IT Employment optimize

"There's no crying in baseball" (or the workplace)


Remember when Tom Hanks' character in A League of Their Own said, "Crying?! There's no crying in baseball!"? He was playing a beleaguered coach of a women's baseball team who couldn't deal with one of the team member's emotional outbursts.The line was meant to be funny (in fact, one of the few in that movie that was) but there's a spark of truth to it too. I saw an article recently that said women (and men too, I suppose, though the article was directed at women) can suffer irreversible career setbacks if they are perceived as emotional.

One time long ago, I was a middle manager who made an impassioned please to my boss against a planned intiative that would have put my team at a production disadvantage. No tears, just impassioned.

The result? The initiative went forward and at my next performance review, I was told my performance was good but that I could be "too emotional." Normally, I would completely understand an aversion to excessive emotional displays in the office, but this particular boss, who was about one chip away from being a cyborg, confused my passion with emotional instability. From then on, I tried to retain my passion but consciously controlled the way I manifested it.

Ironically, it was a few months later that I got an internal transferree who was the walking embodiment of excessive emotions. This woman, I'll call her Camille, would cry at the drop of a hat. And this wasn't a slightly weepy, slink-off-to-a-restroom-stall kind of crying either. This was the sobbing, co-worker-hugging type that erupted because of everything from a minor job performace critique to any of a thousand personal dramas that seemed to plague her life.

I'm pretty soft-hearted -- sometimes to a fault -- but this all got tiresome pretty quickly. Her behavior alienated her from the team, a situation that became increasingly difficult to manage.

Now, on the flip side, there was a guy in another department who often lashed out verbally at other staffers when he felt frustrated. At first, we attributed this to the fact that he was going through a bitter divorce. But months later, we began to think the divorce was the result of the anger and not vice versa.

So what do you do in cases like this? It's more politically correct to reprimand an employee for an anger issue (especially in light of the gun-toting nut jobs who've made the news recently), but how do you discipline someone for crying too much? And is it more of a personal issue rather than a workplace one? Short of spiking their morning coffee with Prozac, is there any way to change that kind of behavior in someone? I don't have the answer. Do you?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

39 comments
motherafra
motherafra

This is a pathetic world we live in...completely and utterly pathetic. What is the difference in the denial of the fact that we are human in the slaughter of whole races and the denial that we are human in the work place. I am disgusted with talk of "careers" and "moving up the *corpse ridden ladder, so friggin' sick I could puke. I am a nurse and other nurses and management expect the same zombie like brainless aquiesence as they did when I worked as a college educated library technician. To hell with them all... withgoddess

david.shane
david.shane

I knew I had to respond to this one. So you've got a basket case? How many good people in your department are you using to carry this one person? I can tell you want to be fair. No, I can tell you're obsessed with being fair. My experience is that managers who obsesse over being fair fail most often to be fair with their best performers. The save up all of their "Fairness" for the 20% that take up 80% of their time. You were criticized for not being on board for a change that had too much momentum to be stopped. You were not criticized for caring too much. Here are some simple, but I admit, not so easy rules to strive for in leadership; 1. Live to be liked, but work to be respected. The people who get it will like you for it. The people who don't won't matter as much. Everyone will respect you because you know that respect works both ways. 2. Protect the people who protect you. That would be your top performers, not your basket cases. 3. Be honest with everyone. Don't be cruel, but be open about a need for change with the people who need it most. Reward people who make the needed changes. Reward your top performers more. 4. When ever you can, reward your team as a team. Be careful about punishing the team for the actions of a single person. If you do this, do it with the intention of bringing the team back into focus. Never do it as a knee-jerk reaction about anything. Punish wrong-doers in private and give them goals at the same time. These are not easy to live by, so be prepared to forgive yourself when you fail. As far as your delicate flower is concerned, tell her the truth. She's not being fair to the team. Advise her to seek help. And tell her that you'll be there to help if she actively seeks to gain the personal goals that you will help her set. Good luck. If managing was easy ......

KaryDavis
KaryDavis

...and not a star. I learned early in my career that management type positions are not my forte because I do not want to be responsible for other human beings (and all that entails). I am a firm believer in separation of personal/professional behavior. Just as I do not allow work to affect my personal life, I don't find it too difficult to not allow my personal life to affect my job. There are special circumstances of course, where its impossible to prevent a personal problem from affecting the work place. I went through my separation and I had to inform my job just in case my irate husband showed up at my job (my boss was astounded I was going through such personal trying times as she saw no previous signs). While I can appreciate an understanding boss, I still believe the duty and responsibility rests with the employee to maintain a separation between their personal agnst and the professional behavior in the workplace.

