Handling Workplace Whimpers

Recently, I drove our newly hired COO around Southern California to meet the staff in our branch offices. The road trip served not only as a means of transportation to Irvine, Carlsbad and San Diego –  it also provided getting-to-know-you time which included a no holds barred Q & A.

Eager to answer all of his questions about the company and its culture, the one questions that stuck with me most was his question,

What do you do when employees cry?

I loved this question because there was no pretense and because it came from a guy who just wanted to know how I handle tears. The answer is that I had never thought about it before.

I have, in my adult life, spent time worrying about my own emotional display during inopportune times yet I have never even once considered it a negative when an employee cries in my office. In my opinion, girls just cry, we can’t help it and it need not go further than that.

Then I got to wondering, am I alone in feeling this way? Do other woman managers think like this or are they put off by workplace whimpers? Who hasn’t watered up at least once in her career? Do I really handle it like I said I do, gently handing over a tissue box while conversation ensues?

The very next day someone cried in my office. No big deal. It happens to us all.

Photo credit iStock Photo

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About the Author

Diane Prince Johnston

Diane Prince Johnston is an experienced entrepreneur with a background in staffing. Diane has participated in founding multiple companies; taking them from start-up ventures to purchase offerings resulting in owner exit strategies. Diane is a social media educator and speaker, volunteer mentor at JVS Los Angeles, job seeker advocate and career counselor. Diane enjoys beach living in Malibu with her 3 daughters and Havanese puppy. She loves to hike, write and read.


Debbie Brown

The reality is emotion comes out for a variety of reasons- it’s life.

As long as it’s not a disruptive pattern that leads to a performance issue- ..it’s part of life – and what were the words? safe zones?-

Yes Tom Hanks coined” no crying in baseball” shall we watch what happens at the end of this year’s world series in the locker room right after the last game? Do you think we will see tears?


I always keep kleenex on my desk so I’m prepared for tears. I think it’s completely normal and healthy to cry once in a while. Employees know that if their head is about to burst, they can come see me in a “safe zone.” It’s the drama tears that I don’t handle well. Some employees just automatically go to crying in order to manipulate people. I just listen and give them ideas for options on dealing with their particular situation.


Throughout my career in HR I have had both women and men who have openly cried in my office. Everyone cries at some point in their life – tears are the manifestation of a highly emotional experience either sad or joyful. When an individual has reached that point of emotion to have a release through tears the best advice for HR professionals is to listen. Make sure you hear what the person is saying – allow them to unload their emotions and don’t seek to find an answer as much as giving them the chance to articulate their situation. For many the tears can become a means to more clearly deal with the situation and the best way to help is to guide the individual through the emotion.

Bonita Martin

It depends upon the type of tears. Angry and frustrated tears are easy to deal with. Usually the person crying is embarrassed and it’s just a matter of letting them know that they are in a safe place. Frustrated tears really do not bother me at all. It’s the sad tears that get me, usually related to a personal situation. The child with cancer, death of a family member or the laid off employee. Many times I tear up too.

Kelly O

It’s really nice to see someone who doesn’t have the knee-jerk “crying is bad” reaction to workplace emotion. Sometimes, it just happens, and if there wasn’t such a deal made out of it, it might not be perceived as quite as bad.

I think the thing that bothers me most is if a man gets angry and storms out or closes up in his office to vent some anger, it’s okay. But tears are considered weak, apparently, so a woman trying to hole up and cry it out and move on is less acceptable.


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