Are Hugs The New Handshake?

When is it ok to hug at work and how can you figure that out?

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Depending on where you stand on the hug continuum, hugging at work is either inappropriately awkward or a great way to greet your colleagues. Unless your workplace actually prohibits hugging between colleagues, you may be left to your own devices when it comes to giving or accepting hugs at work.

Keep these tips in mind when it comes to hugging in the workplace:

Company culture and your comfort level
If your culture is very conservative and buttoned up, you'll likely want to stick with a firm, but warm handshake and avoid hugs to make the right impression. If people are constantly embracing as if they're reuniting with a long-lost relative, identify your comfort level, and don't hesitate to discourage hugs if you don't want to be embraced. The best deterrent is to make a point to extend your hand for a handshake. Of course, if you do feel harassed by the hugging culture or by a particular hugger, you can refer to policies and consult someone in human resources.

Types of hugs.
There are all types of hugs. These include the bear hug, the side hug and the quick embrace. You can assume, under most circumstances, any hug that embraces a little too long or tightly isn't appropriate in the workplace. If you're the hugging aggressor, make sure you aren't going overboard. If you hug at all, avoid any hug that could be labeled aggressive or passionate; both of these hugs definitely cross the line and are inappropriate in the workplace.

If you're a hugger, watch your colleague's body language.
Some people just don't feel comfortable being hugged at work. However, especially if you're the boss, it may be difficult for them to refuse your advance. (Think: sexual harassment.) Be careful and read your colleagues' body language. If people keep sticking their arms out at you in an effort to shake hands instead of hug and you grab them into a bear hug instead, assume you're crossing into dangerous territory. Don't create a toxic workplace by being overly affectionate.

People to hug or not hug.
Even if you're a compulsive hugger, it's best to avoid hugging subordinates. Keep your company's sexual harassment policy in mind and remember, if you're the boss, people may not feel comfortable asking you to stop hugging them. In some cases, you may be able to modify a hug into a warm pat on the back that may satisfy your need for a more intimate welcome and your colleague or subordinate's need to keep some distance. Keep in mind: even a "side hug" or shoulder pat can seem a little touch-y feel-y to some people.

Extraordinary situations
While hugging isn't a great idea at work, there are some situations where it might be considered okay to offer a quick hug as a way to congratulate or console someone. For example, if your colleague just won a huge award or promotion, or if he or she is retiring or leaving the company for good, it might be acceptable to offer a quick embrace. However, for some people, a "high five" will be more appreciated. Another situation when a hug may be okay is if someone just learned bad news and a consoling hug or quick shoulder squeeze just seems the most human response. Again – keep in mind, it may be best to console with words or offer flexibility and support instead of a hug.

Bottom line.
The safest bet is to avoid hugging in the workplace. You don't want to face sexual harassment charges for hugs you might consider innocent expressions of affection, but that come across as too touch-y feel-y to your colleagues or employees.

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I'm 76 years old and have a volunteer job reading to Kindergartners and having 1st Graders I read to last year read to me. I get paid in hugs - it's the greatest paycheck I have ever received!

November 14 2013 at 10:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I can't stand the "office hug" where two people face each other with their feet stuck on the floor about 3 feet apart, then lean in from the waist (being very careful not to let any part of their body touch the other's body) and pat the other's back feebly a couple of times. If you're going to give a hug, give a real hug. The stiff hug is worse than the fishy handshake. Better still, don't hug anyone at work - a firm handshake is always appropriate.

November 14 2013 at 7:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Do see a lot of it where I work.

November 14 2013 at 5:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hugging is absolutely not acceptable.

November 14 2013 at 11:04 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Richard's comment

I absolutely agree with you. I hate "man-hugs". If a woman wants to hug me, okay, but I will never initiate that. When greeting another man, I prefer a good, firm manly hand-shake.

November 14 2013 at 2:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Doesn't it rather depend on the circumstances? I think it would be quite acceptable at certain times when a person needed reassurance or was going through a bad time, or was celebrating something good. However, I doubt anyone wants to hug you in any case with your attitude.

