my employee cries when she’s frustrated

A reader writes:

I have an employee whose response when frustrated by a problem is to cry. It started to happen last summer when we were working through her visa renewal process. It was extremely stressful for her so I tried to support her as much as I could. It was uncomfortable for me, because it was a lot of crying sessions, but luckily that problem has been happily resolved.

But recently she has been crying about a job-related issue. It was a new type of work for her, but one that majority of the department has done and, given that she’s 15 years in the profession, it was a disproportionate reaction to the problem. I talked with her about the source of the problem and have tried to clarify work processes and work with some other project members to manage expectation and deliverables. What concerns me is that between the visa issue and this project issue, it’s been almost a year of crying. I think I am have created a pattern of “cry and Jane will fix it” and I have to manage a project that isn’t mine to begin with.

I am not sure how to address this. Saying “you cry a lot and it’s uncomfortable or unprofessional” doesn’t seem compassionate, but at the same time I am starting to dread when she comes to my office door.

I answer this question — and three others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Employee wants to skip lunch and leave early every day
  • What to say if a colleague asks about my self-harm scars
  • I’m being demoted after resigning

{ 199 comments… read them below }

  1. lisa*

    I struggle sometimes with the issue of jumping in to take on tasks that a staff member is struggling with, instead of helping them figure out the problem themselves. It sounds like this writer is doing something similar–the employee cries, Jane jumps in to help. I recently participated in a management training where the trainer said something that really resonated with me and might be useful in this situation too: “Ask yourself, how can I be a resource without taking this on?” I’ve found it to be a really valuable check to remind myself not to take things on myself but instead to work to be the best resource I can.

    1. Happy Peacock*

      Good point! If Jane wasn’t crying and was frustrated, what would you do? Well, do that.
      People are going to be frustrated, and you have to learn how to help them whether they are crying, procrastinating, or doing any one of a million other responses to frustration. The crying is red herring.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I struggle with that a lot too, especially if the employee is emotional or is someone I feel responsible for (in that I am either their manager or in some sort of mentorship role, for instance). It’s hard to learn those boundaries but it’s better for everyone.

    3. Katherine*

      Yeah, absent other information, this letter reads more like the letter writer has strong feelings about the crying and jumps in to help, when maybe the staff member….just cries easily.

      1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

        I once went into a meeting with a manager and said “I know this is going to be stressful, I may start crying, my face just does that, I’ve brought tissues and we just need to keep going.”

        She thanked me for it.

    4. Sara without an H*

      I think I am have created a pattern of “cry and Jane will fix it” and I have to manage a project that isn’t mine to begin with.

      This. Jane needs to stop jumping in to take work off the employee to relieve her own discomfort. I know it’s hard to keep a conversation going while somebody sits there weeping, but Jane really needs to surface the underlying issues. Lack of training, unclear expectations, unrealistic deadlines? Lay in a large box of tissues, give the employee a chance to take breaks if needed, but find out what’s causing the problem and work on that. Treat the weepiness as a symptom, not the actual problem.

  2. Jmac*

    I was so angry with a situation at work I ended up crying in my boss’ office a few weeks ago and was mortified about it, I can’t imagine regularly bursting into tears in the workplace. Clearly this isn’t the right job for this person

    1. Bugalugs*

      I did that the other week as well. Hormone issues kept me from being able to hold back anything and my outside reaction didn’t match my inside one at all. I was so mad at myself because of it for awhile but also my boss is great and knows what’s going on but I still apologized and made sure that it wouldn’t impact getting feedback in the future.
      I can’t imagine doing it on the regular but if it’s only been recently I’m more inclined to either think the employee is now too comfortable with their manager and don’t see it as an issue or they just can’t help it and maybe an option for picking it up a few minutes later might be the best option.

    2. metadata minion*

      Or they’re going through another personal thing like the visa issue the LW mentions, and it isn’t something they’re comfortable telling their supervisor. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t need to find some way to manage her emotions, but both for the employee and supervisor, it would be useful to figure out if she’s genuinely having serious problems with the work task, or if baseline stress levels are turning a moderately difficult/frustrating thing into an impossible thing.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, I would cry over a visa issue too. Hopefully not too often, but knowing that my job, childcare, housing, personal relationships, future plans and the *country I live in* are all in the balance whenever there’s a bureaucratic snafu would be too much for me.

        Which doesn’t mean that OP should take on managing her emotions, particularly around more typical work frustrations, but tears do happen sometimes.

    3. yala*

      “Clearly this isn’t the right job for this person”

      That seems like a slightly extreme assumption.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        it seems oddly common here to assume that there’s a ‘ right job’ that will solve everyone’s problems…

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I know there’s no perfect job that will solve every problem. (I landed my dream job and quickly realized it actually wasn’t what I wanted.) On the other hand, the only solution to the majority of workplace issues I’ve had (managerial dysfunction, work that wasn’t aligned with my interests, overtime expectations, etc) was to switch jobs.

      2. Sylvan*

        If someone’s crying over their work for a year, yeah, they probably should try something else.

        1. Cyndi*

          Just some anecdata for the record: I cry easily at work and it has nothing to do with the work at all. I am excellent at the work I do and I’ve done it for many years. Unfortunately the kind of work I’m good at is tedious and repetitive and doesn’t involve much personal interaction to break it up, which gives my brain too much bandwidth to stew over outside problems. Therapy taught me to handle this by short-circuiting my train of thought, but that’s iffy when the best available distraction is “rote data entry.”

          1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

            If I could control other people’s responses to my crying, I would have them TOTALLY IGNORE IT. Respond to my words, respond to my emotions, but don’t respond to my crying. It’s just a stupid response and I’ll get past it in a moment and stay in the situation.

            Of course I know that not everyone can do this. Some people feel that they have to fix it, and others are just uncomfortable dealing with someone who’s crying.

            WFH has been a godsend for me. Often I can just go on mute for a few minutes, get my tears out, and be part of the conversation without bothering anyone.

        2. Happy Peacock*

          It might be that the job is more frustrating than usual, but it might be that any frustration will result in crying bc that’s how frustration manifests for this person. Some people cry easily. Some people procrastinate when they get frustrated. Some people get passive aggressive when they are frustrated. Procrastination and passive aggression will impact the work, but crying is just water leaving your eyes. Not really a big deal. Maybe LW should try letting Jane work through it instead of jumping in to stop her from crying.

        3. Kella*

          This assumes that the cause for the tears is a. specific to this job b. not something that could be remedied by tweaks in environment or management style c. a sign that something is wrong and needs to be fixed rather than just how this person’s nervous system works.

          There are a million reasons why this person could be crying regularly that would not be solved by changing jobs. OP needs to find out if there is anything they can do to reduce or eliminate the cause and if not, if there is something to be done to reduce the impact the crying has on both of their jobs.

          1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

            Nod. I used to cry way more easily before I got medicated. It’s just a way her body is. I know we like to read into things, but if the work is getting done, OP should hand her s tissue and get on with it. although fake emergencies make me nervous! so that’s a thing.

            1. Cannibal Queen*

              Indeed. Sometimes I find trying not to cry takes up so much mental energy there’s none left over for the actual job. I’m better able to focus once I’ve let it out.

              1. Rainbow*

                Agree, it’s literally a hormone thing that has been with me my whole life, I can’t stop it, and believe me I feel much worse about it than the other person does when it happens. It’s kinda rude to suggest “just get a new job”.

