Work It: My Co-Worker Won’t Stop Crying

How are you supposed to deal with a colleague who’s always bursting into tears?

Each week in Work It, BuzzFeed Executive Editor Doree Shafrir will answer your most pressing career and workplace questions. Email workit@buzzfeed.com if you have a question for her.

I know from experience that sometimes you can’t control when or where you cry, but I have a coworker who cries all the time. Like, at her desk, in the bathroom (without going into a stall, not that that would be much better), in the conference room, all over the place, and at least once a week. I’m aware that this is unsympathetic, but I hate comforting her, especially since she’s usually crying over something dumb like standard line edits that don’t come with tons of compliments. How can I tell her to toughen up — or at least go hide in Duane Reade — without sounding like a jerk?

Statistically, women do cry more than men — 47 times per year vs. seven. Goddamn estrogen. And most women I know have cried at least once at work; it’s practically inevitable. Remember Rosey Grier’s song “It’s All Right to Cry” from “Free to Be You and Me”? The point was to tell boys that it was okay to cry. But crying is still considered feminine. When Hillary Clinton cried on the campaign trail in 2008 while responding to a voter’s question about balancing her life with campaigning, it was cynically seen as her way of humanizing her tough, “masculine” image — but it also won her huge amounts of sympathy (and New Hampshire).

But crying every so often is a reminder that you have feelings, and are human, and almost definitely have PMS. Don’t be ashamed of the occasional cry. As Tina Fey put it in her memoir Bossypants, “Some people say ‘Never let them see you cry.’ I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.” Or take it from Grier: “It’s all right to cry/crying gets the sad out of you/it’s all right to cry/it might make you feel better.” I have found this to be mostly true. It usually is all right to cry! It usually does make us feel better! (Studies actually confirm this: nine out of 10 people feel better after crying.) And it’s also mostly true is that when we cry, we want to be comforted (except when we want to be left completely and utterly alone, of course, so as to better wallow in our misery).

It sounds, however, like your co-worker has taken crying to a whole new level of manipulation by pulling you into her tear-stained world and forcing you to participate in her drama. Because you are a nice person, she knows that you will be there to comfort her — and as you say, you don’t want to sound like a jerk. But now it’s time for some tough love. You need to stop enabling her. The next time you see the tear ducts activating, tell her that you sympathize, but she needs to pull it together.

So while it’s not necessarily surprising that your co-worker would turn to you when she’s upset, it also doesn’t mean it’s okay. We’ve gotten used to the boundaries between our personal and professional lives being porous, but people who bring their personal lives too far into their professional lives risk losing the respect of their colleagues — as your co-worker already seems to have done. Now it’s time for it to stop.

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