We published an entry on “That Old Crying Feeling” in 2011 that won the BlawgWorld Pick of the Week, and generated a lot of hits and discussion about displaying emotions in the office. We noted, among other things, that Michael Page International had found that mounting stress of all sorts leads one in three lawyers to cry. Here’s some additional gloss on that entry.
In researching her book It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace (Random House 2012), Anne Kreamer interviewed 200 people across the country and used 2 surveys to overlay large amounts of data onto her more idiosyncratic interview information. She found that men and women at all levels of management report crying on the job–41% of women and 9% of men said they’d cried at work during the previous year–and that it had made no difference in their career success. Kreamer says it is imperative that in order to be our best, we must access our emotions in our work. She defends women crying by contending that tears are often indicative of empathy and compassion, or come as a result of women being disadvantaged or taken advantage of. See an interview with her here.
There are of course biological explanations for why women cry more—smaller tear ducts and more prolactin, a hormone related to crying–which we mentioned in our previous entry. But perhaps the most interesting piece of information that Kreamer found is that male managers reported being fine with female employees crying, while female managers were much less tolerant.
Other research on gender and emotions has found that, contrary to what we expect in the United States, men and women do not differ in how much emotion they experience every day, but they do differ in which emotions they experience and to what extent and how they express those emotions. Women were found to experience more sadness and other negative emotions than men but comparable levels of anger. And women were also found to express their feelings more frequently than men, which may make them appear more “emotional.” In particular, they express anger verbally.
On the other hand, men are more likely to suppress the expression of their emotions, and if they express anger, they are more likely to do so behaviorally, by acting out in an aggressive way or turning to alcohol or drugs, for example. These differences are attributed by the researchers to differences in the social status of men and women, with women usually at a lower status and therefore experiencing more taxing, powerless circumstances, and also to differences in the cultural expectations of appropriate gender behavior—good girls don’t act aggressively.
Without giving all the footnotes, it should be pointed out that recent research also indicates that women are more aware of their own and others’ emotions and pay more attention to those emotions compared to men, and women show “more complex conceptualizations of emotion, with a greater understanding of what emotions they or others would feel in different contexts and why.” That is, women are more likely to be empathic to those around them. And women are more likely to remember events and recall memories in terms of their emotional content than men do. Finally, women are more likely than men to see their emotions as providing useful information that is important to analyze.
Unfortunately, all this empathy and understanding may not be enough to always earn these more “emotional” women a place in the hearts of those they work with. Particularly, it appears, in the hearts of women. Still, research shows that most underlings do not take kindly to their female leaders in particular expressing sadness or anger. Those who do are judged to be less competent regardless of their actual level of competence or rank. Women leaders are rated lower on leader effectiveness when expressing either anger or sadness versus no emotion, and professional women, despite their rank, who express anger are consistently seen as less competent than angry men and unemotional women. However, men are rated the same on leader effectiveness when expressing either anger or no emotion, but lower when expressing sadness. And a woman expressing anger is perceived as an angrier person with less control than a man expressing anger. The take-away is that anger is considered a gender appropriate domain for men but not for women.
Sheryl Sandberg’s consciousness- and controversy-raising new book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (Knopf 2013) has produced debates about the Facebook CEO’s assertion that it’s okay to cry at work. Crying happens, she says, and emotions are hardwired into our psyches as survival mechanisms. With the lines between professional and personal increasingly becoming blurred, she contends that it’s no wonder, and nothing to be ashamed of, that emotions make their way into the workplace. And that’s from a woman.
A recent survey found that being an associate in a law firm tops the 10 most unhappy jobs in the US (followed not far behind by legal assistants). That conclusion was based on polls of more than 65,000 employees all over the country who were asked to evaluate ten factors that affect workplace happiness, including their relationship with their boss and co-workers, work environment, job resources, compensation, growth opportunities, company culture, company reputation, daily tasks, and control over their work. Associates were the most unhappy.
If that survey has any validity, we may see more crying in the office. Hopefully both the women and the men will be understanding.