          2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            This is exactly why Alison’s advice to ask Jane what’s going on and have a conversation about that is right on the money. As people are pointing out, there are lots of different reasons for the tears and the approach to a solution hinges on that. LW needs more information, and the way to get that info is to ask Jane.

      3. Courageous cat*

        We are kind of here to make suggestions (I wouldn’t really call it an assumption, and certainly not an extreme one). Sometimes this is absolutely the case, and it’s ok to throw that out there if it is.

    4. Katherine*

      Or maybe they would cry at any job? Some people just cry easily and it’s no reflection on their competence or ability to cope. I think the boss here needs to detach from the tears in order to assess if this person is able to do their job in spite of crying.

    5. sundae funday*

      I used to be an angry crier. It was the worst because I’d be so mad and trying to make a logical, rational argument with someone else… while sobbing….

      Now I don’t cry as easily… not sure what changed. And I’m rarely ANGRY angry, but when I am, my face turns red and my mouth goes bone-dry. I try so hard to stay calm so I can explain why I’m angry or to fix the problem that made me angry in the first place, but my body reacts so obnoxiously!

      1. HotSauce*

        I am also an angry crier. I try to head it off by pressing my tongue to the roof of my mouth & counting backwards, which sometimes helps.

      2. Pogo*

        Me too! I realized because it brought up a lot of emotions, not all angry. But still, so annoying especially when I was trying to seem angry and like you, give a logical rebuttal or argument.

      3. Accidental Manager*

        Same – I think since I was raised to be nice, non-confrontational and essentially a people pleaser, I didn’t develop the skills needed to productively disagree in both professional and personal situations. Not knowing how to be heard and to make a dissenting point in a clear, concise and professional manner made me so angry! Now, I not only did I disagree with whatever path the project was taking, I was angry and had no way to vent. So I cried. I hated it. It took me a long time to gain the confidence I needed to speak up when appropriate and push the emotions down. Honestly, parenting toddlers was so helpful–in learning how to teach them to ‘use their words’ helped me.

        Now, as a manger, when an employee is emotional, I suggest a breather to collect ourselves and then check back in to try to determine if the tears are an outlet for frustration or is there something else happening that may need attention. I don’t see much difference between tears or a raised voice, it’s just different ways of venting.

        I did go back to read the letter again, because I realized I made the assumption that the letter writer was male. There isn’t anything to substantiate that, so it must be my own bias.

    6. Anonomatopoeia*

      There is no job where that isn’t something that would probably periodically happen for me. It’s not about the job, it’s about this is what my body does when large frustration exists, and at this point in my middle-aged adult life it’s crystal clear there is nothing whatsoever I can do to change it.

      When I feel it about to happen, if I’m not with only people I know well, I say something like, so this thing here is me being frustrated at this problem. I don’t need you to stop and cater to me or anything. Carry on, just pretend it’s that I’m cussing at it or banging on it with a metaphorical wrench if that would be more in tune with how you’d behave when very frustrated.

      MOST of the time this works okay, and while I would rather this were not what my biochemistry does with the cocktail of frustration hormones, it’s better for everyone than if I had super unhealthy responses like hitting walls or screaming at people, and it’s better for me than if I try so hard to squash it I end up with an ulcer, so.

      1. tusemmeu*

        I’ve always cried easily and this is how I deal with it at work too. I’ve gotten much better over time though. Accepting it instead of letting it start a shame spiral has helped immensely. It used to be that I would sit there feeling even more frustrated that I was crying (mixed with that shame and embarrassment) and then it would feed itself for hours because it was frustration that started it in the first place. Now I just accept it and plan for what I will calmly tell people if they notice and I can often stop it before any of them actually do notice.

        I have to say, I really appreciate how much acceptance there is in the comments today for how this is a bodily function that some people have a harder time controlling than others. I usually see a lot more comments about how it’s horribly unprofessional except in extreme circumstances, which does not help with that previously mentioned shame thing that only makes it worse when it does happen.

      2. Rainbow*

        This! I’ve not got perfect at it yet, but I talked about it with a life/career coach, and this is exactly what she suggested I do.

    7. Octopus*

      I can imagine it, because I’m that person and absolutely the right person for the job.

      An ounce of compassion for people goes a long way.

  3. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    Oh man. I really hope there’s an update to that last one. What on earth.

    1. Cookie Monster*

      Me too. I can’t image that’s the first time that company was so shady.

    2. Bob-White of the Glen*

      I don’t remember reading that one, so I missed it somehow, but I am also hoping there was an update to it that someone can link to!

  4. Happy Peacock*

    I’ve been eating lunch at my desk for most of my career so I can leave an hour early. Being forced to stay an extra hour bc my boss read something about burnout once will cause me to burn out faster than working through lunch will (spoiler: I have yet to burn out based on eating at my desk).

    1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      So true! I already lose hours of my time commuting and dressing and prepping lunches around when I’m supposed to be in the office. Being here for 9 hours a day instead of 8 would be AWFUL.

    2. Emmy*

      I also think is there really questions OP cannot answer in the first 8 hours they are working where they MUST be urgently available in the last hour. It is very unlikely in most office jobs, though not impossible.

    3. Don’t mess with me*

      The only way LW can insist on employee not taking their lunch at the end of the day and leave early is:

      1. Customer need (the majority of employee’s customers are on west coast (different time zone).
      2. Employee is not meeting the deadlines of their job.
      3. Employee is holding up other employees being able to meet their deadlines because they are waiting for employee to get their part done.
      4. You work in a state where it is required that employees take at least 1/2 hour unpaid break after working 6 hours.

      Since it doesn’t appear that any of these four are applicable the LW really can’t object.

      Just because the LW would prefer employees are there until a certain time doesn’t mean they have to do so.

      No client impact, no deadlines missed, no keeping coworkers from doing their jobs, no state law then no reason to object.

      Since LW company has allowed this, though perhaps not to this extent, you can’t really go backwards unless there are new mandatory procedures put in place department-wide. That would be a slippery slope for no real reason, but I’ve seen it done.

      I always believe that policies need to be set for a measurable business need and not because a manager prefers something different. Also, don’t change the policy for everyone because there is an issue with someone.

      1. HonorBox*

        You say don’t change the policy for everyone because there is an issue with someone. I’d say that’s exactly what you’re advocating for, though. This is one person trying to take off early every day instead of taking their lunch break. So if you’re allowing them to do that because they just don’t like to eat lunch, what’s stopping EVERYONE from doing the same just so they can get out an hour early? Because if you allow it for one, there is zero reason that everyone else can’t do the same. Then your 8-5 business hours go to 8-4… and that will likely have impact on the business. Then what if someone isn’t a morning person and doesn’t want to take lunch and decides that they’re going to work 9-5 and not take lunch? Once you start for one, you have to open the doors to all.

        Allowing some flexibility is great, and I’d totally support that. It sounds like that’s something that the LW supports, too.

        But speaking of slippery slope…I’ve seen this get really out of hand, too. A friend managed a smaller team and a couple of employees decided that they wouldn’t take lunch Monday-Thursday and would just leave at noon on Friday. He had to shut the whole thing down because it had a major impact on the business with 40-60% of the staff gone half a day.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          If it causes an impact to the business LW can definitely step in and change the policy but right now it’s ONE person so I think it’s a bit early to catastrophize this. If it does turn out that everyone wants to leave early then the boss can step in and switch around schedules as needed, whether that means some people come in later to cover that extra time or it’s mandated that a certain percentage of people had to work until X time and they assign varied schedules. But it seems unfair to deny one person something because what if everyone did it?

