employee won’t stop hugging people

A reader writes:

What is considered excessive when it comes to friendly displays of affection in the workplace?

We have a gregarious female employee who regularly solicits hugs from people — not from other employees but from outside frequent visitors and volunteers who come into the office. 

One part of this employee’s job is to greet people when they come in through our front entrance to the building. We’re a small nonprofit organization, open to the public. She’s not exactly a receptionist, but she is usually the closest to the front when someone comes in. Most often, this happens when someone first arrives, usually with people she knows but hasn’t seen in several days. But I have also seen her approach a visiting guest speaker that she had never met before with a hug, so I was a bit surprised by that. She also approaches certain volunteers like this, even though they are in on a more frequent basis. I can’t always tell if the volunteers are receptive to this, or if they are just not saying anything.

These are not simple polite hugs of greeting but rather overly demonstrative productions. She also does it in a way that draws a lot of attention to herself — for example, she’ll sometimes go for a longer-than-necessary, full-body hug. I’m not sure how else to describe it. She has a naturally loud voice, so even if I’m in another room, I can usually overhear the accompanying expressions. She’ll loudly announce how good it feels to be hugged. It just seems overly self-indulgent and unnecessary. I’m not trying to be judgmental, but I know that others have expressed discomfort with it.

Some people have directly told her that they do not hug, but others seem to tolerate or accept it, while others seem completely fine with it and seem to like the attention.  At least one volunteer, who is retired from the insurance industry and has worked with personnel training, has complained to me that she finds this very unprofessional. 

She uses the excuse that she came from a family that encouraged this behavior, which is fine, but I suspect it has more to do with a highly demanding personal need for attention on her part. While I have nothing at all against people hugging one another in general, the atmosphere that she brings with it is that it’s almost like a form of therapy for her, and I don’t think this is the place for that.

I will have to do a performance review with her in the future and would like to address the topic professional conduct in the workplace, delineating that what is fine at home is not always fine at work. She is older than I am, so it’s not as though she’s young and naive. At present, our personnel policy is currently under review. Is there anything that we should have specifically written into the policy to deal with such situations as this? We have an attorney on the committee, so that should cover any legal questions.

But beyond legal concerns, does this sound like something that could potentially veer into sticky social situations that could be prevented with well-written policy? I intend to give this employee a clear recommendation that she scale it back significantly. Many people stop into our office occasionally, and occasionally quick and light hugs of greeting are politely exchanged (not a regular occurance but it happens), so it’s not a totally foreign behavior. But where is the line, exactly, in something like this?

I’m not sure I can say exactly where the line is — but it’s somewhere far, far away from where this employee has ended up. It’s not that hugging someone is never appropriate in an office — there are offices where the occasional hug occurs — but it certainly shouldn’t be the default mode of greeting someone. Regardless of where the line is for normal people, though, your employee has shown an inability to judge when it isn’t and isn’t appropriate, so it just needs to stop entirely.

The way to address this is by talking to her, not by instituting a new policy. There’s no need for a new policy when the problem is only with one person. Just talk to her.

And don’t wait for her performance evaluation either — talk to her now. Performance evaluations shouldn’t have surprises in them; you should be giving people feedback throughout the year. It’s not fair to blindside someone in a review, and it’s also not good management to neglect problems until then. (And I know that it sometimes feels easier to wait for the formal evaluation, but that would be abdicating your responsibility as her manager. You need to do it now.)

I would say something like this:  “I really appreciate how friendly you are to visitors to the office. However, not everyone is comfortable with being hugged in a professional environment, and they won’t always speak up because they don’t want to create awkwardness. I know your intention is to be welcoming, but different people have different physical boundaries, and in an office, we need to err on the side of making sure no one feels uncomfortable from physical contact. So that means no more hugging.”

And you need to be very direct about this. Don’t be tempted to just tell her to “scale back the hugging” or “limit it to people you know,” because she’s already shown that she doesn’t have appropriate judgment here and can’t tell when someone would or wouldn’t be comfortable with it. You need to tell her to stop it, period.

She may push back, and you’ll need to hold firm. If she’s skeptical, you have the option of explaining that you’ve had complaints about it (although you should avoid naming names so those people don’t find their relationship with her strained), but frankly, even without complaints, this is behavior you’d need to stop … because even if no one spoke up about it, the behavior is unprofessional and likely to make at least a few people uncomfortable. People have the right not to receive that type of physical contact (especially full-bodied physical contact!) in the workplace, and as an employer, you have a responsibility to ensure your office isn’t making people physically uncomfortable.

If she continues to argue, you can simply say, “Be that as it may, no more hugging going forward.”

You’ll also need to make sure that she doesn’t start grumbling to visitors about this — “I’d hug you, but I’m not allowed,” etc. If that happens, you need to address it immediately, explaining to her that it’s unprofessional, and perhaps having a wider conversation about professionalism.

