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April 26, 2007

Crying At the Office

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

First tattoos, then piercings. Now the WSJ's Sue Shellenbarger reports the -- to me, anyway -- bad news that it's becoming more and more permissable to cry at the office. "Today's young adults are more comfortable venting all kinds of emotions," she writes, citing a psychology prof, who says, "They were raised with the phrase 'express yourself'." Sounds about right to me -- and, as far as I'm concerned, there's too damn much venting going on these days. There's another element at work too. The psych prof goes on to explain that today's young people have no experience in taking criticism and often burst into tears when they receive negative feedback.

Shellenbarger seems to approve of this new freedom to vent, by the way. Her piece isn't online, darn it. But she's hosting a WSJ forum on the topic, and I found it a lot of fun to read. My favorite note came from commenter "srosaaen": "First, we have to applaud their every effort; now, we have to listen to their crying. What part of this is behaving like an adult?"

The freedom to cry at the office: a good development or a bad one?



UPDATE: The WSJ's Jeffrey Zaslow writes a related article about how young people's expectations of unending praise are affecting workplaces. Zaslow is much less cheery about these developments than Shellenbarger is. Great passage:

Bosses, professors and mates are feeling the need to lavish praise on young adults, particularly twentysomethings, or else see them wither under an unfamiliar compliment deficit. Employers are dishing out kudos to workers for little more than showing up ...

Some researchers suggest that inappropriate kudos are turning too many adults into narcissistic praise-junkies. The upshot: A lot of today's young adults feel insecure if they're not regularly complimented.

One shrink estimates that "the average college student in 2006 was 30% more narcissistic than the average student in 1982." Given how self-centered college kids were back in the early '80s, that's a frightening figure.

posted by Michael at April 26, 2007


Christ. Still though there's a huge sexual incentive for men not to cry, women run a mile from guys who cry.

Posted by: adrian on April 26, 2007 7:13 PM

Well, I guess this explains some of the more extreme unprofessionalism I've seen among my younger employees. I've had episodes of crying and of yelling, as well as some amazingly manipulative jumping up and storming out of routine meetings. I'm not sure if knowing that this problem isn't personal to certain individuals but is systematic makes me feel any better, though.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 26, 2007 8:58 PM

I have to say I've never encountered a guy crying at work, although a few women I've worked with have relcutantly shed a few tears. I'd say this article is another journalistic invention of a "fad."

Posted by: the patriarch on April 26, 2007 9:53 PM

"30% more narcissistic": I wonder how he calibrated his narcissometer.

Posted by: dearieme on April 26, 2007 11:14 PM

Yes I agree with patriarch, this is just a journalistic fad, like the metrosexual thing. It's against a guys nature, even if he's feeling like crap, stiff upper lip old boy!

Girls say they like sensitive guys, but the really, REALLY don't.

Posted by: adrian on April 27, 2007 2:57 AM

To come at this from a different direction, a few years ago Barry Lopez, an environmental writer, was talking about animal deaths and wept at the microphone. More recently Rick Bass, who begs for the sparing of his home in the Yaak Valley once a wilderness, broke down. These were hearsay reports.

At the Montana Festival of the Book a few years ago, I saw one of the writers on a panel weeping so violently that he slipped from his chair and knelt beside it -- also about environmental loss. And just a few months ago, I'm told that a prominent scientist studying the consequences of global weather change gave his conclusions with tears running down his face.

I don't know what to make of it, but it's not reassuring.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on April 27, 2007 5:44 AM

I'll have to disagree with The Patriarch. I work for a mfg. company so you'd think there'd be more folks of the "I'll hold it in and emote in private" school.
I've seen quite a few women and men exercising their tear ducts when critiqued. True, some of the criticism was of the old school of pounding the desk and using some choice words. But, simple admonishment of, IMHO, a soft touch resulted in flowing water. Can't explain it since the crying was done by folks from their early 20's to their mid 40's.
Personally, I don't mind the tears. Maybe I'm deluding myself into thinking that by expressing their dissatisfaction/sadness through crying, these folks are not going home and then returning fully armed and expressing their feelings with lead.

Posted by: DarkoV on April 27, 2007 8:21 AM

Thanks for the link to the Jeffrey Zaslow article. I passed it on to our HR manager. A new phrase caught my eye in the article, "intergenerational communication". Sounds like a good take-off point for a Bruce Kaplan cartoon.

Posted by: DarkoV on April 27, 2007 9:06 AM

Actually, this is a problem I've noticed in medicine: some of the residents and medical students can't seem to take criticism, or rather, take it personally rather than the professional corrective it is meant to be. I thought maybe I was just getting crankier with time, but maybe it's not so isolated?

Posted by: MD on April 27, 2007 9:08 AM

As someone who took a long time to grow up I'd say that this phenomenon relates to coddling in childhood.