November 14 2013 at 4:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I work in a middle school. We are only allowed to do a side hug, if the student initiates it. I do hug a couple of my co-workers, but not very often, and not in the school, only if we happen to meet in public or outside of the building. And that's only the females...would never hug a male! Not to sound rude, it would just look inappropriate in my place of work.

November 14 2013 at 10:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow as a nurse - I hug alot, but couldn't imagine hugging the boss or co-workers, unless there was a closer relationship. I hugged my patients and their families when they needed a hug of compassion or encouragement. I remember a very sick Colonel that came to our ICU, we were all very concerned about him. Everyday, I'd reach out to the family with a morning hug to get us all started, they were receptive and often made the first move as days went on. It became our official greeting for our extended military families, especially when potentially grim situations were ahead of us. In days to come, an overly uptight friend of the patient and fellow Colonel visited and when he saw the behavior, looked at the patient's wife and said, "I didn't know we were getting so familiar with the help". I know how I felt about the remark, and I did deal with it directly - but what do you all think? Have we reduced the value of a hug so much that it generates artificial, impersonal barriers of class distinction?

November 14 2013 at 10:20 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to 1MaidenUSA's comment

Obviously you have a very kind heart, and I'm sure the families appreciated the hugs. I hope that Colonel's wife told his friend her opinion of his remark.

November 14 2013 at 4:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I too am an RN my specialties are also Critical Care and I am a Psychiatric RN. The healing power of touch does not any explanation to us. I can not count the number of sedated ventilated patients whose bedsides I have stood at holding their hands.....telling them about the weather......the news .....massaging their hands arms.You will never convince me that doing so in not therapeutic. My late brother was fortunate to have a fairly young compassionate ICU RN who was so kind to him...lots of hugs.....and touches. As far as hugging co-workers etc.? That really depends on the situation and people involved.Your grouchy visitor who said insulting things *about the help*? Obviously that SOB needed a hug:)!!!!

November 14 2013 at 8:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Before hugging another......make sure it is reciprocated and wanted. If not, a soft handshake will do. Authority figures (boss) may think they are exempt because of power and status....WRONG !.... :>)

November 14 2013 at 10:04 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Way back before I retired we had a guy in our Office that hugged all the Women just to get a Feel of their Boobs. He did not last long. The Boss saw him hug his Wife and planted a fist in his face and fired him on the spot. All the Women at work gave him a thank you card. Being a Construction Super, I was not in the office that day and really wanted to see that happen because I knew it was coming. I told the guy a couple times about it and he did not listen.

November 14 2013 at 9:23 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to arenadood's comment

Definitely seen that happen, creepy Freds....

November 14 2013 at 10:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In my experience, it depends on the work environment. Hospitals: no. Dance companies: yes.

November 14 2013 at 9:12 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to MichelleK's comment

Hospitals no? Hugs to relieve crying and calm fears are so therapeutic for families and patients who are suffering.

November 14 2013 at 10:22 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to 1MaidenUSA's comment

I was in the hospital three times for major surgeries and the last thing I wanted was a hug from the nursing staff. How about just doing a professional job? How would that be?

November 14 2013 at 11:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
Elroy Jetson

I was at a family reunion several years ago. We took my Grandmother, who had been involved in an auto accident, and several surgeries later had to be taken in a wheelchair - and could not sit up for long periods of time. I cannot tell you the amount of admiration I have for this woman who after a difficult life, ended up this way. At the reunion, she called me over, and asked me to lean down where she could whisper to me. She said, "I saw you shaking hands with (a female relative)". She proceeded, "we don't do that in this family. The men should always, always hug a woman and not shake their hand". Then she said, "Don't let me catch you again". Of course, I agreed. She passed away not long after. She will always be my hero. To this day, outside of work, if I must greet a woman - any woman, even with husband or otherwise present, that lady will get a hug from me. Even if I must explain. God Bless you my sweet Granny Mildred. I will always love you.

November 14 2013 at 8:57 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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