11

I'm a software engineer, for a small-to-mid-sized (≈80 people) company.

I began with this company as a junior in college as an intern, and worked my way up through the ranks of "temporary employee" and "part time software engineer" to a full-time employee with benefits.

I regularly interact with upper management (Tom) and the president of the company (Bill), and in my interactions have made it a point to regularly express how grateful I am for my position and how much I enjoy my work, both of which are VERY true.

About a week ago, I was working late (≈8pm, not unusual at all for me). Sometimes when I'm coding, I get pretty frustrated. Believing I was alone, I began to sob and bemoan the problem, not loudly, but not worried about being overheard either.

Turns out, the president of the company was there, someone I respect deeply and whose opinion could literally make or break my career with this company.

Now, Bill almost always has his door open. The only time his door is closed is if he's not there or he's on a conference call. As I left for the evening, I noticed that Bill's door was closed, but his light was on and I could see him at his computer.

My fight-or-flight response kicked in, and I departed.


Fast forward to yesterday/today. I had an impromptu meeting with Bill, during which he said, in response to my comment about how walking 20 feet would kill me, "We're worried about you, FuriousFolder" (insert real name). The comment seemed to be lighthearted, but it rattled me slightly.

Today, in an email, in response to my bit of office humor, Bill said, "Enjoy your humor, FuriousFolder, very glad you're part of CompanyName. Thumbs Up!".

Tom is my manager, and has also seemed to be treating me with kid gloves, but I can't put my finger on exactly why I think that is.

Am I being paranoid, or is there something to this? Is there anything I can do? Should I do anything?

  • 26
    "Believing I was alone, I began to sob and bemoan the problem..." Only you can tell us what you mean by that. Did you actually sob? No programming problem is worth sobbing over. Do you actually sob when you're alone? Did you have a family member or a friend die on you recently? Were you under the influence of anything? Do you have mood swings? Are you mildly depressed? Do you have a social life outside of work? – Stephan Branczyk Nov 6 '15 at 21:46
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    The simple fact is that sobbing is unusual, and therefore your boss will likely assume you have external issues going on. On the other hand their response sounds positive and that they're trying to avoid intruding but provide a little support and show you that you're appreciated. This doesn't sound concerning to me, although I would suggest avoiding sobbing in the office as far as possible, if you don't want to attract attention – Jon Story Nov 7 '15 at 1:58
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    At the risk of sounding like an armchair psychologist, I do think that you might be a little depressed. Putting all your energy into work and video games is not enough. You also need friends. As human beings, we're social animals. We need to have friends and social ties with others, and not just remote friends in the fantasy world of video games. – Stephan Branczyk Nov 7 '15 at 3:01
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    There is nothing wrong with sobbing/crying. It is a normal emotional response that occurs sometimes and it functions like a pressure valve when things are stressful. The initial embarrassment and subsequent reaction from others to crying in the workplace is a problem that is often faced by women but it also happens to men. Crying, by itself, is not a sign of weakness, depression, or inability to cope. It is merely a natural reaction and is nothing to be alarmed or ashamed about unless it happens frequently. – teego1967 Nov 7 '15 at 12:34
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    My response of "no" to being depressed was because I believed I was not. I wrote this question in haste, and forgot that yes: I WAS on something: an anti-depressant, with a half life of ~ 2 weeks. It would seem I probably am depressed. Oh joy (sarcasm). I had discontinued (with psychiatrist's OK) on 10/31, which was after (but not related to) "the incident". I'm going to reach out to my psych. Thank you all for your help and responses. – FuriousFolder Nov 8 '15 at 20:00
11

I would like to emphasize that the answers presented are excellent so far. However, there are a couple points that I feel might benefit you.

First, sobbing is not normal and hearing it would create concern in most people. Your boss is clearly concerned and cares about you. You should have a one-on-one conversation about what you noticed. Simply tell him that you thought you were alone and that sometimes you will express frustration with work problems by sobbing in private.

Also, it is very important for both you and your boss to know if you have a need for additional support in some way. If you have developed an "abnormal" coping mechanism, then join most of the rest of the world and enjoy your flavor of life!! However, your boss is not a professional in this way. And it is common for depressed or upset people to be in denial about their condition. So, without feeling like this diminishes you or your ability to perform your job, you should seek the advice of a professional psychologist/psychiatrist.

If you have no need to do this, then you can return to your boss with confidence that a professional agrees, and if he overhears you doing this again, to simply let you do it - just another person might curse, play loud music or throw things. And if the professional helps you find other coping mechanisms or helps you with some unidentified problem, then you can also return to your boss confidently and reassure him that you are working on not repeating the behavior.

Either way, an open conversation with your boss is critical and the opinion of a professional will help you feel more secure with both your job and your self-expression.

EDIT:

To directly answer the question, "Should I be worried?" - the answer is "yes." In the workplace, it is hard to rely on someone that you are concerned, for whatever reason, may not be reliable. At this point in time your boss has a reason to be concerned that you may not show up to work one day, may start calling in "sick" or in other ways have external events impact your work. You need to address this concern.

Talking to your boss now to let him know that this is a "normal" behavior for you is helpful, but does not alleviate the concern that perhaps you still hiding something or in denial - and possibly have been for a long time, which could increase the risk of fatigue or an emotional event that interferes with your work.