Posted by: ricpic on April 27, 2007 9:54 AM

Okay, I finally read the article. Something else might be going on, although I am probably jaded from being in academia for so many years. Maybe younger workers are not willing to put up with the rank cronyism and, 'suck it up because I had to,' work culture of the past. Frankly, if the little darlings want to leave a crappy job because of a crappy employer (crappy defined as lack of transparency, promotion of 'pets' over merit, and gaming the system), maybe the praise culture will have created some rewards.

Being an optimist-cynic, in oscillating cycles, I doubt it. Still.

Posted by: MD on April 27, 2007 10:18 AM

I don't know if I've seen anybody crying. The worst of the worst employees are, however, in HR. The affirmative action types tend to congregate in HR. Among the young kids in HR, my observation is that they are vicious enforcers of PC during the working day, and the craziest rebels against PC once the working day is over. As soon as the bell sounded, they were out at the sex clubs and the comedy clubs.

The young kids in HR were endlessly indoctrinated during college in the PC notion that the world they were entering was a festering pigsty of racism, sexism and homophobia, and that their mission was to cure the entire human race. That most of the societal level issues of racism, sexism and homophobia had largely been addressed by the mid-70s completely escaped them.

These kids were drowning in their PC indoctrination. At my previous job, they were convinced that the product we had to sell was "diversity." Although our CEO knew better, he struggled to get them focued on the reality that we really had commercial products to sell. We had to continually stage BS re-education classes, sensitivity sessions and nose-wiping seminars in order to make the little ones feel as if they were "saving the world" instead of just doing a job.

Gay white guys had become the "oppressed" heros of our office culture. The HR types would have loved to have black guys to fawn over, but they existed only at the periphery in jobs in the mail room and physical services. So, in lieu of black victims of oppression, gay white suburban guys became the sainted victims fawned over by the legions of fag hags. It was South Park with Cartman at the helm.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on April 27, 2007 10:30 AM

I apparently live and work in a different universe than some of you! These days, where young people are concerned, I'm surrounded by metrosexual young guys and pulled-together and dominant young women. I haven't seen any crying (though that may be because I'm so out of the loop.) But all of these youngsters seem to consider it their god-given right to vent and carry on.

There's even a kind of competition that goes on. I noticed ten or 15 years ago that the young people in my universe had taken to competitive victimization -- they'd compare notes about supposed abuse and discrimination. Evidently they'd been taught that this was OK and good.

These days, styles have changed. There's now a kind of competitive venting that goes on. They're alll experts at exploding and venting and tantrumming, and they seem to consider it fun, absurd, hilarious -- they kind of get all cross, explode, and then high-five each other, like they've done something brilliant. My impression is that they've been raised to think that "getting it out there" is automatically a desirable thing, no matter when or where. Or maybe they watch too many Jack Black movies.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 27, 2007 10:44 AM

All you have to do to see what's become of the modern worker is to watch an episode of "The Apprentice."

As a matter of fact, Trump himself is a good example. He's older and should know better, but has readjusted to these times of immaturity. (His feud with Rosie is about the most childish thing I've ever seen, and so beneath a man of his supposed status.) The harsh "You're fired!" is devastating because it's just not heard anymore, regardless of how crummy a job an employee does.

Posted by: susan on April 27, 2007 10:50 AM

I apparently live and work in a different universe than some of you!

You live in NYC, if I'm not mistaken, so you're right. Ha.

I worked at a few dotcoms in the Bay Area during the boom, where immature behavior was almost mandatory, and yet witnessed only a few women fighting back tears AFTER a particularly tough meeting, and even then, they did their best to hide it, usually going outside. Now, venting is another issue, I've seen plenty of that, but only at old-school companies like telecoms. My wife worked at a particularly toxic telecom where screaming fits of rage were the norm, usually from the 40-something managers.

Again, I think this is just a journalist inventing a trend to fill up some column inches.

Posted by: the patriarch on April 27, 2007 10:52 AM

Ha!! Ads someone who was in college in the early eighties I finally feel thoroughly vindicated!! We weren't so bad!

Posted by: annette on April 27, 2007 10:53 AM

Yes, Michael, I have been through the "competitive victimization" madness.

I began my old job in 1999, as second in charge of a new business line within the firm. Our commander was a black guy, supposedly with an MBA from Dartmouth. You wouldn't have known it, since he was functionally illiterate and could not write a readable memo. Our team was suitably "diverse," featuring several white women, a couple of gays and a couple of blacks.

Very quickly, the team broke down into incessant squabbling about who was the most deserving victim. The boss led this farce, and of course who could argue with him that blacks topped the list of victims? Within six months, the team did nothing but argue about competitive victimization. We did no work at all.

The boss was fired, and the team redistributed throughout the organization. Several months later, the boss called us to brag that he'd been hired for a job in London at twice the salary.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on April 27, 2007 11:00 AM

One shrink estimates that "the average college student in 2006 was 30% more narcissistic than the average student in 1982."