          I’m going to bet money that not everyone in the office will want to skip lunch everyday. It’s common but not THAT common.

          1. HonorBox*

            Sure… but I was just responding to the statement that you don’t change the policy for everyone because there’s an issue with someone. In this situation, you’re changing the policy for someone when they’re the only problem. I pointed out the fact that everyone might want to do it, not because I think that’s actually going to happen, but to emphasize that as long as you let the one person do it, you have no opportunity to stop anyone else.

            We don’t know how large of a company this is, but if one single person is the issue, why solve a problem that isn’t a problem.

            I feel like the old fart saying this, but the employee knows the business hours and business norms. The LW was very clear that they’re accommodating when people need to work through lunch from time to time so they can leave. This request is a major change and I think the person asking is taking advantage of the flexibility.

              1. HonorBox*

                Yep. The LW has said they’ve been flexible and allowed people to work through lunch and leave early from time to time, as needed. The person asking is taking advantage because they’re trying to take what is a nice perk, available to people from time to time, and make it an all the time thing for them just because they don’t like to/want to eat lunch. That’s taking advantage.

    4. Noisy bird*

      When I was hourly, I used to just smash my two paid 15 minute breaks together and eat lunch then, and not take an actual unpaid lunch. It was great, I got to leave after 8 hours, and it enabled me to get a dog, which was a lifelong dream! Then administration got a bee in their bonnet about that and people feeling obligated to skip lunches they were entitled to. Which, I get. But having to stay an extra half hour really mentally got to me. If there’s truly no impact on the person’s ability to contribute to the business needs of their unit….I think admin and bosses should let this kind of thing go. Trust people to manage whether or not they need a lunch break. (and let me go home half an hour earlier to walk my dog!!)

      1. doreen*

        Administration might have gotten a bee in their bonnet for a couple of reasons other than people feeling obligated to skip lunch – there’s the possibility that your state requires a lunch break if you work a certain number of hours and there’s also the fact that combining your two 15 minute breaks actually results in a single half hour break.

        My job had actual rules about 15 minute beaks – you couldn’t take it first thing in the morning and come in 15 minutes late, or last thing and leave 15 minutes early or combine the two of them and take a half-hour paid break or combine both with lunch and take a 1 hour lunch , half paid and half unpaid. The reason was that none of those things was a 15 minute beak that had to be paid and that was the only reason the 15 minute breaks were paid. Once they turned into a single 30 minute break that break was unpaid.

        1. AnnM*

          This! I live in a state where the law is that all breaks less than 30 min must be paid, but 30 min or longer can be unpaid. So the employer could legally just stop paying the 30-minute break if taken all at once.

    5. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah the boss’s attitude here is a bit infantalizing. Plenty of people don’t eat a big lunch or even don’t eat lunch at all and are fine. If it seems like the employee isn’t performing their best after you make this adjustment, you can always change, but it seems best to let the employee decide what’s best for them, and if they say they can work through lunch, trust that!

  5. Antilles*

    For #2, that letter could almost have been written about me – I regularly either do a working lunch at my desk and even when I do take a lunch, it’s rarely the full hour…and usually leave a few minutes early to make up for it. It’s rarely if ever been an issue. If there’s a known meeting or deadline in that last 30-60 minutes, of course I make sure that happens, but if there’s nothing, then whatever pops up just gets addressed at 8 am the next morning.
    Also just rolling my eyes a little at the part about needing him there to encourage a collaborative environment. They have from 8 am to 4 pm for that collaboration, so unless there were details that got cropped out for the Inc re-post, it just reads like a vague “what if someone needs a question answered at 4:30 pm that absolutely cannot wait…” kind of theoretical scenario rather than a clear business purpose that’s likely to occur regularly.

    1. Almost Empty Nester*

      What stood out to me was that OP listed the things he was doing during his “break” instead of eating, and then wanted to leave early because he isn’t taking a “lunch”. If he’s taking some time to do leisurely things during his lunch hour instead of working, he is not working through his lunch hour.

      1. Becky*

        The way I read it was he is doing all these other things on his “lunch” because he is supposed to be taking that hour off. He doesn’t want to be wasting this time and would rather be working but needs permission to not take the hour and leave early…which is what he is asking for.

      2. Someone*

        I think he’s doing those things on the days he has to take his “lunch” hour.

      3. gsa*

        I had already copy this portion of the lunch letter, “I have an employee who often doesn’t eat lunch. He sometimes stays at his desk and plays on his phone or visits with friends on their lunch hour, but seems to rarely eat lunch himself.”

        This person is taking a break. He doesn’t get to leave early.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          You do understand though that the manager can approach this by just saying yes he can leave early as long as he doesn’t take his break during the day. He’s possibly taking the break now because he knows he isn’t allowed to leave early without clearing it first.

        2. Antilles*

          To me, that reads like Becky and Someone suggest – that he’s doing the things simply because he *has* to take the break; he’s only spending an hour running errands or watching YouTube videos or whatever because he’s usually forced to be there 8 am to 5 pm.
          So if the manager lays out the agreement that he can leave early but needs to stop with the informal hour break, then that solves that.

    2. Some words*

      Sometimes the requirement is about adhering to state employment law. Where I work we’re required to take a break of at least 20 minutes for lunch, because employment law in this state requires employers provide that. There’s no using that time for making up late time, or skipping it to leave early.

      My point being simply that what’s allowable in one state may not be allowable in another.

      1. higheredadmin*

        Also true when I worked in the UK. Lunch time was mandated, so you can’t forfeit it and then leave early.

      2. Bast*

        Same in my state. There is even a requirement as to WHEN the break can be taken, as it must be before you hit the 6 hour mark. We have had quite a few people get upset over this, but it’s not worth a run in with the DOL over.

      3. fine tipped pen aficionado*

        Yes, and it’s not uncommon for large orgs that operate in multiple states to have all staff adhere to the rules for whichever state they operate in has the strictest labor laws so even if it’s allowable in your state, the company policy may require everyone to follow California’s laws.

        1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

          I ran into this problem with a retail establishment I worked out- our corporate offices were out of California, so lunch breaks were mandatory. A younger supervisor who had only worked at a local pizza franchise before this job quite arrogantly told me that in our state, breaks were not mandated by law. I told him that was true- but corporate obeyed California law, since that is where they were headquartered in. Would he like to take it up with corporate? Plus, would he like to be the one to tell everyone we were now no longer having ANY breaks and instead would be working 8 hours without a chance to get off the sales floor, get a drink or a snack, and not be “on” for the customers? Yeah, that didn’t go over too well, so he shut up real quick about it.

      4. Be Gneiss*

        But the LW states that they already allow it on occasions when an employee needs to leave early, so we can give them the benefit of the doubt that this isn’t their issue.

        1. My Useless 2 Cents*

          It could be a case of both could be true. When applied to an occasional case (once every few months for a specific reason) it would not be an issue, but when applied regularly (once or more a week) it would cause problems, legal or otherwise, for the company.

          Like fixing a cup of coffee in the breakroom every morning is fine; grabbing an entire container of grounds from the breakroom to take home so you could have your cup of coffee before coming to work is not fine.

