feelings of anger and frustration.”

“I’m a veterinarian and I love my job but at times it can be overwhelming and very sad. I tend to cry most when I’m overwhelmed with too many difficult cases at once or when I get pulled in too many directions. We have a doctor’s office where I do paperwork and make phone calls. I will excuse myself to this area when I feel the tears welling up. The technicians use our doctor’s office sometimes too. It’s a quiet place to have a cry and collect your thoughts before returning to the floor.”

“I keep crying a secret 100%. I cry in the bathroom or outside. I’m a hospital-based doctor and there’s still very much a sense that crying or having an emotional reaction openly at work [implies] weakness (even though there’s so much dialogue out there around wellness/mental health for health professionals now).”

Women Are Crying, Men Are Crying, Pretty Much Everyone’s Crying

Why Women Cry

“I tend to cry when I feel misunderstood, frustrated, or like I’ve been put in a compromising and unfair position, often an outcome of nuanced sexism in the workplace that I start to feel crazy if I try to point out or explain in the moment.”

87% of women say they’ve cried at work.

“I generally think I cry out of frustration—being angry or frustrated at work is the worst because you can’t be angry at work! Or at least it’s difficult to do anything about it in a professional manner before you’ve had a chance to calm down. So it tends to lead to tears for me. I do it privately because I suppose I’ve been conditioned to feel weak and overly emotional when I cry in the context of work. Which is dumb bullshit, but pervasive nonetheless.”

“I’ve cried because the strain of being the only POC working with clueless white people gets to be TEW MUCH.”

“I cry when I perceive I’m being fucked over or when someone has totally fucked something up and it’s either thrown to me or ripped out of my hands. I smoke weed and it helps me rationalize other people’s actions, cut them slack, and make sure I’m not taking things personally. Never take it personally, even if it is personal. You’re being paid for the work, no one said it would be easy. Just bury it and get the job done. (I tell myself these things over and over and over.)”

“I work in film production. I’m the only woman at our company and I always get tasked with dumb things like cleaning and taking notes, even though my boss wants me to act like a ‘partner’ or ‘peer’ and manage others. I essentially am his personal assistant and a producer. Which doesn’t work. So I cry a lot. “

“I used to cry fairly regularly at my old job, mostly when I felt patronized and belittled by regional (male) managers. There were two in particular that made me so frustrated I’d cry after most phone calls or store visits.”

“Workplaces where I’ve cried regularly about work are ones I’ve left, because they were unhealthy. My girlfriends who cry regularly at work are all in unhealthy work environments. None of my male friends have ever reported crying at work that I can recall.”

Why Men Cry

“I typically cry when I’m angry. It’s my outlet instead of kicking [someone] in the shin.”

“I’ve only cried once in the printer room after my art director made me redraw [something] 10 times…. He got angry and said some things that made me feel like I wasn’t talented enough. So I took a walk and stepped inside the printer room and just started to cry.”

45% of men say they’ve cried at work.

“My boss was super condescending and manipulative. I wanted to go outside and cry but the elevators took forever so I’m pretty sure tears started flowing before I could get out.”

“Exhausted, overworked, overwhelmed.”

“As a delivery driver I’ve cried when I’ve felt that a day was working against me. I also fell recently and that caused me to cry!”

“I never cry at work. I cried on New Year’s Eve because I cancelled my plans but felt guilty about it.”

“I’m a music student and I legitimately cry ~4 days a week while practicing my instrument.”

“I cried at work after being confronted about a mistake at a job I admittedly wasn’t very good at.”

“I’ve cried so many times before a stressful shoot, I can’t even tell you. Sometimes I need a good cry just to let it all out and then get my shit together…. The funny thing is I still mostly love my job! It just gets super fucking stressful sometimes. And when you’re in a role of power you’re not supposed to show any sign of weakness or else you’re seen as incapable. (Though it’s much more difficult and complicated as a woman I’m sure.) I’ve had people who are on my crew come up to me after a job and say they admire how composed I seem. And it’s sad that I have to outwardly put that on… little do they know, we’re all a mess inside most of the time. And I straight-up tell them that now.”

“Two years ago my relationship was ending. I couldn’t take time off and I cried (@work) for weeks.”

The Gender Divide, According to Men and Women

“In my experience, women typically express frustration or anxiety by crying, while men express those emotions in anger. Not sure why, I wish I didn’t get angry tears! When I cried at work, I felt like people saw me as an ‘unhinged woman,’ so I wish it didn’t happen. But alas… hahaha.” —a woman

“I’ve never really thought of this in depth, but my first thought is that men sometimes let out their frustration in rage (e.g. wanting to punch a wall) or are traditionally more repressed in the way we let out our feelings. Crying is supposed to be a healthier or more productive way to process strong feelings. [I think] women are sometimes more evolved emotionally.” —a man

“Men can compartmentalize their feelings. I remember having a rough time when my dog was hospitalized. I asked my male colleagues how they deal with this type of situation at work and they said, ‘I just don’t bring my feelings to work.'” —a woman

“I only cry when I realize my anger is actually sadness. Doms tend to respond with anger and subs tend to respond with sadness, but anger [is often an expression of] sadness. Gender and sexuality are out, the sub-dom spectrum is the only true spectrum. Lol seriously tho.” —a man

“You will always hear more stories of women crying and men screaming. Both are ways to express the same feelings: anger, frustration, not being able to deal with stress. It’s just ‘not acceptable’ for men to cry or for women to scream. The men would be seen as weak and the women would be seen as hysterical.” —a woman

87% of people think women cry at work more than men.