LOL. The average reporter is 300% more credulous than the average student in 1982.

Posted by: JewishAtheist on April 27, 2007 11:21 AM

DarkoV; Shouting Thomas: What does HR stand for? Sorry to be so dense.

Posted by: ricpic on April 27, 2007 11:32 AM

I'm sensing that the curmudgeon factor is at work. But that's why we love the Blowhards, isn't? Kids these days.....

I personally haven't seen this phenomenon, but I think it may have to do with where (mid-west) and with whom (blue collar folks) I've worked with over the last 20 years. If this is about spoiled rich kids who have never heard the word "no", then I get it. But frankly, I've never thought that the office was a good place for humans to spend 40 hours a week. It's not how we're put together. And I am personally amazed that there aren't more people running into office buildings with firearms.

I'm with Dick Vermeil. A day isn't full without a tear or laughter. Life is too short and so completely full of wonder and pain to live otherwise, for me at least.

Posted by: The Lock on April 27, 2007 11:35 AM

HR stands for Human Resources.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on April 27, 2007 11:54 AM

I don't know how the shrink in the story came up with his estimate of increasing narcissism among today's youth, but this blog entry offers some thoughts on how such a development might be gauged:

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 27, 2007 12:52 PM

Yesterday a friend who is contemptuous* of a recent hire in his law firm reported that she burst into tears when she demanded and received a new computer only to discover it did not have the word processing software she uses installed. (*she doesn't work full time, is always racing out to take her kids to some sporting event, steals furniture from his office and the worst of all sins, is a Red Sox fan and a Masshole.)

I have certainly gotten stressed and upset over the years but I've never lost it over software.

Posted by: Phoebe on April 27, 2007 2:36 PM

As a member of this generation (age 22), I wonder how accurate that narcissist personality inventory is. For example, the question "Do you think you're a special person" mentioned in that article--I know everyone my age has been told over and over that we're SUPPOSED to think we're special people, so a lot of us, when asked point blank, might just give the "right" answer.

Posted by: BP on April 27, 2007 5:05 PM

I work with mostly 20 somethings in the tech sector, and I haven't seen anything like this. In fact, I'm kind of disgusted at how gung-ho they all are. I think anyone who cried here would lose everybody's respect and basically be forced to quit. But then again, this is a small company, 50 employees. In fact, the HR manager has naked-lady mudflaps on his truck. It might be different in the corporate world.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on April 27, 2007 6:25 PM

Are they crying in the Marine Corps?

Posted by: Jonathan on April 27, 2007 7:49 PM

Well when I worked retail I had to contend with both staff and customers throwing drama fits like the delicate whussies that they were.
I see students constantly whining in their journals/blogs about how hard done by they are when it is clear they brought it on themselves.
Entitlement youth glorification culture has made a lot of wimps.

Posted by: T.W on April 27, 2007 9:51 PM

Things may be a little different among those who have not ridden the kindergarten-to-grad-school conveyor belt. I doubt that this attitude of entitlement exists among those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Indeed, I doubt that it exists (at least to the same degree) among those who went to junior college and then followed a trade.

Corporations need to broaden their employee sourcing. Attitude matters as much as skills, and more than credentials.

Posted by: david foster on April 28, 2007 9:45 AM

Apparently, there was some weeping at the TED conference this year during a panel or presentation on global warming. Haven't checked out all of the vids yet, though. (They're fantab, if you haven't seen them. Great speakers, and beautiful production, unlike a lot of the vids you see online.)

Oh, and adrian--all the ladies I know like a man who is in touch with his sensitive side, i.e., capable of sensitivity. Sensitivity does not mean weeping at the drop of a hat; that is for weenies.

And few people, male or female, like a weenie.

Well--certain kinds. *You* know...

Posted by: communicatrix on April 28, 2007 12:45 PM

The "narcissism among students" fact is based on administering the Narcissistic Personality Inventory to a representative group of students each year. They started in 1982, and each year the average student has become more narcissistic.

One link

Posted by: Agnostic on April 28, 2007 2:55 PM

I wonder if this narcissism is, in any way, class related or even class specific.

In my work with young people at Lane Community College, most of my students don't expect praise all the time and are surprised by it, largely, I think, because the lives many have lived have not been filled with praise.

I am happy to be able to encourage and help these students improve their academic work and am happy that I can praise them for doing good work in a school setting where many were previously alientated or ignored because they were perceived not to have the right stuff or didn't have impressive social or economic pedigree.

Many of my students work more than one job. Most of their jobs are unfulfilling and often in places where they are treated poorly, whether my supervisors or by customers. Quite a few work or have worked in jobs dangerous to their physical well being.

They don't cry. They try to plow ahead, keep their lives afloat, and continue to perform in ways that earns the much deserved praise that has been lacking in their lives.

Few of my students come from any kind of privilege.

Posted by: raymond pert on April 28, 2007 10:13 PM

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