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Emotions At Work: Why Crying Isn’t As Big A Deal As You Might Think

Organization & Teams


January 13, 2020

August 26, 2020

Showing emotions in the work place: it’s complicated. We don’t want to lose our professionalism. The good news is more and more people think that a good cry or tantrum at the job doesn’t have to be that bad.

“I’ve cried at work. I’ve told people I cried at work. I try to be myself. Work is all professional and all personal, all at the very same time”, said Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, in a speech she gave to Harvard Business School students. 

The time that showing your emotions at work is frowned upon, is behind us for a pretty long time now. More and more CEOs and leaders are open about their occasional tears, like Sandberg. This is not only true for women, by the way. Steve Jobs was said to have cried in front of his team too. 

Thankfully, one could argue, because we can’t expect ourselves and our employees to behave like robots. In fact, in Daniel Coyle’s best selling book The Culture Code, Coyle argues that sharing vulnerability is a core trait of highly successful teams. Sometimes we can’t help but feeling overwhelmed; whether it’s because of work stress, our private lives or a combination of the two.

Still, however, showing your emotions at work is somewhat of a grey area. Just how much anger, sadness, excitement, disappointment or jealousy can we permit ourselves in front of our team? 

Better workplace 

In their book No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power Of Embracing Emotions At Work, authors Liz Fosslien and Mollie West wonder why even in the modern age, we still immediately jump to the idea that we should suppress everything we feel when think about professionalism. 

They argue that the future of work is emotional. In fact, they believe that effectively embracing emotions is essential for a better workplace. Showing emotions in the workplace is okay according to the authors, but timing, context and the way you show them are important. 

When it comes to crying on the job, for example, Fosslien and West write that it’s usually just a sign you that you care about your job. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clintons staff cried so much they needed a special ‘crying room’. 

Reassessing your emotions 

What about anger? Simply shouting at your team members that have disappointed you is not a good idea. But suppressing your anger – hiding your feelings and pretending not to be upset – isn’t going to help either. 

According to an article on Harvard Business Review, team members will consciously or unconsciously register the suppressed emotions of their boss, setting off an alarm and leading to all sorts of negative outcomes for team morale. 

The effective strategy here is reappraisal: reassessing an emotional situation. In this particular case, you could think: ‘yes, this is a major disappointment’. ‘Yes, I’m angry’. But let’s use that disappointment to kick the ass out of the next opportunity that comes along. 

Key competence 

This kind of emotional regulation is a key competence for business leaders, according to Harvard Business Review. When everyone feels down, leaders must find a way to motivate and inspire their team. 

And sometimes – with an emphasis on sometimes – a good cry can make all the difference in the world. We’re all human. We all have emotions. Even CEOs.

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