For these reasons, seeking the opinion of a professional would help your boss feel comfortable with your unique, private self-expression. I'm sure he wants you to feel comfortable and productive, and you sensitivity to your behavior is obvious. By having an open conversation you build trust, and by seeking the opinion of a professional you build confidence.

17

Sorry to state the obvious here, but they've heard you crying alone in the office and so naturally they're worried about you and concerned that you aren't ok.

(It sounds to me as though they're right to be worried; what you describe is not something that happy people do, in my experience).

Are you being paranoid? If you think that this means they're somehow "out to get you" then yes. If you just think it means that they're worried about how you're doing then no.

Again, sorry to state the obvious but that is what you seem to be asking... let me know if I've misunderstood.

  • 1
    TYVM. If you have time, I'd welcome your opinion on the other two portions? "Is there anything I can do? Should I do anything?" – FuriousFolder Nov 6 '15 at 22:05
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    No worries. TBH I think you should consider the possibility that you might be depressed. It happens to a lot of people and there's no shame in it. I suggest visiting your doctor and telling them about the sobbing. – A E Nov 6 '15 at 22:07
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    @EdHeal I'm not suggesting that no- one should ever be sad, but weeping over coding problems doesn't seem psychologically healthy to me (ymmv). – A E Nov 6 '15 at 22:17
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    The human brain is a complex machine. Why assume that crying is about the programming problem? – Ed Heal Nov 6 '15 at 22:22
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    Because that's what the OP states – Jon Story Nov 7 '15 at 1:56
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You should not be paranoid. He is caring for you and concerned. That is a good sign.

But I would like to say having a good cry is something I do once in a while. Nowt wrong with it and it makes me feel better. (I also shout at the wall)

As to doing anything - I would not.

6

They are likely legitimately concerned about your mental wellbeing. Actual sobbing in the workplace over a work problem would normally be a pretty clear signal that someone is one the edge of a breakdown. If this is a regular coping mechanism for you (as you indicate in comments) then communicating that to Tom and Bill is definitely in order.

In my opinion the best course of action is to arrange a one on one with Bill and advise him that this is not unusual behavior for you when you are alone, that this helps alleviate minor sources of stress. Be prepared for him to be skeptical as this is rather unusual behavior however being sincere and open is likely in your best interest here.

3

Yes, if he heard you he will be worried about you, but unlikely to confront you; the causes of somebody sobbing at the office can range from having a bad day to serious, personal issues that you wouldn't even ask your best friend about, much less your employee.

That being said, as long as you are certain there are no additional issues like depression, anxiety or burnout, then I wouldn't worry about it and just let it be water under the bridge. If it happens again, then I would suggest talking to your boss, but if it's a one-time thing just let it go.

0

Well, If someone made a comment like "walking 20 feet would kill me " as you said, you made this comment,

he said, in response to my comment about how walking 20 feet would kill me, "We're worried about you."

Even if the person was just a casual acquaintance, a comment like that would worry me, Is your health that bad ? I mean, walking 20 feet, is not something that should kill a normal healthy person, or even be difficult, I would be be very worried about someone that could not handle walking 20 feet. More so if it was someone closer to me like a employee, or family member,.. And then , combined with, if I noticed the person, crying, ....If the "boss" did notice that,..If you have a lot of problems, and your health is so bad you can not walk 20 feet, and then you are crying over small problems at work like a "coding problem" these are things that would worry the management, they may be concerned that any time now, you are not going to be able to work, or "cope" any more. Yes you should be worried, they may be looking for a replacement, in case all of a sudden you can not handle the job any more. If you were just joking when you said it would kill you to walk 20 feet, then you need to clear that up, and let the boss know, you were just kidding, The crying thing, I don't know, if that is something that does not occur often, probably it is a "non issue", but I do think you should clear this up with your boss, assure him your do not have any health issues, every thing is ok, etc. Unless of course, there are problems with your health, etc,.. then the same , still you should be upfront and advise them, you can handle walking 20 feet, and soon you may not be able to handle, walking from your car to the office entrance, this is something to be concerned about. Maybe you just need to be more carefull about what you say to the boss,and control your emotions better.

  • Perhaps some more context: I'm Male, 178lbs, 6'. I have ~9% body fat. The "20 feel would kill me" comment was made in jest--I'm in excellent physical condition. – FuriousFolder Nov 8 '15 at 19:21
0

I would try my darnedest to joke it away. I'm sure my boss has heard me mumbling and grumbling to a compiler more than once. I KNOW my neighbors hear me cussing at my car every time I work on it.

Maybe when you do fix the problem, tell your boss that you finally fixed the error that was giving you fever dreams and panic attacks. Keep it light hearted.

I understand physically crying over computer related issues, I did it myself in 1992, when I accidently deleted a BBS I ran, and backup was corrupted. No shame.

-2

Not to be crass or mean-spirited but you are probably finished at this company. Crying at work is a huge red flag to any management. If you are a male they think you will go on a rampage and if you are female they think you will sue them. They are pondering how to get rid of you and it will happen during the next "layoff" so it's not obvious why they are cutting you loose.

You asked what you should do. Start searching for a new employer, now. You did well there and rose through the ranks from a temp job. You can do it again. Next time don't make obvious "cries for help" or the results will be the same. You need to seek mental health outside your workplace. It's just a job. There are many more in your future and you're gonna do great. Good luck to you.

  • 1
    On the contrary, it is obvious from what "Bill" said that they value FuriousFolder as an employee. – mhwombat Nov 8 '15 at 21:58

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