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entire office unsure what to do November 23, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences.
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Though this Onion article is clearly written in jest, it raises an interesting point:

The entire office staff of Altman & Hanson Accounting remained utterly baffled as to what, if anything, should be done in response to the prominent sobbing coming from the cubicle of 36-year-old clerk Jack Underwood, sources reported today.

Leaving aside the usual jokes about pay cuts and furloughs and loss of benefits, it’s entirely possible that one of your coworkers may indeed be crying at his or her desk at some point.

What do you do?

Well, for starters, if you’re the person who needs to cry, the professional thing to do is find somewhere private to break down and then compose yourself. Bathrooms are good — especially if your floor has a semiprivate one hidden somewhere — as are conference rooms not being used at the moment or, if you can make it in time, your car.

If you are the observer of the tears, you have three options:

  1. Ask what’s wrong.
  2. Ignore it completely.
  3. Poll your coworkers to see if anyone has an answer.

The most likely of these, of course, is item 3, which not only saves you from having to deal directly with the person in tears while satisfying your inner need to gossip and making sure that the crying coworker’s plight is communicated to as many people as possible.

Next-most-likely is item 2, ignoring it — it’s likely that the person crying can’t control himself or herself, which is why s/he is sitting at his/her desk instead of escaping to somewhere else. Depending upon how well you know the person, you probably already know if you should ask what’s wrong or just keep moving on.

And then there’s item 1, which is getting involved. For those looking to form an extracurricular relationship, this can be a great door-opener — sit down, talk, and squirrel away those brownie points. It’s a definite in. Just remember that you could be getting yourself into a huge mess — what if the problem involves your mutual boss? What if that person got fired but you didn’t? Or, worst of all, what if it’s something you don’t think is worth the tears? Can you trust yourself not to say “man up, Nancy!” and instead respond kindly?

Of course, there are times when you can’t help it. Once, a co-worker of mine got a call that his brother had suffered a stroke and it took him some time to recover. At that time, we were part of a tightly-knit department and we all offered to help out. He was fine after an hour or so and declined our offers to cover his shift. His brother is now on the road to recovery, and most of us met him on his last visit to the office.

Personally, the best option in my opinion is to ignore it. As I said, if the person can’t get out of there in time, there’s a good reason for it, and unless that person is your work-wife or work-husband, you probably shouldn’t get involved.

The same, by the way, goes for angry coworkers who can’t stop expressing how they feel. Just remember to duck.

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