Men don’t cry. Women are hysterical. Two of the many gender stereotypes around emotions.
Society (at least in the West) has taught us to associate emotions with being female. Logically, we know that’s not true. Emotions aren’t exclusive to women. They’re part of being human. And everyone, both men and women, get emotional, even in the workplace.
That begs the question, are emotions in the workplace a good or bad thing? And what emotions are appropriate?
Let’s quickly take a look at biology to better understand how emotions differ between sexes. Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against women when it comes to emotions. Women are biologically more susceptible to crying due to smaller tear ducts and higher levels of prolactin, a hormone said to promote crying.
Studies have also suggested that men cry less frequently compared to women. Men are reported to cry 0.5 to 1.5 times a month, whereas women cry on an average of 2.5 to 5 times a month.
Although there are biological differences between genders, being human makes us prone to emotional responses. But society treats men and women very differently when it comes to emotions.
Men are taught from an early age to hide their emotions, to suck it up, and not be sissies. They’re taught not to be like women. And somehow, we associate anger and frustration as masculine emotions when women are just as likely to get angry.
Women, on the other hand, are free to express their emotions, that is until they get to the workplace. The rules change for women in a professional setting. Getting frustrated makes them bitchy, empathizing makes them weak, and when they get teary-eyed, they are hysterical. But if a man shows emotion at work, he’s seen as compassionate.
What do we lose or gain by emotions in the workplace?
Let’s step back for a moment and consider what we lose by holding back emotions at work. For both men and women, bottling up emotions can lead to:
- Health issues
- Increased stress
- Lost time and money
- Unnecessary hostility in the workplace
Emotions can also prevent us from forming authentic personal connections with employees, coworkers, and clients.
Now, let’s look at what we gain. Some who study organizational behavior claim that settings where employees feel comfortable and safe sharing their emotions lead to more productive and creative teams. Expressing emotions also builds trust and stronger relationships with colleagues and customers.
If expressing ourselves can lead to stronger workplace relationships, then how do we eradicate the double-standard for men and women and strike the right balance of emotions at work? How do we encourage healthy expressions of emotion from all and move away from gender-stereotypes?
What it will take
There a number of factors that come into play for emotions in the workplace, including the:
- Industry (considering whether it’s male dominated or female dominated)
- Level of professionalism expected
- Organizational goals
- Workplace culture
- Country the company is based in
But creating an environment that accepts and welcomes healthy expressions of emotions can be done. If you want to foster stronger personal connections at work, it will take time, honesty, and especially authenticity. It will also require a certain level of emotional intelligence—being aware of your own emotions as well as the emotions of others.
Striking the right balance
If you’re committed to having a workplace more open to and accepting of emotions, you’ll have found a happy medium. Happiness and positivity are all well and good, but to only allow those emotions is unrealistic. We are complex individuals who have good and bad days. Both men and women will get stressed, afraid, tired, jealous, and boastful.
Therefore, we need to be willing to work with different people’s experiences and emotions and remove the stigma around emotions at work. This also means striking a balance between appropriate emotional reactions and ones that do harm.
Some emotions to keep an eye on are:
- Competitiveness (to a certain extent)
Some might characterize these emotions as masculine, but both men and women are capable of these feelings. And they aren’t always productive in the workplace. Let’s examine these three emotions more closely.
It’s okay to be angry. But it’s not okay to talk down to others or to have screaming matches and temper tantrums, ending in expletives and slammed doors. Hopefully, most have developed enough self-control and self-awareness to express frustration calmly. Creating a culture that allows men and women to discuss frustrations in a constructive manner can help organizations move forward.
Conceit is another emotion to watch out for. There’s a difference between confidence and cockiness. While there’s nothing wrong about being proud of your accomplishments or confident in your abilities, rubbing people’s noses in it does not promote stronger working relationships. Knowing the difference between the two and the right balance to strike requires some emotional intelligence and gauging the environment you’re in.
Competition is a double-edged sword that can bring people together or tear them apart. Competitiveness demonstrates a certain level of dedication and belief in the work you’re doing. But poor sportsmanship damages relationships, teams, and projects.
Unsportsmanlike behavior can come from both winning and losing sides, from both men and women, and it can hinder the spirit of teamwork. It can take many forms such as taunting, hurling insults, undermining others, and even so far as finding ways to sabotage other people’s work. And while competition can be a great motivator, it’s important to not let it get out of hand.
We are humans, not machines. And as humans, we can’t just check our emotions at the door.
This doesn’t mean that we should hide all negative emotions and only permit positive ones. Because negative emotions have their value and can help us think more critically and come to decisions. It’s more about allowing for vulnerability and authenticity to build personal connections.
We need to encourage both men and women in the workplace to be honest, express fears so they don’t eat away at us, and allow for moments of unhappiness. Embracing emotions and making space for them in the workplace will propel companies forward. And the fact of the matter is, expressing emotions in a healthy way brings people together.