gholl
gholl

I'll take equipment every time. I've had numerous occasions where a candidate seems "normal" in the interview, and becomes somebody completely different after the hire. I agree with David: I try to be as straightforward and honest as possible with my staff. Make sure the expectations are clear on all aspects of the job including customer and peer relations.

mtackett
mtackett

We had an employee like this at our office... but the main source of the emotionality was a back injury that kept her in constant pain. Anything that might have normally made someone else 'sentimental' sent her into large crying fits that echoed down the halls disrupting others work. Although everyone wanted to be sympathetic, after weeks, and then months, of crying fits and walking into our main office to see her at the desk sniffling... people just started to avoid her. What didn't help was that she was already suing the department for prejudice against her disability because someone made a comment about her talkitive-ness in the hallway and how it slowed down people in the office. Because her wheelchair (she was in a wheelchair at the time) was mentioned in the sentence, she sued for prejudice against her disability. No one was brave enough to discuss her emotionality and how disruptive it was to the workplace. Most of the crying was because of the pain she was going through... but there wasn't much of anything anyone could do about it. We went through that for almost 2 years before she was able to retire on disability. What do you do in a situation like that?!?!!

stepmonster
stepmonster

I guess I'd do what you did, and just wait it out, until she's able to get her disability payments. I'm sure she dreaded going to work as much as you all dreaded working with her. Walking on pins and needles all day has got to be exhausting. But I do want to say that bellowed howls of crying are not acceptable anywhere, at anytime, except maybe at a funeral. It seems to be ok with 20 somethings for some reason now, and this is NEW for me to witness. I can't see any purpose to draw that much attention to yourself, because sympathy isn't what you will get. In fact, it's the opposite. Sad people cry, 3 year old spoiled brats bellow. Am I wrong?

Tig2
Tig2

I have been pushed to tears at times. I always managed to find a private space before they fell. You're right, bellowing out your "pain" and "sadness" to insure that all within the sound of your voice hear your cries, is a temper tantrum. I'm not unreasonable- we will talk about it. Once. I have a team member today that isn't bellowing his displeasure over the solution that the corporation has chosen, he's just refusing to learn it. I have tried to talk to him about this but he is not following through any of his action planning and he is currently slated to be the product owner on rollout. I am requesting that we re-consider this team member for this activity. I hate to do it- the team member can be a great asset. But this time and for this solution, not so much. Some days I really hate my job... Edited because of a dangling participle.

DadsPad
DadsPad

Any work environment must be a productive one. To do that production must be measured. How it is measured is a different topic. If an emotional person is productive and it is reflected in reviews, then you will have to work with employee to cure the problem. If the employee has lost productivity, then talk and work with the employee to see if can be stopped. If there is a lot of interference with the workplace due to this emotional person, then you should talk to HR first on what you plan to do and for advise. Working with them you start a plan on how to handle the employee and get your department back on track. No two situations are the same, but you must handle your job.

carsa
carsa

Personally, I've had to work with people who are very emotional and it makes it extremely challenging. Listening is always a key piece to the puzzle but as a manager, you need to set very clear boundaries as to what is appropriate vs how the employee is delivering their message. Don't allow them to stir your emotions up--if there is a work related problem, keep them focused on finding a solution, not the problem. If it is a personal issue, respond empathically but strongly suggest that they look to your company's employee assistance program or the community for assistance. If a personal issue (family problem) continues to be an issue, suggest taking some time off to help resolve the issue. Unfortunately there are some individuals who will always live with drama. Take yourself out of their drama triangle and and you will save yourself a lot of headaches.

cln
cln

I was hoping this article was providing an answer -- because I have the same problem with an employee!

rhonda.russ
rhonda.russ

Taking the associate to a private place until they can pull themselves together is good, as well as encouraging them to walk away from emotionally charged situations until they can get themselves under control. So is letting them know they are potentially damaging their career by their behavior. I still occasionally get upset enough to cry or verbally lash out (rare), but I've gotten way better at distancing myself from the situation and not taking things (including coaching & counseling) so personally. Sometimes it can be a health or personal crisis that is the real issue behind the emotions. Sometimes it is feeling like you're being personally attacked. And sometimes it's a lack of maturity and experience that only time will correct. And the person who can't overcome these will eventually find themselves alienated from their co-workers and at a dead end in their careers.

cln
cln

The expression is "made an impassioned plea" not "made an impassioned please".

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

I know it was a typo, but it just seems to be an accurate description of asking your boss to change something.

