Crying at Work and 5 Other Ways to Kill Your Career

John Boehner, former Speaker of the House, crying at the podium -- one of several times he did so during his career
John Boehner, former Speaker of the House, crying at the podium — one cry of several during his career | Alex Wong/Getty Images

It’s always a bit off-putting to see someone cry. While you may see it occasionally (or constantly) from a friend or family member, seeing people crying sends many people into a tailspin. What are you supposed to do? Should you try to help, or just leave them alone? And when you see someone crying at work, things become even weirder. You may want to distance yourself or try to step in, but either way, it’s a pretty uncomfortable situation.
As it turns out, crying can be particularly damaging if done at the workplace. You’re bound to see a colleague cry at some point — the world is an unpredictable place, after all. But what if you were to see your boss break down? If you work under someone who is typically hard to rattle, seeing them break down at work can be more than just uncomfortable. It can permanently alter the way you see them.
New research, which we’ll address on the next page, all but proves it. Seeing our colleagues cry — male colleagues, especially — causes a change in our perception. It’s like we lose respect for them, in some way. That may not be necessarily true in every circumstance, but it’s a strange transcendence of norms that can change a workplace dynamic.
And if you’re the one having the emotional break, it may prove lethal to your career prospects.
Becoming emotional, however, is just one of many potential career-killing behaviors. There are a number of things we can do either intentionally or unintentionally that can sow the seeds of our own destruction. Here are six things you might be doing at work that can actively hurt your career.

1. Crying

A Celtic fan cries following a loss
A Celtic fan cries following a loss | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Starting off with crying, which the aforementioned study said can really hamper your career prospects. It all has to do with feedback and how we psychologically process it, particularly with men. Essentially, the researchers conclude that crying in a public setting, like at work, sends out signals of vulnerability. This is a sort of violation of cultural norms (men need to be tough and stoic, etc.), and it tends to be off-putting. For that reason, your colleagues and managers can lose respect for you.

2. Anger and lashing out

businessman shouting on the phone with gesture on the car
Businessman shouting on the phone with gesture on the car |

There was a scene in the TV show The Office in which one character, Andy Bernard, becomes angry and punches a hole in a wall. All because he couldn’t find his cell phone. It was a complete and total breakdown and loss of composure, and even though it’s a dramatized scene, you can see how his colleagues react. They completely lose respect for him.
Think about how similar scenes may have played out in your own professional life. Have you seen a manager or boss lose it on a subordinate? Or a co-worker start throwing things around their cubicle or workspace? Violent outbursts are typically signs of underlying issues. They don’t really earn anyone respect and instead come off as infantile. It can also get you fired.

3. Staying home

chair in empty office
An empty chair in an empty office |

One easy way to really trip up your career trajectory is to actively sit out for some of it. That means you’re not showing up to work for whatever reason. We all have colleagues who never seem to be around, especially when they’re needed. They take sick days constantly, or they call in late or send an email letting everyone know that they’re working from home. Meanwhile, things need to get done, and people need direction. If you want to rise up and take charge, you need to show up.
Everyone’s going to take a vacation or sick day from time to time. The key here is to build a reputation for being accountable and present.

4. You’re a slob

A slovenly man reading a book
A slovenly man reading a book | Orlando/Three Lions/Getty Images

Appearances mean a lot. But it’s not just in the case of your personal appearance, or how you look. We can transmit a lot with our actions, and even with the way we keep up our personal space. Your co-workers will notice many things about you, including what you eat, how you eat, your workspace, and your car. The goal here is to not be a slob. If your desk is littered with candy wrappers and crumbs, what does it say about you? Or what if you end up giving a manager a ride home one day, and your car is filled with fast food refuse?
They may not outwardly judge you for it, but it’s certainly not going to make a good impression. You can’t expect to be given a promotion or new project to manage if you can’t even manage to keep your personal space in order.

5. You’re a disruption

A woman taking a phone call at work
A woman taking a phone call at work |

Most of us are mindful of our workmates. We try to stay out of each other’s way by being quiet and tidy. But every workplace has one or two people who just don’t seem to understand boundaries. They listen to music without headphones. They can’t figure out how to turn their phone to vibrate or silent mode. Perhaps they take personal phone calls at a furious pace, thinking that everyone wants to overhear half of their conversations.
Basically, they make themselves a tremendous distraction. This can birth a lot of malice and frustration, and earn you a lot of enemies. Don’t underestimate how destructive barraging your workmates with little annoyances can be.

6. Become a bully

Angry man bullying a colleague
Angry man bullying a colleague |

We mentioned violent outbursts. But what about straight bullying, which can take a variety of forms? You don’t need to yell or scream to be a bully, or even be physically intimidating. Yet, we often know a bully when we see one, and they aren’t usually the types of people we respect or want to be around. Of course, having a bit of salt is bound to help you climb the career ladder in some respects. But what happens once it becomes obvious what you’re doing, or you run into someone who won’t put up with it?
Your luck is bound to run out. Be strategic in how you build and facilitate your professional relationships, but don’t think you can bully your way to the top. Before you know it, the whole world will be aiming to take you down.
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