Crying at work is something both men and women do, though not equally. Women cry, on average, four times as often as men – according to University of Minnesota neurologist William Frey, an average of 5.3 times per month, compared with 1.4 times for men. This isn’t just a function of cultural training – women actually produce far more prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production that also controls the neurotransmitter receptors in our tear glands. Women’s tear ducts are also anatomically different from male tear ducts, resulting in a larger volume of tears. A propensity to cry is, in part, biologically driven.
In a national survey I conducted last year with J. Walter Thompson for my forthcoming book probing the nature of emotion in the workplace, I discovered that both women and men divide themselves, in roughly the same fractions, into two large camps: those 25 percent who cry regularly, and those 75 percent who tend not to cry frequently. McConnell, Boehner, and I are part of the 25 percent. We also discovered in our survey that when we do tear up on the job, women can be our own worst enemies. A plurality of women consider people who cry at work “unstable,” whereas roughly that same fraction of men see tears on the job as only “slightly unprofessional.” In other words, women see tears at work as some kind of moral or psychological failure, but surprisingly, men don’t.