      5. Antilles*

        Maybe, except that *nothing* in OP’s letter even hints at employment law (you’ll note that OP even says they allow it when asked). The justification offered by OP for why it’s important for him to be in there isn’t “we’re legally required to give breaks after 6 hours” or “UK mandated lunch time” or any of those other scenarios.
        Instead, OP’s rationale is a vague mention of ‘collaborative environment’/’availability for questions’ and reading a handful of Internet articles about burnout. Which yeah, no, I’m not finding either of those arguments too impressive.

      6. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I’ve always wondered — does employment law that requires breaks actually require that I *TAKE* the break, or does it just require that my employer OFFER ME the break? (I’m sure it varies by location, but every example I’ve looked at made it sound like the latter.)

        1. constant_craving*

          At least my employer’s interpretation in CA was that it requires the break. Basically it’s too hard to determine if an employee genuinely, freely didn’t want the break.

        2. Orange You Glad*

          My company’s policy is that if we’re required by law to have a break, then they should see a break on the timesheet (clocked in and out).

        3. WS*

          Where I live (Australia, so it’s 5 hours then a mandated half hour) you have to take the break. This really annoyed one employee who didn’t want a break in the middle of the day, but that’s the law.

        4. AnnM*

          Typically, the law includes that employees themselves can’t just choose not to follow it, because that leaves way too much gray area where the employer can be coercive in pushing employees to just “choose” the illegal thing.

      7. Orange You Glad*

        Yea also beyond employment law OP should review her company’s policies. I just went through training yesterday that reminded all managers that our employees are required to have at a minimum a 30 min break every day and the policy specifically states that they can’t skip lunch to leave early. I try to be reasonable and flexible with my employees’ requests, but I would not be able to approve someone skipping lunch to leave early every day.

        I’ve worked at other jobs where we were not allowed to do this either – one job was so busy I often accidentally worked through lunch and wouldn’t get a moment to take a break until like 3:30 or 4. I still had to log out for a half hour and work until 5.

        I think the employee’s request is reasonable, but there may be more factors at play.

  6. Inkognyto*

    “Oh these scars, that was when I fought off 27 ninja’s that were trying steal my garden gnome”

    if they press you just say “Oh maybe it was 50, it was so long ago”

    and if they press even more “when did you get that mole or freckle?” if they seem taken aback just say “how does that feel?”

    then ignore them.

    1. Someone*

      I had a professor who was missing a couple fingers. He had hundreds of different stories to tell about why.

    2. Happy Peacock*

      I explained some abrasions on my face once by saying I was attacked by a yeti. Have a story prepared ahead of time so it feels natural. Eventually people will stop asking.

          1. Jam on Toast*

            If it was a insulated beverage attack, would that make them a victim of a ‘mugging’?

    3. Marna Nightingale*

      Also, honestly, with colleagues and if it suits your personal style better, “That’s quite a personal question” is a reasonable response as well.

      It takes a person with a hide of rhino to push past that one. In the event of rhinos, you can always pull out the “So it turns out the zoo was serious about not petting the cats” routine.

      1. Artemesia*

        This kind of response focuses people where she doesn’t want them to go — I like the silly responses followed by not entertaining the question further.

    4. ferrina*

      “Well, it all started back in 1963, when my grandfather walked into that biker bar. Now he didn’t know it was a biker bar- he was just looking for a place to hang his hat. He was in the middle of nowhere, in Oklahoma. Or was it Arizona? You know, it might have been North Dakota. Anyways, he had just read Jack Keruoac’s On the Road. He decided to drive from Minnesota to California with some friends. His friends decided not to come with him- one had just enlisted for the Army and another had decided to stay home. You see, my grandfather grew up in a small town in Minnesota and……hey, where are you going?”

      1. Lenora Rose*

        I dunno, I’d expect this to turn into an Uncle Sven Story and be sticking around for how wild it gets.

        (Links in next post)

        1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          The you just finish the story but have it not relate to the scars at all. “And that’s why we always name our dogs Ralph.”

  7. Checkert*

    OP1, it may also be useful if your organization offers any time of employee assistance program (where I work this includes counseling type offerings) to make sure they are aware of the resource and feel empowered to take advantage of it.

  8. Rebecca*

    It’s very likely the crying person hates this as much as OP does. Source: me, because I have a hard time with tears at work.

    I was raised to be a people-pleaser which included being taught that expressing anger or frustration were wrong and that confronting someone, even in a reasonable and professional manner, is unacceptable. So I have a big response to that and it’s difficult for me to have intense work conversations without tears.

    Trust me…I loathe it. And after speaking to a therapist and trying all the tricks (taking a deep breath, pinching myself, asking for a minute) I’ve learned that it’s unfortunately just part of the package of being me.

    All that to say – what I find most helpful is for people to either ignore it (this allows me to pretty quickly collect myself and move forward) or to say something like “Would it be easier to discuss this later? You can put some time on my calendar or just stop by.”

    You literally cannot instruct someone to not do this, for a lot of people it’s a conditioned emotional response and not something they can control.

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      My partner is just kind of naturally leaky too! Her approach is to just say that, basically: “Yeah, sorry, I cry easily, it’s not a big deal to me so please ignore it.”

    2. NeedRain47*

      Similar here. I’m not boo-hooing, I’m still able to carry on a calm and thoughtful conversation, but tears are coming out of my eyes whether I like it or not. Nobody needs to do anything about it, I’m doing the best I can.

      I’m also thinking about how I would feel if I emigrated and then my work visa was in question, that’s an incredibly high stress life situation. The “crying about ongoing work project” is a bit more concerning.

    3. Michelle Smith*

      This is me too. And it’s important for people to know that crying does not necessarily mean sad. I also tend to cry when I’m frustrated or really angry or overjoyed or experiencing really any strong emotion at all.

      I will say that changing jobs did help me have those cries less publicly (it’s much easier to turn off a Zoom camera than cover up what’s happening when face to face) but I get that this employee may not be in a position to work remotely.

    4. Dragonfly7*

      My work crying is for exactly the same reason. I need to learn how to turn it off and recover faster.

    5. Cyndi*

      As someone who cries very easily and has only mostly learned to control it, I would be MORTIFIED–and much more upset–if someone took that as a cue to jump in unasked and take work off my plate. I can cry and work at the same time! I’m not proud to say I’ve had a lot of practice! But what I really can’t stand is people thinking I’m incompetent.

    6. A*

      yup. I’d warn my boss and take a chewy sweet (fruit pastilles) into difficult convos because despite my brain state being fine I’d get tears anyway.

      also I gave a number of medical issues that mean my nervous system misfires so it seems to be related to that.

      setting the “I’m fine, ignore the tears” standard was very useful.

    7. HE Admin*

      I’m a frustrated crier–not regular levels of frustration, but when something is REALLY getting me there, I definitely cry, even though I’m not actually UPSET by the thing, just frustrated by it. And then I get frustrated that I’m crying. Cue a self-perpetuating cycle of tears that sometimes just has to work itself out.

    8. glitter writer*

      Same. I tear up with almost any strong emotion (positive or negative!) and I dislike it enormously — it is in fact a real pain in the butt — but if I am in a situation where someone can tell (it is a lot easier to pass it off as allergies in the Zoom era) I just have to say something like: Sorry, this is how my body works, I hate it, please ignore it, I am actually fine, let’s move on. And I know it’s not optimal but, well, neither are a lot of things about bodies, haha.

