Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Are You OK With Workplace Hugs?


In my entire working life, I can remember only one time when a male boss hugged me, and that was when I told him I was pregnant with my first child. I remember how awkward I felt, and I think I might have even jabbed him (accidentally, of course) with the ink pen I was holding.

But if you watch what is going on these days, bosses are hugging people all the time. Look at John McCain and Sarah Palin. Hug city. Hug when they see one another, hug when they leave, hug when they say something inspiring.

This hugfest has puzzled some people, especially since Geraldine Ferraro was told to not even think of touching Walter Mondale when she was his vice presidential pick in 1984. If you watch the video of them accepting the nominations, they don't even hold hands and raise them together in a typical "we are the champions" pose. No touching. Definitely no hugging.

Fast forward to 2008. Barak Obama and Joe Biden are hugging. Granted, it's sort of a boy hug -- that weird thing where they lean in and bump chests -- but they're hugging.

So, I'm wondering: Is this boss hug thing here to stay?

Letitia Baldrige, an etiquette expert since John Adams was in the White House, sniffed that "he’s (McCain) hugging her (Palin) to show the world that he’s all for her, and protecting her, but she doesn’t need that."

Baldrige is more supportive of a firm handshake between employees and employer, as opposed to the hugs we frequently see on television now. Other etiquette experts seem to think it's perfectly fine, this hugging by a boss, while others think we shouldn't even be discussing it.

I'm not making any judgment on Palin and McCain's hugging, and neither am I endorsing or condemning Obama and Biden doing the chest bump thing.

But I have to wonder if other people in the working world are comfortable with hugging their bosses, or co-workers, or for that matter, the barista at the local coffee shop. Who to hug? And when?

My career began during a period when women were fighting to just get a seat at the good old boys' table and we all were required to go through sexual harassment training to try and establish correct behavior between men and women in the workplace. I guess that's why the hugging thing has me a bit confounded -- would it be considered harassment, or not? Would it now be considered a bit of snobbery not to hug -- or chest bump -- my boss or co-workers?

Maybe this will all go away after the election and I won't have to worry about whether to hug or not to hug. Or to fist bump or high five or pat someone on the back.

I just hope air kissing doesn't become more popular. I'm definitely going to need an instructional video for that one.

How do you feel about hugging in the workplace?


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11 comments:

Bob said...

You know, that's a management technique advocated in the book "The One Minute Manager", but I've always wondered about its validity.

I'll be honest with you, as a rule, I'd NEVER hug anyone in the workplace. Seems to me in this litigious day and age (particularly where PC has caught on a particularly vicious way), it's an invitation for trouble in the workplace.

But I've been in groups in which hugging is a group norm, including church services or events, sporting events, group outings, etc. In non-work situations there are many times when they're OK, depending on the group, the relationship and/or feelings of the hugger/huggee, and a whole list of other factors.

I'm with you on air-kissing, though!

Katy said...

I think I'd rather jump under a bus than have a boss hug me!

I'm all for being friendly with your employees (and employers for that matter) but you need to draw the line somewhere or all professionalism goes out of the window.

I had a (female) boss hug me (also female!) once when I told her my Mum had died and I don't think I've ever felt so awkward in my entire life - and certainly couldn't look at my boss in the same way after.

Mind you, I am English and we're not really into showing our emotions in such a physical manner - it's a strong handshake all the way!

Anita said...

Bob,
I think a lot of people feel as you do, but I'm also wondering if it depends on the way you were raised. Lots of people grew up showing much more physical affection than other people. Maybe for them, hugging in the workplace is no big deal.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Anita said...

Katy,
I guess that's the big question: Is a hug going to somehow adversely affect the relationship with your boss? I think this is a tricky area, and one I'm not sure a lot of people understand how to navigate. Maybe our conversation here will help clear things up.
Thanks for posting.

Stephen Hopson said...

It's been YEARS since I've worked in Corporate America so I don't know if I qualify to say what I'm about to say but.....I'll give it my best shot.

I'm a "huggable" kind of guy and have no problem hugging co-workers. I don't remember doing it too much while I was there but did on a few occasions. It was no big deal.

I heard Jack Canfield, when doing seminars for corporations, has a hugfest. I often wonder how they were received.

I guess my advice would be to use your own intuition and if it calls for a hug because someone got promoted or something, go for it but only for a second or two and then let go. LOL.

Fist bumps? No problem - that's proably the safest way to "hug" someone.

BTW, loved the photo of two frogs hugging - that was hilarous!

Anita said...

Stephen,
Yeah...I would agree that hugs need to be quick! Anything longer than a second or two is bound to make someone uncomfortable -- even those who are just watching! And, that's another thing: I would always be aware of who might misconstrue such a gesture.
I'm glad you like the frogs -- wouldn't believe how long it took me to get them to hug. :)

Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers said...

Anita -
Interesting point about Ferraro and Mondale. What a contrast. Wonder what that really means? Maybe because of the age difference between McCain and Pallin it's more acceptable to hug? Like a father-daughter thing?

Recently, I met another entrepreneur - a new business contact. We really hit it off and planned for a partnership. I went to shake hands, but she hugged me. I remember thinking that it was a nice gesture. It made me feel more connected to her. Now, had she been a man and hugged me, it might have been a different story.

Soon after, I met another business contact. Same story, great connection - we were planning a formal partnership. I gave her a hug (thinking of that last situation). She responded well and commented that she's a hugger, but had a bad reaction from someone recently and doesn't initiate hugs anymore!

I think that hugging at work (especially if one person is a boss) is a bad idea. Awkward for sure. Air kissing...I'll need that video as well!

Anita said...

Miriam,
I don't know about the age thing, but I will say in researching this posting, I came across a lot of photos of McCain hugging various people. In other words, it's something he seems comfortable doing. I, myself, was not raised in a "hugging" kind of family, but I married into one. I wonder if that doesn't also figure into whether people are open to it or not.
Thanks for joining our conversation.

Dan McCarthy said...

Anita –

I’m smiling so hard it hurts. I’ve always been a no-hugger, but I’ve been worn down over the years. It’s futile to resist. But only for very special occasions. And certainly not as an everyday greeting, and NEVER with my employees.

As for air kisses – never, never, ever!! I’d find a career where I don’t have to be around people. Like maybe a blogger….

Anita said...

Dan,
Well, we have virtual smiles :)...so why not virtual hugs? But as for virtual air kisses...???
I don't even wanna go there!

Thanks for posting.

Aritul said...

I actually prefer air/cheek kisses to hugs as they are less intimate. In terms of intimacy, I find them to be midway between a handshake and a hug. I think they are perfect to use with acquaintances and friends.

As for hugging in the workplace, I am not opposed. I've hugged coworkers before, no problems. Of course, I've only ever hugged coworkers whom I liked.