What to do if your boss cries at work

Your boss is in the middle of a motivational speech to the team when you spot something.

Is that a tear in their eye?

You ignore it, but soon enough, it spills over. It’s happening. Your manager is crying at work.

It shouldn’t be such a shock, but let’s be honest – it’s a bit awkward.

We tend to see our managers as super professional, distanced, and maybe even a little emotionless. They’re tasked with putting on a brave face and leaving personal stuff at the door – so when that mask slips, it can be a bit disconcerting.

But the reality is that people don’t magically get their emotions turned off the moment they get a senior position. Whether it’s down to stress, outside-of-work issues, or being triggered, it’s likely that some day, someone above you will have a mini meltdown.

So, what do you do when it happens?

Try not to judge

It used to be the case that showing emotion at work was seen as ‘weak’ or ‘unprofessional’. Now, that’s starting to change – which can only be a good thing.

If you find yourself thinking negatively of your manager when they’ve cried, question why that is. Is it a bad thing for a leader to be emotionally invested in something? Why do you think it’s weak to express feelings?

‘The days of “work masks” have gone and it is now okay for people to express their emotions and feelings at work,’ work expert Paul Hargreaves tells Metro.co.uk.

Be compassionate – care before you judge.

Be mindful of what could have built up to this

Your boss’s tears might seem like an overreaction – but maybe what you saw was just the final straw that tipped them over the edge.

Mark Simmonds, who runs a creativity agency called GENIUS YOU and is the author of Beat Stress At Work, tells us: ‘Be mindful of how long this will have been building up for before things arrived at this point. It could have been weeks or even months of silent suffering.’

Take them to a private space

‘If your boss has broken down somewhere public, suggest that you go somewhere private,’ Mark suggests.

Don’t worry, it’s not overstepping the mark. Your manager is likely to feel a bit embarrassed about their outburst, and could use some kindness from a coworker.

Try saying something like: ‘Shall we take a walk outside and chat this through?’ or ‘the meeting room is free at the mo, I’ll walk you there’.

Give them space to cry

Ever tried to stop crying, only to find yourself bawling harder?

Your manager might be experiencing the same thing, desperately trying to stifle tears and getting increasingly frustrated that they just won’t stop.

Once they’re in a private space, encourage them to have a good weep and get it all out.

Listen

Mark recommends: ‘Encourage them to express how they are feeling and why they are feeling the way they are feeling.

‘Ask questions. Listen. Empathize. Don’t attempt to offer solutions. This is not what they will need right now.’

See it as a positive

‘Appreciate that they may well have broken down in front of you because they feel they can trust you,’ says Mark. ‘They feel you will understand.’

Ask what they need

The easiest way to help your boss when they’re overwhelmed? Ask them what will do the trick.

Some people will want to be left alone, others will want to have a good chat. Your boss might need you to chat with the rest of the team, or just get back to work.

Ask your manager what you can do to help – then do that.

Step up to cover them

Mark suggests you ‘encourage your boss to take some time out, pack up for the day’ – we’d agree with that, but add one thing: try to sort out cover for anything your boss needed to get done that day. They’ll likely have the background stress of ‘I really can’t be crying right now, I have X, X, X to do’ running rampant, so do what you can to ease that.

Encourage them to seek support

You’re not always going to be the right person to sort out someone’s issues – so encourage your manager to seek out the right support.

That might mean talking to their manager, calling the employee assistance line, or chatting with friends and family.

Check in later

Don’t just pretend nothing happened. The next day, check in with your boss to see if there’s anything they want to chat about or something they need help with.

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