update about the employee who wouldn’t stop hugging people

Remember the letter about the employee who wouldn’t stop hugging visitors to the office? And to make matters worse, these were “longer-than-necessary, full-body hugs,” sometimes accompanied by talking about how good it felt to be hugged (a detail that might have amused me more than anything else printed here this year). Here’s the update:

I want to thank you and your readers for taking the time to respond to my questions about the hugging situation a few months ago. We’ve been quite busy where I work, and I’ve wanted to sit down and take time to write a thoughtful update on the situation with the overly affectionate employee, rather than a rushed reply.

In short, on one particular day, I noticed she was again going around, reaching out to some of our regular volunteers for hugs. I pulled her aside and explained that she had to stop going up to people for hugs, that it isn’t professional behavior during work hours.

Unfortunately, I’m yet not clear on how well she has accepted this. I want to say with certainty that my talk with her took care of the problem. So far, the hugging has subsided, but she has recently been off work for an extended period due to medical reasons, so I still haven’t seen the long-term results. I think there may be many elements in her earlier behavior that correlate to her overall state of health, so I’ve been really struggling to maintain a balanced view of the situation — that is, trying not to be too judgmental over what are obviously serious health issues, but at the same time, trying to make sure things are running smoothly in the office. She has such a big, over-the-top personality and is driven to engage with people on a very personal level. I’m not sure if I succeeded in making her aware that it is frequently off-putting to others to approach them in such a direct, physical, personal manner. However, I am planning additional meetings and discussions with her and will reiterate how necessary it is that she restrain her impulses to hug people.

{ 13 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie the Fed

    Eh, I can appreciate your patience but I can’t imagine any (non-mental) health condition that makes people hug inappropriately.

    That being said, I posted very late on the other thread that I suspect your coworker might have a personality disorder like histrionic or borderline personality disorder. Her inappropriate sense of boundaries (beyond the hugging) signals to me that something is very off.

    That’s not an easy one to deal with at all.

    1. Tyrion

      Interesting to note that along with basically everything about the hugging, “using somatic symptoms (of physical illness) as a means of garnering attention” is a characteristic of histrionic personality disorder.

  2. fposte

    You’re being so tactful here that I’m not entirely sure on the timeline, but it does sound like you told her to stop and she did, so that’s a victory. Even if her greeting response is always going to boil down to “Notice MEEE!!!!” it’s vastly preferable to have that in a non-contact form.

    You sound very caring about this employee; can you find something she can channel this impulse into? Front office decorations, baking, something personal that you can legitimately spotlight her for? (I’m deliberately picking extras that go with this personality as I know it–stuff that seems a regular part of the job wouldn’t satisfy the ones I’ve known.) You can even be up-front about finding a new way for her to use her skills to greet visitors.

    1. COT

      Great ideas. Maybe she can be in charge of making sure volunteers/visitors always have treats or beverages, or she could write them thank-you notes, or make sure their workspaces are comfortable. Those (non-physical) touches mean a lot to volunteers. They might not fulfill your employee’s need for physical touch or whatever other need she’s trying to meet with the hugging, but it’s a start.

  3. Not So NewReader

    A full body hug? With people she has never met? yuk. I had to re-read the original post.
    How about a business etiquette book for this lady.
    I would not be surprised if she tries again at a later point. Have a plan ready.
    I am hoping it is not a mental illness but just sheer stubbornness. But maybe getting help with her health issues will help her to stop doing the hugs.

  4. Huggiefan

    LOL!

    I used to work with a guy who hugged everyone, including the men. His name is Hugh and his nickname was Huggie. No one minded, or at least I wasn’t aware of anyone minding. I think the reason was that he was a 6′ 2″, blonde hair, green-eyed unbelievably handsome former athlete…and super nice to boot.

  5. pidgeonpenelope

    I had a coworker that was uncomfortably verbally affectionate. She would say things like, “I appreciate you for being you” and mean it. It got overwhelming and I would try and hint it was too much but she never got it. I was also a lot younger and less professional so I wasn’t sure how to handle it. I even talked with my boss to ask her for help but nothing was offered. I wish I was this comfortable with confrontation. I think work would have been better. Instead, I got promoted to a different department in a different location and so got to avoid her altogether.

  6. LR

    You need to institute a workplace harassment policy. You need to protect all workers from intimidation, objectionable behaviour , bullying and overall, unsolicited and unwanted actions.

    If one person finds a behaviour offensive, they are being violated in one way or another. Even if people have not formally complained , it is reasonble to know that her actions are bothersome and pervasive. Create a policy so you can assess all issues against it in a fair and reasonable way.

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