“I have [cried] multiple times at work… typically when I feel especially condescended to or like I’ve failed my boss/team in a way that highlights a shortcoming I’m insecure about. I do feel like I hear of my female coworkers crying more at work and, as to why, I’m not sure. Perhaps general hormone makeup, but [maybe] that’s just a construct we’ve been made to accept.” —a man

“I really don’t believe that gender has something to do with how we handle stress or how often we cry at work, I think it just reflects how we personally analyze and handle stress.” —a woman

“The only time I cried at work was a result of me having had a horrendous day before my shift. It’s a shame but I only tend to cry when I truly reach my breaking point. I wish I cried more often as I feel like it’s a good emotional release I don’t usually get. I don’t know why it’s hard for me/men in general to cry. I definitely feel a plethora of emotions that should lead me there.” —a man

The Community of Crying

“One time I cried in the staff kitchen when someone asked me if I was okay. (I wasn’t, because of work stress.) Anyway, she dragged me to the toilet where all my fellow females comforted me. Something about the ladies loos feels so safe!”

“My favorite story of crying in public is when I was running late to a meeting and I was crying on the phone to my mom about how I didn’t want to seem unprofessional and a woman walking by saw me and stopped me and said, ‘WHO HURT YOU?? WHERE IS HE?!’ which was immediately hilarious and comforting to have such unconditional support from a stranger 😂”

“I have a friend at work and will either go to his office or make him go on a walk with me so I can process/cry. It usually happens when I feel overwhelmed and/or misunderstood.”

“Everyone needs a 'safe' person at work that they can cry to!”

“I cry in secret but then always somehow end up revealing or cracking in front of a colleague. I think this is the best outcome as I’ve ALWAYS found that when someone realizes something is off, the problem or concern has ALWAYS been resolved or tweaked instantly to help me out. (I’ve also been that person for my colleagues.) People are good and seem to always respond well to someone in distress.”

“I work at a mental health hotline, and employees of all genders cry a LOT! It’s not necessarily discouraged, and we try to see it as a normal way to react to the sad or difficult circumstances we are in at work. That said, as a supervisor I try to be careful about crying at work, because I don’t want the people I manage to feel like they can’t come to me and ask for my help because my emotions aren’t leaving space for them.”

“I’m a corporate attorney. I cry in the bathroom or outside. I try to keep it a secret, though once I sobbed in front of my skip-level boss and he was so nice about it and told me that even he’s cried at work and it showed him how much I care about my job and how upset I was about the incident I was crying over. So it’s not always bad.”

“When I worked in customer service, my team was very open when we had a difficult customer and would console each other. I could tell other departments were jealous of our acceptance of each other’s feelings and validation! 🥰”

Tips for Crying at Work

Find a cry buddy: “I have a cry buddy and we message each other if we feel like we’re going to cry. We go to a back office and just sit there and let the other cry, sometimes a good hug is required. What we DON’T do is baby the other one, or make them feel silly or weak for crying. We just get it that sometimes a cry is good for getting over something, and then moving forward. So we mostly just sit, and one of us cries and says why we’re crying, and then we high-five and go back to work.”

Cry if you need to, walk if you need to: “I work in Human Resources and I have witnessed people crying at work many times. The reactions, especially from their managers, are quite interesting. I once had a manager say, ‘Omg, why is she crying?! Who cries at work?’ and I quickly stepped in replying there is absolutely no problem crying at work and the bigger question is how can we HELP her? No one wants to be brought to tears at work, but it happens. Most people work extremely hard and that doesn’t come without needing some sort of release. My perspective is: Cry if you need to, but be aware of your work environment, and take a walk if you need to.”

Notice when you’re crying too much: “I used to have a shitty, emotionally taxing job where I cried at work all the time (1x/week or more) and now I have a job at a great company and have been here 6 months and haven’t cried. Crying is definitely toxic-environment dependent.”

Narrate your tears: “I cry easily, to the point that I’ve had to tell my bosses to just ignore the tears, because most of the time, I’m nowhere near as upset as they make me seem. I’ve said things like, ‘I’m crying because I care and this is a difficult conversation for me, but yes, I absolutely want to continue this discussion.’ It’s hardly ideal, but it keeps the dialogue flowing when some managers would otherwise just shut the conversation down.”

Probably don’t leave it to Google: “I was a big cryer for most of my life. When I became a manager I Googled how to avoid crying at work and it was suggested that I inflict small pains (digging nails into leg, pulling arm hairs out).”

And finally, if possible, go to your mom’s department: “I work in a hospital and my mom’s office (in a different department) is super close, so sometimes I go cry there. I’m 30, but never too old to cry on my mom’s shoulder.”


I have to ask: Is this the human condition under late capitalism? Probably. It’s also proof that the rules of professional engagement aren’t leaving enough room for our humanity. The toilet-adjacent tears are too many, and I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.

Men, women, non-binary readers of MR: Do you cry at work? Tell me everything.

Graphic by Lorenza Centi.

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