      What feels different here is that the person doing the crying doesn’t seem to be handling it with that kind of awareness.

    9. Triplestep*

      Yup, came here to say this. Some people are criers. I am not one of them, but I have known some and it’s pretty pointless to try to get them to stop. They wish they didn’t cry so easily too.

      If there’s any coaching to be done here it’s to help the crier figure out ways that their crying won’t be such a spectacle. Encourage the cryer to speak with colleagues when they are NOT crying about why this happens. Encourage them to explain it’s no one’s fault and not due to something they (the colleagues) did wrong.

      I say this as someone who had a perfectly reasonable conversation with someone I did not know cried easily, and it left her in tears. I felt confused, then defensive when others suggested I had “made her cry.” Since the crier can’t help crying, what’s needed for her is coping skills and what’s needed for others is honesty about the situation so they know they are not to blame.

  9. CPA Spouse*

    Op2 – if an employee is paid hourly, they may have to take a lunch break as part of company policy. Where I work, non-exempt employees must punch out for a half hour lunch any day they work. Managers aren’t able to override this, unfortunately.

    1. constant_craving*

      I think we can assume this isn’t the case since the LW explains that their policy allows employees to do this with permission.

    2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      You might work in a state that requires a lunch break. Lots of states don’t require that.

  10. Chairman of the Bored*

    If somebody starts crying at work I’m going to ask them to excuse themselves until they’ve got things back under control.

    It’s fine if they need some time to process or relax etc, but I’m not going to work through a work issue in real time with somebody who is weeping and sniffling across the desk from me.

  11. scurvycapn*

    #2 has me confused. The OP states that the employee plays on their phone or visits with co-workers to socialize during their lunch hour. While they may not be eating lunch, they seem to be taking their lunch hour by the fact that they don’t appear to be working. So, the answer should be “No, you aren’t going home early as you still took your lunch break.”

    1. Me*

      I’m pretty sure they are only doing this on the days they haven’t been approved to flex out early.

    2. metadata minion*

      As I read it, the employee is socializing, etc. because they’re required to take a lunch hour even though they don’t need either relaxation time or time to eat, and they’d rather just skip both food and socializing and get to leave an hour early.

    3. Aquamarine*

      I think the idea is that they would stop taking the break (since they’re not eating during it anyway) and start going home early instead.

  12. Katie*

    Crying rarely is understandable. Crying frequently when asked to do your job is a big problem. Either she can deal with her job duties or she can’t.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      This is really unempathetic and doesn’t provide any actionable advice for LW unless you’re suggesting they should fire an employee for being a crier.

      1. Old-School Cool*

        This response is a great illustration of why being “empathetic” is not always an unqualified Good Thing.

        If someone is crying constantly it is reasonable to ask that they get their emotions under control. Katie is right.

        1. Justme, The OG*

          “Crying is rarely understandable” is where the poster lost me. That’s why they’re unempathetic. Humans have emotions and are allowed to express them.

          1. House On The Rock*

            I read it that way to start as well and was shocked…but what Katie actually wrote was “crying rarely is understandable…” as in it’s understandable when one cries on rare occasion.

            I’m not excusing or standing up for the rest of the post, because that can be viewed in different ways, but the poster does acknowledge that there are times when one might cry at work and that’s ok.

          2. Sylvan*

            “Crying rarely is understandable.” I thought they meant that crying only a few times was understandable.

          3. Be Gneiss*

            What the commenter said was “Crying RARELY is understandable.” I took that to mean it is understandable if someone cries infrequently.
            The comment still reads as harsh, but I don’t think most people would disagree that crying infrequently is something that most people would find understandable.

        2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          This is a false dichotomy. People can be empathetic while also addressing a problem.

    2. Happy Peacock*

      Getting frustrated doesn’t mean she can’t handle her job duties. Everybody gets frustrated. Some people cry when that happens, some people have a different response. It’s not a reflection on ability to do job duties.

  13. Luanne Platter*

    Re: Lunch breaks- some jurisdictions (ahem: California) won’t allow a skipped meal or rest break, with financial penalties to the company. OP will want to consider those laws before deciding on their employee’s request to skip lunch.

    1. constant_craving*

      If those laws applied, they (hopefully) wouldn’t already be approving other employees to do this on occasion, which OP says is the case.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      That mandatory lunch applies to non-exempt workers. Exempt workers aren’t required to have a lunch break at all. And the state usually only enforces it if the affected workers make a complaint. This worker is unlikely to complain about getting their preferred schedule.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Don’t think that’s true in California. Have a look at California Labor Code §512(a).

        (a) An employer shall not employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total work period per day of the employee is no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee. An employer shall not employ an employee for a work period of more than 10 hours per day without providing the employee with a second meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee only if the first meal period was not waived.

        No mention of that applying to only non-exempt workers.

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          I’m in California. You may be cutting and pasting out of a longer document that applies to non-exempt workers.

          Like California overtime laws, California meal and rest period requirements apply to non-exempt employees, and not to exempt employees. C.C.R 11040

  14. House On The Rock*

    What’s absolutely wild about number 4 is that the employer expects LW to simply go along with this scheme and agree that they resigned based on a demotion. Why on earth would anyone agree to a blatant fabrication, especially one with no upside for them, only a downside (reduced pay/vacation payout)? The fact that they are giving LW time to get ahead of it and start telling people points to their sheer incompetence, so at least they are bad at being shady! I would certainly hope that the other leaders who are being asked to lie about the circumstances of the resignation/demotion speak up, but LW certainly should!

    1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      If I had even a quarter of this employer’s unearned confidence, I would be the empress of the milky way or something by now.

    2. Julia*

      We had an employee who had been with the company (in all it’s various forms) for 25+ years quit and walk out one day. Actually, she “resigned” by post-it note, left the building, called her manager and said “see the note on my desk”.

      When they rehired for the position, it got reclassified as hourly vs. salaried (not sure why but it was). Then a rumor got started the reason the long-time worker quit was because of this, but it wasn’t. I corrected it every time I heard it.

      The reason they left is two-fold: they had already been exploring the idea of retiring so they could have more time with their granddaughter and then her daughter (mom of the granddaughter) had called that day to say she had caught her husband cheating and needed her mom’s support. She post-it quit and got on a plane.

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Yes, they set the OP up for a public embarrassment and potential black mark on a reference that they got demoted before they flounced in a huff. I hope they quit effective immediately and gathered everything they could in writing because no doubt they slandered the OP after it all shook out.

    4. NotRealAnonForThis*

      In my AAM fanfic, LW4 had everything in writing, managed to save it some place safe JUST prior to network access being rescinded, and with the assistance of trusted coworkers crashed the new org chart roll out with a sudden and well placed “Well actually….” complete with power point slides.

      Yes I know reality probably played out differently. I can dream though.

      1. linger*

        Not too much worse, all considered. In the update (linked above by Zidy), LW4 proceeded by communicating her resignation to her team face-to-face (so not provably disobeying management), then moved her resignation date forward to avoid having the demotion apply. The org chart roll out therefore had to present the position change as a consequence of, rather than a reason for, her departure.

    5. Wilbur*

      It doesn’t take a lot of foresight to imagine that other employees who hear about this might resign without notice rather than be demoted for their notice period.