And again, no policy needed. You’re allowed to give your employees direction that isn’t codified in policy. In fact, most direction you give employees isn’t going to be codified in policy. Just talk to her. And do it now — don’t wait. I can almost guarantee you that some people who need to visit your office are dreading it because of the unwelcome physical embrace they know they’ll receive.

You can read an update to this post here.

{ 231 comments… read them below }

  1. Eric*

    Boy, and I was about to write in because I felt awkward tapping my boss on the shoulder to get her attention…

    1. EM*

      Dude, tell me about it. I’m normally a hugger, and I’ll hug friends I haven’t seen in a while all the time, but I think the only time I’ve hugged someone at the office was when they were leaving and moving to another state. Our office has a rather jocular culture, but I even avoid the casual joking hit on the arm that I might normally do in a similar situation in a social setting, but definitely not at work.

  2. starts & ends with A*

    “because even if no one spoke up about it, the behavior is unprofessional and likely to make at least a few people uncomfortable”

    It makes me uncomfortable just reading this! Please please make it stop!

    1. Another Emily*

      +4 I really find this behaviour creeptastic. Her behaviour seems so far over the top that it seems like a power play to me. Bizarre.

  3. Taria Shadow*

    Wow. I can’t imagine going into an office – even some of the more laid-back, very casual offices I’ve worked in – and being hugged.

    Personally, I’ve got personal space issues due to things in my past. I don’t even like shaking hands, but have gotten over it due to it being expected in the professional world; I would probably run screaming from someplace where I was greeted with a hug from someone I don’t know!

    (Well, maybe not run screaming per se, but I’d certainly be horrified.)

    It constantly surprises me what people think is appropriate behaviour in public….

    1. Jamie*

      I don’t have a reason for my personal space issues – I just have them. I don’t like crowded meetings where my chair is too close to other people and I’m not a big fan of people who put their hand on my lower arm when speaking to make a point.

      I think people should be respectful of the customs for personal space in the culture that they are in. For American’s that’s typically 2 feet on each side and 28 inches up front and 16 inches in back.

      She is jumping right into that intimate zone most of us reserve for close family, kids, and those with whom we’re intimate.

      I don’t even know the OP and I’m begging to make this stop! :)

      1. Josh S*

        Those are good measures of personal space…unless you’re in an airplane, where your status as a human is erased and you are treated like cattle and/or sardines.

        Similar for public transportation during rush hour.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yes, but even there, boundaries exist. No eye contact, no limbs draped over others, etc. I’d be afraid to sit next to this woman on a plane–she’d probably put her head on my shoulder or end up in my lap! O.o

      2. twentymilehike*

        I’m not a big fan of people who put their hand on my lower arm when speaking to make a point.

        I remember learning about doing this in a class in college a long time ago. And I think it is something to use sparingly and with very keen judgement! Also, it works so much better if you are female and you are trying to persuade a male … like at a bar or something. That I can safely say has been effective LOL

      3. SW*

        I’m not a big fan of people who put their hand on my lower arm when speaking to make a point.

        Ditto, it seems so blatantly manipulative to me.

        1. Jamie*

          Manipulative and intimate. As twentymilehike said – it works in bars and I concur…which is a really different skill set than what works at work.

          It always feels like a prelude to a kiss for me – so I immediately recoil and yank my arm away…and I’m pretty sure wtf is written all over my face as this is happening.

          1. TheSnarkyB*

            I agree that it’s manipulative. It also happens to women and not to men (speaking VERY generally here), and in my observation, people are more physically familiar/touchy with women, especially women of color, or larger women, etc. and then give excuses for touching like “you’re so friendly and inviting.” You may think I’m nuts for noticing this pattern, but I swear it’s there.

      4. Another Jamie*

        I am picturing you walking around with a tape measure, enforcing personal space. “I’m sorry, you are 26 inches in front of me. Please back up 2 inches.” :)

    2. Esra*

      I was going to say, I get skeeved out when people hold my hand too long while shaking. I barely tolerate hugs from friends. This would be brutal.

      1. Liz in a Library*

        I’m a huge hugger socially, but I also find this totally creepy.

        I have a colleague who used to take the handshake, turn my hand over, and hold it in both of his for an extended period while we spoke. You’d have to physically yank your hand out of his to escape. He clearly didn’t mean it to be creepy (much older, and with strange social skills), but it was terrible, and because he clearly didn’t mean to be creepy I felt terrible saying anything.

        Eventually, I just found an excuse to always be holding things when I saw him, until he got the picture. I regret not being more direct.

      2. Jen in RO*

        My friends know I’m not a hugger and some of them even apologize when they hug me after we haven’t seen each other for a long time :P I would be sooo uncomfortable being hugged in the office. In my head, hugs are only for my boyfriend.