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

The key phrase is "disruptive" not "emotional". I've dealt with emotional employees and employees going through emotional situations. I've spent numerous hours listening to concerns and providing mediocre advice to the best of my ability. I haven't ever seen it written in a management text, but it often falls to a manager to provide emotional support for his staff. There is a line, however, when emotions become disruptive. I haven't had to deal with excessive crying, but I have had more than enough times where I had to mediate arguments between software developers over "the one true way to develop software." My issue is that every team member deserves respect even if you happen to disagree over a technical detail. Being a manager means dealing with team members emotions. It may be a commentary on society at large, but it seems many staff members do not have anyone outside of work to provide them with emotional support.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

I think that immigration is ruining America.From living in the trees and hovels to top corporate.I can't get in because of the quota situation.They're the newly immigrated and they have rights higher than mine and I'm the indigenous.Remember that they left their country,in many cases,because of a violent conflict.(boy do they have an attitude.)

grande.christopher
grande.christopher

This doesn't pertain to the current thread in any way, shape or form. If a worker is found to be emotional on a regular basis, they should be moved to a less stressful position to begin counseling therapy. If counseling and any ensuing medications prove to be unsuccessful the employee should be let go. It's not a matter of what's fair, it's a matter of what makes money. Giving employees every possible chance to remain with the company shows other employees your company does care about the welfare of its employees. In the long run, however, companies in a business this cut-throat cannot afford to pay someone that not only does not finish their work on time, but disrupts other workers as well.

Mark_T
Mark_T

This is relevant because ???

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Don't expect a reply from him. He feels compelled to post once on a subject, regardless of relevance or his knowledge, then move on to dump another load of brilliance somewhere else, thankfully never to return to the topic.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

On the internet as in life, a lot of time has to be devoted to weeding out the information for the info you want. I must spend near 4 hours a day reading info, most of which is not to my liking, but just might contain some useful info, so I read on. Headings are not always representative of the article content but you'll never know unless you read the entire piece. READ ON.

Maevinn
Maevinn

Back on topic... I think that a good boss will address--politely and privately--any type of extreme behavior. Everyone had down days, when they might snarl or break down, but if it's a habit that disrupts the work place it should be addressed. It might not even be a matter of emotional control--it may be a medical issue. Hyper- and hypo-thyroidism both result in massive swings in emotion and often the sufferer isn't really aware that their reaction is out of control.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I've had to deal with this both on my team and on other teams that I interact with. Ignoring it is the worst thing. Most companies have resources to deal with this kind of thing. I've prescribed a day off (with pay) in some cases where I thought work stress had been a factor. James

stepmonster
stepmonster

Nobody can ride on that rollercoaster without messing up their mascara! - nobody - But the solution can't be to lay off all women from the age of 45 - 55... There will always be emotional days, crying at work, etc. Just give us a moment to catch our breath and powder our noses before asking for the 90th time "what's wrong?"

motherafra
motherafra

It certainly makes a great deal more sense to look at and relate to humans as biological, electrically charged units...who are liable to be fraught with all manner of disorders, physical and psychological. THEN..you may be dealing with someone who has thyroid disease, epilepsy, menopause, cancer, diabetes, AIDS...why my goodness the nature of humanity is frailty... Dear Techies, eventually all power systems will fail...including big business which is built on the backs of the halt and lame...with all delusions of grandeur even business will catabolize...and I will not die if I don't do a spell check. withgoddess

GSG
GSG

I saw a great bumper sticker today that hit a little close to home... I'm out of estrogen, and I have a gun. And don't ask what's wrong when I'm sitting at my desk dripping in sweat and fanning myself when everyone else around me is freezing. Dude, Hot Flash, now go away before I hurt you.

Tig2
Tig2

The next person to ask me why I am sweating in the midst of a Minnesota winter is going to meet my "clue bat". I work with a number of women in my general age group. They get it. My project teams are all men. They are learning. I am fortunate to work in an environment that doesn't care if I pack up the lappie at noon and hide in an enclave or go home. The culture understands that we can only take so much before meltdown.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

Medications, mental health issues, diabetes, chronic illness, cancer... All medical issues that can affect mood and behavior...

WhomEver123
WhomEver123

not to mention any deaths in the family, which again can be categorized as medical if the grief symptoms are too overwhelming...

JamesRL
JamesRL

Managers have to manage people, and people have problems. I recently had a medical situation with my wife. My boss not only immediately understood, but asked me to focus on the family and let him take over. He also took the time to understand the situation, ask about the impact on my kids, made sure I had extra help etc. Being a good listener is half the battle. James

sam
sam

Is there a way to only turn on the useful content in TechRepublic?

jdclyde
jdclyde

and already acting like and id10t. Not exactly off to a good start, unless that was the intent?

johns
johns

I guess I spent too much time in the military. The job is to be done...period. No exceptions. If the boss says do it... you find a way to make it happen regardless of how much extra work is involved. Emotion and/or passion are not a factor. Just get the job done. If you think it was too much to ask, then your reply might have been... My team can do this, but we are going to need a little more time to make it happen correctly. A good boss understands this kind of comment and thinks of you as a realist, not over emotional. Then put all of your passion into getting the job done correctly. When the job is finished, give your team some type of reward for their efforts... like a long lunch or some time off with pay. Make it clear to the boss what your intentions are at the start. Everybody wins. As for those employees who constantly bring their life problems to the office, tell them point blank that it has to stop or serious consequences will result up to and including the loss of their jobs. I know my way of seeing things is different and not well liked in today's society, but that's just how it is. For everything there is a season.... A time to laugh and a time to cry. Its never time to cry at the office..... Cry on your own time, not on mine.