  15. My Useless 2 Cents*

    I have the opposite problem to #1… it’s my manager that sits at her desk and cries when frustrated. It’s very uncomfortable. I’ve found the best solution is to let her cry and come back later. I tried being a sounding board or offer suggestions but when that upset neither were particularly helpful. It may be a difficult conversation but one OP#1 really needs to have with employee.

    I’d like to mention, that I too tear up easily when upset (never to the extent of actually crying at my desk) so I get that it is not 100% controllable. However, I don’t think not trying to control it is an acceptable solution. The burden needs to be on the crier to calm themselves down. That could be excusing themselves to go take a short walk outside, get a drink of water, or throw on some headphones and listen to brown noise for 5 min.

  16. Katrina*

    For #2,
    I personally prefer to work through lunch when it’s desk work. Once I’ve got that momentum going, I like to run with it until the task is done. I’ll graze on healthy snacks if I need to, but I feel way better when I can reach what feels like a natural stopping point rather than halting everything, walking away, and trying to get back into “work mode” later.

    But please, please make sure that one person leaving early on a regular basis doesn’t create more work for others. In one of my first jobs, the favorite employee was always allowed to work through our (unpaid) lunch break and leave an hour early. She arrived at 7am and got to leave at 3pm. This was early education, so there were adult-to-kid ratios we had to maintain, and guess who ended up working 8 to 6 every day to keep us in ratio?

    I realize that’s kind of a unique situation, but just be on the alert for stuff that might not be obvious.

    1. Pam Adams*

      Also, what id everyone decided to work through lunch and leave early- would you close the office an hour early? Leave one person- perhaps the one who likes taking lunch there alone? Would you cover?

      1. constant_craving*

        If the work is all done, why not close? Nothing OP describes makes it sound like this a a coverage-based job.

        1. HonorBox*

          Because if you close early, you’re then forcing every person into the “we don’t take a lunch” box.

          And nothing OP describes makes it sound like this is a job that is a “walk away at the end of the day with everything all wrapped up and bowed.” So the work is likely not all done.

          1. constant_craving*

            The proposed scenario is everyone wanting to skip lunch and work early. If someone is being forced that implies they don’t want to, so that’s an entirely different situation.

            Yes, sure, in most jobs the work is never fully done. But if people are calling it a day anyway after 8 (etc.) hours of work regardless, the exact hour of the day doesn’t seem important if coverage isn’t important.

            1. doreen*

              Depends on exactly what you mean by “coverage” – there’s the type of job where if I take a day off someone has to cover for me in some way and lots of jobs don’t require that. But a lot of jobs do require someone to be there during office hours , so that if office hours are 9-5 someone has to be there by 9 and someone has to stay until 5. And therefore everyone can’t work 7-3 or 10-6 or skip lunch and work 9-4:30.

  17. GingerCookie*

    Honestly… Angel…. I cannot blame her for crying with the visa process… I work in the US visa process… and it is a nightmare… high stakes… technical…. Beautcraric ratio… we try to be helping ppl but it’s a mess. Take care…

  18. Lauren*

    I am an adult who cries often.
    For me it is a trauma response and I would hope my boss/coworker would have some empathy.
    I try really hard to not cry but I can’t help it. It’s not something I can control well.

    1. Bit o' Brit*

      Same, but for me it’s a result of being ND rather than a specific trauma. There are a lot of conditions that might cause emotional dysregulation, and it’s incredibly discouraging to see people imply that crying as a response makes a person incapable of holding a job. It’s not like we’re talking about a violent anger response that could endanger coworkers.

      1. Lauren*

        Thank you for saying this. There is a commenter here “Katie” who has no idea. Just because I’m an adult doesn’t mean I outgrew/got over everything and am now perfect.

        1. Looper*

          I don’t think calling out another commenter because you misread their comment is necessary. And what would be really awesome is if those of us who are easy criers (myself included) actually took what other people are saying to heart about how uncomfortable they are when their coworkers frequently cry. People can be both empathetic to trauma and also not want to deal with a crying coworker on a regular basis. People who are not outwardly emotional are also dealing with trauma. We can all have empathy for each other and still advocate for our own needs.

          1. Lauren*

            I did not misunderstand. She said that someone who cries often can’t do their job.

            1. Looper*

              No, she said that someone who frequently cries at work should assess whether they can do a job. It isn’t unreasonable to view someone who frequently cries at work as overwhelmed.

      2. My Cabbages!*

        I have trauma *and* am ND so…yeah. I don’t always get to control when I cry. I’m not being overly emotional and I’m not being manipulative, I just can’t control my eyeball faucets.

      3. Bert and Ernie's bees*

        I’m also ND, and cry fairly regularly as a response to things at work. I have problems emotionally regulating, so I take a moment, step away from my desk if I can, compose myself, recenter. Is this my preference? No (I’d rather go home and snuggle my dog), but it allows me to get my job done. People have seen me cry at work, many times, but I know that this is my issue to deal with.

        I also happen to have a coworker who is the same flavor of ND as myself, who also is someone who cries often. Their response to crying is to emotionally dump on whatever coworker is in their vicinity, often for more than half an hour at a time, preventing people from doing their jobs, while also not doing their (ND coworker’s) job. Their emotional dysregulation is very evident, and is impacting everyone’s ability to get work done. They make their emotions other peoples’ problem. Their boss has been trying to work with them for over a year on this, but it is disrupting our ability to get things done and causing a negative impact on our department. What I’m trying to say is, we have empathy. We’ve tried working with them to figure out coping mechanisms. They just keep crying and emotionally dumping on others. So now they are on a PIP, because they are causing such a disruption to our operations, for such an extended period of time. I feel AWFUL about this, because I recognize a lot of their behavior in myself; the difference is, I have more work appropriate coping mechanisms.

        TLDR; this hit too close to home for me, because it’s hard to draw the line between “being an empathetic human when someone is going through something hard” and “this person is literally always going through something hard, and it is causing a problem in us doing our jobs.”

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I think this is a really helpful parsing of the range of crying-at-work; thank you.

          1. Bert and Ernie's bees*

            Yeah, their boss and I had to figure out how to carefully explain this to HR, so I’ve spent far too long thinking about how to phrase it and be understanding of all the intricacies of ND. I appreciate your comment!

            It’s just an all-around rough situation, and I really feel for my coworker. But ultimately, their job isn’t getting done even with reasonable accommodations at this point, and it’s unreasonable for an accommodation to be “I get to emotionally derail my coworkers for multiple hours a week.” (plus it’s really damn exhausting).

          2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

            Yes there’s things that are problems because we’re reading in ( those sniffles are part of her evil plan to delay the TPS reports ! ) and things that are problems ( she has delayed Fredrick’s TPS reports and hour every day) and you explained it well

      4. Cereal Carnival*

        I’m just glad the comments today are nicer about it than the last time…last time they talked about crying at work I literally had a panic attack because people DID seem to be implying that if you can’t not cry at work, you shouldn’t be in an office. And in that scenario, the employee had explicitly asked people to ignore her, but they weren’t doing it (they were rushing around behind the scenes, without her knowing) and so it was considered the crying employee’s fault.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Whoa, hold on — if you’re talking about the last letter we had about crying at work, the person was crying multiple times a week and in all sorts of meetings (team meetings, one on one, etc.). It was really disruptive. That’s what people were responding to — not saying that crying very occasionally makes you unfit for an office.

