Hugging in the workplace? Not everyone is comfortable with it

January 9, 2020

Handshakes have given way to bear hugs, back pats and lingering embraces in some corners of the corporate world. Huggers say their touchy-feely approach breeds teamwork, trust and better business results. Huggees don’t always agree. There are legal and physical risks to consider, not to mention awkwardness of being embraced by the person who does your review.

Workplace hugging has increased by 24 percent over the last five years. Some say workforce hugging is part of a broader trend as offices become more casual and the lines between life and work blur.

One described himself as an “Open, self-admitted, nonhugger”. Co-workers respect his wishes, yet nonhuggers comprise a small minority. Huggers believe embraces ease tensions during tough negotiations and enable trusting colleagues to move fast on projects.

Actions like hugging or fetching coffee for a colleague can show “companionate love” at work, according to a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Her research finds that affectionate and caring organizations have less burnout and absenteeism and higher levels of employee satisfaction.

Bill Campbell, am executive famed for coaching Silicon Valley leaders like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, often gave warm hugs. Campbell said, “Greeting people with hugs, whether it is a fellow employee, another CEO, or someone I’m meeting for the first time, is not uncommon for me,” he said in a statement.
Alison Green, the author of workplace advice blog Ask a Manager, says she has fielded dozens of questions from employees concerned about office hugging. Many nonhuggers endure embraces silently, not wanting to be rude, “but they’re secretly thinking, ‘Ugh, I don’t want to be part of this hug,’” she said. Huggers “seem to feel they’re really good at judging when someone wants a hug, but based on what the nonhuggers are saying, they’re wrong about that,” she says.

Aaron Goldstein, a partner with law firm focusing on labor and employment advises against initiating hugs in the workplace. During training on workplace harassment, Mr. Goldstein takes managers through his taxonomy of hugging. He’s dubbed one the HR hug, “the go-to-hug for HR professionals looking not to offend anyone,” a one-armed sideways embrace.