ES3
ES3

Finally, Someone that posts a good answer. Act professional If you can't than you are in the wrong field of work being in I.T. This profession can be tough and stressful and for those that can take the pressure it can be quite rewarding Head on over to H.R. for a tissue and a transfer form.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

If you don't want to read an article don't read it. Don't snark at people who have devoited their time and efforts to help the community

JamesRL
JamesRL

Did the title not give you an adequate indication of the type of content? Believe it or not, some people might find this useful. James

jdclyde
jdclyde

How to present yourself in a professional environment has no effect on your work life, and has no place for working professionals. If you cry, your propeller might rust.....

motherafra
motherafra

Oh of course! Less pay to be more human. That just makes so much sense. Thank you for clarifying this salient point to a fault. I'm so glad that I logged in at this ungodly hour for this edification, withgoddess

ralphclark
ralphclark

In some types of workplace, and I am particularly thinking of big corporations, it seems to me that only a certain type of person can get promoted to management positions above the most junior levels. That is the type of person who never discloses anything personal about themselves, who hardly ever raises their voice, who never rocks the boat, never takes *your* concerns to his *own* boss, and who never, ever shows any emotion. Except, of course, the fake smile. If you want to get on in your career, don't bring your personality to work. If that bothers you, go and work for a smaller company (and less pay, naturally).

WhomEver123
WhomEver123

I agree with the previous person. To have someone say you are too emotional for being passionate about something is not right or fair. My own personal problem, and I am fully aware of it, is that I am by nature a passive person. HOwever, to survive in the workplace in a male dominated work environment as a female, that won't work. So to overcompensate for my passiveness and shyness, I often come off sounding "aggressive", even though I am simply only trying to be assertive. Usually I am only aware I have done this until after it has happened. Lately, I have consciously been trying to talk in softer tones. I have learned that people simply tune out and don't listen to what I am saying when I am "trying to be assertive". Because my assertiveness always seems to be mistaken as aggression. Anyways, I sympathize with you, because to be trying your hardest to do something you strongly believe in, and to be mistaken for being something other than trying to get your point across, and to be accused of being emotional, is hard on one's psyche. I can't tell you how many guys ram there ideas down my throat, overtalk me in meetings and in hallways discussions. For myself, this is personallly where my so-called "over-assertiveness/aggressive" comes from. To get my voice heard over all the other overly aggressive people. Anyways, I am in charge of some important things, and I have been quite upset that people haven't been listening to me. My new strategy is to say it, and to say it quietly so that they hear me. And then if I figure they are dismissing what I am saying, I simply state what the consequences will be if we don't act on what I am informing them about. The "consequences" thing seems to catch their attention and suddenly pay attention to what I am saying. It has happened we have gotten in trouble before for not performing something, and when the blame was put on me, I said I informed those who needed to be notified and nothing was done. So now people are listening a bit more. However, there is no doubt that I, as a woman, am taken less seriously than a man in this IT field. Having worked in this field for many years, I try to ignore and do the best I can. And it's no wonder some "women" are in tears in the workplace, having to work in environments like that. It shows that we're human and have a heart! If only people would learn to treat us as such!

jhilgeman2
jhilgeman2

Makes me think of Alice Cooper's "Cold Machine" song: "Love's forbidden, so is passion, this whole place is sterilized!" The biggest boon to any highly-successful, productive team is emotion. Without it, productivity just drops like crazy. Emotion brings a lot of energy and creativity to the table - it lets employees still feel human and keeps them from feeling trapped / chained down to their desks. Now, just like everything else, there is such a thing as too much of it. When any emotion (and it's not just crying or anger - I've seen it happen with the "good" happy emotions, too) starts overpowering everything and everyone else, it needs to be addressed. I've had employees that are ruled by paranoia and suspicion, and it was manageable at first, and the person left after it became too much. But I've had people come crying to me about things from work to personal issues, and I've taken the time to bring them to a private area where they can feel free to talk to me about the issue. In the end, that person will get over the issue, and appreciate the acceptance of the emotion that much more. But to have your boss say that you were too emotional because you were passionate about an issue - that's just a sign of a cold-hearted bastard of a boss who will eventually (if not already) command very little respect and loyalty.