          1. Cereal Carnival*

            Yeah, but if it’s not very occasionally, then it’s automatically disruptive and worth discipline, at least according to some people here. That is the letter I was talking about, and the employee had asked to be ignored.

            I had to leave the work force because I was only ever disciplined for what turned out to be undiagnosed autistic meltdowns. I cry when I get stressed or frustrated. I wasn’t asking anyone to take care of it for me. But because it’s, let’s say, once a week, that’s evidently enough to keep me out of the white-collar work force.

            1. Courageous cat*

              I mean… yeah. Having a visible meltdown at work once a week is going to make it difficult to find consistent in-person employment. And I don’t think they’re necessarily in the wrong for that. Grappling with that is a lot of emotional labor to ask on the part of the employer/coworker.

              “Your mental health is not your fault, but it *is* your responsibility.” As someone with mental illness, I fully align with that statement.

    2. Polaris*

      I have no idea why I do. I’m calm and focused over a heated issue, and my darned eyes leak. I do not understand the whatever the he!! body systemic response here. Its frustrating as all get.

      I frequently joke about it in the moment with coworkers who ask/request that I take a minute to settle myself that “I’m settled. My eyes however think we need to go kick a trash can or something, and are retaliating against me for my refusal to do so. How about XYZ…?”

  19. Emmie*

    Give the person who cried over the Visa a lot of grace. Sorting out a Visa issue means that there was a problem. It’s a problem that impacts a person’s ability to stay in the county. It can impact their family’s ability too. If this issue isn’t solved, this person must move from a country they’ve lived for years with little notice. It’s a big deal.
    Was the person a crier before the Visa issue? If not, I’d look at how the company handled the Visa issue. Perhaps there are lingering emotions tied to that. And this person cannot leave their job as easily as citizens may be able too.

    1. lolly*

      But that’s not all she cries about. It’s one part of a much bigger picture.

  20. SBDavin*

    I wasn’t able to read Allison’s response on Inc. to LW#1, but was able to read the letter. I could have written this letter myself. For me, it is a stress reaction plus hormonal at certain times of the month. A lot of times I wasn’t upset at whatever the work situation was, it was just stress release. But I also had to accept that I am an emotional person and my coworkers, especially my boss, have been supportive, but I know it made them uncomfortable, let along my own embarrassment. I’ve been seeing a therapist for a few years now who has been able to teach me techniques on how to manage stress at work. I’m happy to report that my tears at work have been greatly reduced – its been many months. I hope LW has a workplace EAP that can be utilized or another avenue to find a therapist or learn some stress reducing techniques. It’s hard and it takes effort and I wish LW the best.

  21. Workfromhome*

    #3 My response to we are changing your role title and pay would be “oh so you have decided to terminate me ahead of my notice period?’ They are eliminating your job. You need to accept and agree to a new job at a different pay level. Its a material change and amounts to “constructive dismissal.”
    you’d have to check with a lawyer and your local laws but where I’m from that would be effectively a termination and if you choose not to accept the ‘new job” for 3 weeks then you walk, and they need to pay you out your vacation and 2 weeks notice. Maybe even severance.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      In my state, a demotion and/or pay cut would be constructive dismissal, but there is an expectation that the employee give the company a chance to fix it. So I really agree with Alison’s advice and suggested language to try to talk through it first. There is no legal guarantee that the company would be on the hook for the notice period or severance, but the company would not be able to lower the amount of the vacation payout if the employee refused to accept the new position/pay.

  22. a clockwork lemon*

    I’m a lunch-skipping employee. When left to my own devices, I’m a grazer–if I eat a full meal midday I feel bloated and sleepy all afternoon. I loved being able to flex my time to have that extra hour at the end of my day! It allowed me to keep the eating schedule that works best for my body, and meant that I was always an hour off from “off-peak” everything. My commute was shorter, I was able to run errands during the week that I’d normally have to stack up and do during the weekends, and overall I had much more free time to…balance my work with the rest of my life.

    1. Science KK*

      I had a coworker who was the same way, but she’d go to the gym during her “lunch break”. Between 12-3 appearently it was empty and she loved it.

  23. Pomegranate*

    Seeing comments above and having a new crier in my workplace, it seems like some people can’t help the physical response of tears coming out of their eyes. Sometimes it is divorced from emotions enough to carry on and sometimes it is not. Either is fine, as long as the person who is crying is taking the lead on managing their own emotions – informing others “it’s ok, carry on” or taking time to compose themselves.

    I think when it gets really tricky is when coworkers are expected to manage the crier’s emotions. Of course, it’s understandable if it’s a rare occurrence and one assumes it’s something big and serious and people like to help. But with frequent criers that’s just not possible to be that sounding board every time.

    1. Cereal Carnival*

      I think the important thing to keep in mind is that people do have a natural impulse to soothe someone who’s crying, but that’s not the same thing as being expected to manage the crier. As someone who cries under stress, the fastest way for me to calm down is to just be left alone to deal with it and get myself back together. People talking to me and trying to make me feel better just make it worse. I may not be in a conversation with anyone in which I can preemptively say how I want to be treated, before that person decides to try and manage my emotions to make their discomfort stop.

      Yes, there are people like the one described above who will try to cope by engaging other people and asking for comfort. But it’s a really important distinction between a coworker who’s being actively roped in, and one who just wants to help. One situation is a lot more the crier’s fault than the other.

      1. Pomegranate*

        Interesting point about people jumping in to soothe the crier unasked. I’ll be on the lookout to not do that! thanks for pointing it out.

  24. Agrajag*

    I feel for the employee in #1. Frustration is the shortest path to tears for me, way more than sadness, and I’m aware that it’s not a great look. I do my best to control it but I’ve still cried at work many more times than I would prefer. It often happens mid-conversation, too, so many of my possible coping strategies are not immediately available.

  25. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    1. As someone else who cries as a response to being frustrated or angry it really can be, well frustrating. I noticed for me that at jobs that were more stressful it became more frequent. So certainly speak to the employee to see what is going on and if there is something that YOU CAN do. It could be just giving her space after a hectic meeting or even letting her know that you support her. Also, if things are very stressful for her at the moment maybe point her to EAP if your company has one.

    2. The lunch guy: You also have to be extremely careful about your state regulations around lunch breaks and your company regulations. Some states mandate that after so many hours a worker has to have a break. This is especially true with hourly employees. I’m not saying that the employee would do this but if he worked through his lunch he could make a claim saying that he was denied a lunch break.

    3. I love the option of the answer of a zombie attack for the nosy Nancy who asks about the scars. Don’t let it affect you and keep a calm head when you answer. If someone who keeps asking you can cooly say “What is with this odd fixation on my body? It’s old scars that do not affect you and is none of your business. Please stop commenting on my body.” Make it so they feel really awkward and specifically, mention “my body”. I think sometimes people will focus in on one thing (scars, weight, etc) and not think that they are really commenting on someone’s body.

    4. I would be very concerned in this situation. For future references and employment checks would they say you were a director for X years or would they just say lower level position? I would certainly make sure my team knew the truth and I would check with HR about any future reference or employment history checks.

  26. Ellis Bell*

    OP1, it might help if you sort out mentally what exactly the problem with the crying is for you. It sounds like you have some tolerance for crying and were willing to help an employee through a tough time so I can see why you don’t want to give a “crying is unprofessional” message, because it’s not really reflective of your stance. Also if you change it to “crying so often is unprofessional”, that’s not really actionable or helpful to the employee – has she ran out of crying opportunities by using them all up? What does ‘often’ mean? What should she do instead? Etc. It’s reasonable to assume it’s not entirely deliberate either, and that it’s more personality based than a one off situation. From your letter it sounds like the real problem is not that she tears up, but that you are supporting her through the crying session – which I think anyone would find uncomfortable if they were doing it regularly – and then doing her tasks for her. If tears are more of a big deal occurrence for you, you may feel compelled to help stop the crying by doing more for her than is comfortable for you. I think it might be better to just step away, save yourself the energy and give her some privacy if she tears up, with messages like “I’ll give you a moment”, or “We’ll talk when you’ve had some time”. If you want to have more of a big picture conversation ahead of time, say something like “I feel like I’ve been stepping in too early when you get frustrated. In future I will let you process the frustration and take a break before you come back to me calmer, so you can really have the time to succeed.” In short make it clear that tears-time is not the same as working time. It’s not an impromptu meet with you, or a brainstorm or a collaboration, but you can give it the same grace as you would someone needing a different type of break, (so long as it’s still productive).

  27. NCA*

    For a long time, I’ve cried a lot at random situations. Or rather, I like to say ‘my body cries’ – there was no sound to it, but no matter how hard I tried not to, liquid would fall from my eyes, and trying to make it stop would just make it worse. Better to just wait out the minute or two of tears. I am ADHD, and RSD certainly plays a part of it. I found it best to pre-warn my boss and coworkers ‘sometimes my eyes leak – it’s not usually related to any emotions in particular, and I’m fine’ (even if sometimes, yes, the ‘crying’ was related to some temporary emotion) It helps that I’m not in customer-facing roles.

  28. Policy Wonk*

    Where I work, lunch breaks are legally required. The only exception we make to allow someone to work through lunch and leave early is a religious accommodation for those who are fasting during Ramadan.

    1. constant_craving*

      The OP mentions others are allowed to work through their lunch break and leave early, so I think we can assume there’s no legal mandate for a lunch break.

  29. My Name is Mudd*

    Peri-menopause has thrown my ability to control tears out the window. I am a weepy hormonal mess. It’s like when I was pregnant, but worse.

      1. Ariaflame*

        Do you have a magic wand for that? You seem to be implying that people who cry are not attempting to stop it and if they only put some effort in they could. I’m afraid human biology is not always that simple.

  30. Dumpster Fire*

    My biggest concern for OP2 is that it sounds like the employee isn’t WORKING through the lunch hour – he’s playing on his phone and visiting friends who are having lunch. The fact that the employee isn’t actually eating doesn’t mean he’s not “taking lunch”. I’d be wary of letting him leave an hour early if he’s not actually working reasonably productively during the hour that everyone else is having lunch.

    1. constant_craving*

      He’s not working because the current arrangement still has it being his break. He’s asking if he can skip that break to leave early, but there’s no reason for him to be working through what is currently designated as a break for him.

  31. John*

    Be wary of allowing your employer to dictate when you’re allowed to tell colleagues you’re leaving.

    Too often, they use the time to get out ahead of you with alternate versions of why you’re leaving to avoid the appearance that they aren’t managing their best talent well. Happened to me when I’d had a stellar reputation for decades yet even the CEO was fed nonsense about me.

    Consider what you know of your manager to decide whether to trust them. Remember, you don’t need their permission to tell others you’re going. That’s the freedom of resigning!

  32. Raida*

    I think LW needs to sit down and go through how they respond to their staff.

    Are they accessible?
    Are they listening?
    Do they offer guidance / approval / help?

    then, separately, do the same for the crying staff member

    Are they asking for help?
    Do they cry to ask for help?
    Do they want your help?
    Do they need help, or is it assurances, approval, guidance?
    Do they ask for help and then cry – if so, is your response to their requests for assistance in line with their needs? If not, are they communicating their needs effectively?

    and separately again… Is crying a stress response? Do they really just need a minute to get it out? Are they crying or are they tearing up? Some people get teary and almost-cry when they are frustrated, for example.

    Once LW has rationally outlined themself, the staff member, and what they can understand of the crying as three separate things, then they should be in a good position to discuss what the issues are, where to focus the staff member for changes, coming to an understanding on communication, and clarifying that “omg your visa? that’s serious I totally understand” is a very different situation and reaction to work where it’s far more “try to figure it out yourself and then discuss what you need with me”

  33. jojo*

    If your employee is playing on his phone or chatting with other employees as they eat than he is at lunch even if he is not eating. You are not paying him to play on his phone and chat with those eating. He is on break while playing on his phone.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yeah, this is not what the letter says.

      He is doing this instead of eating. If he left early, he would not take a lunch break, would not eat, would not play on his phone, and would not be chatting with others.

  34. GimletGirl*

    Yes because those 30 minutes my office gives me for lunch (that I work through instead because 30 minutes isn’t enough time for anybody to go do anything for lunch, let alone eat) is really gonna save me from burnout.

  35. Luna*

    As the employee that has cried at work over frustration (coupled with simply being more emotional than I usually am, as my grandmother died recently at the time), I can tell you that as uncomfortable as it was for you, it was just as, if not more, uncomfortable for the employee herself.

    Regarding the self-harm scars question, as Alison says: “Mh? Yeah, they’re old.”
    It’s a scar. Or scars. It’s a story on the storyboard of your life that you call a body. If people keep insisting, “Like I said, they’re old. It’s all in the past.” and then bean-dip if necessary.

  36. UK reader*

    Her response is called Emotional Flooding, she is struggling to regulate all the stress and this is the response her body is giving. Does her insurance offer her therapeutic support? or does the organisation provide and access to wellbeing and therapeutic support. I am from UK so I am aware that the support systems are different but she needs to start recognising her stress triggers and then learning new tools of how to manage it so she doesn’t end up flooding.

  37. CLC*

    Why do people make such a big deal about crying? It’s just water coming out of a person’s eyes. For some of us it just happens easily—-and it hurts like crazy if you try to hold it in. I would much rather someone produce some tears in their frustration or anxiety than get angry and yell or make threats. What difference does it make if water is coming from her eyes?

  38. DivergentStitches*

    Looking at the ceiling can help when you start to get that tingle in your nose that says you’re about to start crying. It does work! But it can also look like you’re rolling your eyes, so use at your own peril.

  39. meggus*

    FYI: Uncontrollable crying can be a symptom of PTSD and other neurological issues. Crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system. It can happen just from being stressed or heightened (which those of us with PTSD are on a daily basis), and it doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is emotional over the situation at hand, or out of control. It also isn’t always uncontrollable *sobbing*, it’s often just tears that are activated. Pseudobalbar affect is real, and like other disabilities, can be accommodated per ADA. I went through it for a good 3 years, had accommodation agreements at work, had the discussions about it, PERFORMED EXCEPTIONAL WORK, and I was still disrespected by management for it. While I understand the sight of tears can be distressing to folks, please remember that this is a part of disability/living with one for many of us. It’s a physiological response, not just lack of emotional regulation. Please keep this in mind as the world is ableist and generally corps do everything they can to avoid providing ADA accomodations.

  40. The bottom line*

    Very occasionally expressing emotions, fine. Not being able to control them, not fine. Let this employee go if she doesn’t improve

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