  4. -X-*

    It depends on the general office culture, the relationship between the people, and also broader cultural issues.

    For example, tomorrow we have someone visiting my office who comes from conservative religious background in another country. Her relations with us are very warm, but she won’t shake hands with any men in the office due to her beliefs.

    Alternatively, there are cultures in which people who have never me in person will hug and “Euro-kiss” each other meeting the first time.

    But in the US, in an office, yeah – hugging is over the line in most cases and certainly with strangers. We do a little among staff and close partners in my organization.

    1. Ellie H.*

      I am a big fan of personal space (I’m unsurprised that so many of us commenters are) and really dislike close talking, unwanted hugs, etc. but I have to admit I love the “Euro kiss.” There’s just something about it that I find very civilized and appealing.

      1. Natalie*

        You kiss each other’s cheek, but it’s kind of an air kiss. If you’re reeeaally European (i.e. French) you kiss both cheeks!

      2. Amouse*

        In my experience the French do the air kiss on both cheeks, Italians (my mom’s side is Italian) actually kiss both cheeks. My boyfriend’s Croatian family actually kissed both cheeks when we went there this summer too but that could be because they are family. I’m not sure if they would air-kiss co-workers, acquaintances instead.

        1. french dude*

          >In my experience the French do the air kiss on both cheeks,

          Depends on the area. Rural france can go up to 6 kisses, and some of these are not “air”.
          The minimum is 1 kiss. Men rarerly airkiss each other.

  5. Jamie*

    “I can almost guarantee you that some people who need to visit your office are dreading it because of the unwelcome physical embrace they know they’ll receive.”

    I’d put money on this. And wow. I’m getting social anxiety just reading about this – I’d jump clear out of my skin if I were greeted like this in an office.

    Please listen to the advice and don’t wait for a performance review. Alison is right that there shouldn’t be surprises in those, and also if someone is mentioned in there and not elsewhere she could assume it wasn’t important enough to you to have an immediate conversation.

    1. K.*

      Yeah, I have a very “I don’t know you like that!” attitude when it comes to displays of affection and sharing personal information, especially at work, so I would totally be one of those people who dreads having to go to the OP’s workplace because I’d have to deal with the “creepy hugging lady,” as I would have deemed her.

    2. Heather*

      It’s not even the hug as well – which doesn’t help and needs to stop immediately – it’s the fact that every arrival is a BIG DEAL. Really? I just want to go to a place. Not have my arrival be a cause for a big parade. Sure I want to be greeted warmly, maybe a bit of chit chat, but not a BIG DEAL. I do not want that much attention.

    3. M-C*

      It’d a good idea to tell her now, and use the upcoming performance review to give an evaluation about whether she’s toed the line and in fact not hugged anyone since, without causing further trouble. That’s what performance reviews ought to be about – not surprises about what’s not working, but evaluating whether you’re in fact doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

  6. Imran*

    I have some personal space issue too,

    But….this world can use more hugs. Seriously, just tolerate it. As long as it’s not sexually creepy, let it slide.

    1. Anonymous*

      Someone making a big production out of hugging, engaging in a full body hug, and then talking (while still hugging) about how good it feels, is sexually creepy.

      And I have hugged occasionally in workplace/professional settings. But this is over the top.

      1. M-C*

        +1. Just because she’s the kind of older woman that OP does not feel sexual about does not mean her behavior isn’t sexually creepy, as well as just creepy.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The OP can’t let it slide. It’s fine that you’d be willing to tolerate it, but you’re not in a position to tell other people that they need to accept physical embraces just to get their work done. Additionally, as a manager, the OP has a responsibility to take action on this, no matter what her personal feelings on hugs might be — because it’s common knowledge that many other people are not okay with this kind of touch in a professional setting.

      You really can’t tell people that in order to get their work done, they need to tolerate a full-body embrace.

    3. Xay*

      No. Full body hugs are a level of familiarity that is inappropriate in the workplace, let alone from a stranger. If you want to heal the world with hugs, start with your family and friends.

    4. Another Job Seeker*

      Another person referenced something that made me think about this. I once took a Biblical Counseling class. The instructors (psychologists, I believe) told us that we should consider the feelings of others before we decide to hug them. Something that one person finds friendly might be sexually creepy to someone else. I enjoy giving and receiving hugs. However, I think that situations the OP described above should be handled (in most cases) with a handshake and a warm smile. If you know people appreciate hugs (or do not appreciate handshakes), you respect their wishes. However, a handshake is usually the best way to welcome visitor in a business environment.

      1. EM*

        I think women really haven’t learned to show affection in a professional sense. You can shake someone’s hand warmly and say with a big smile, “It’s so great to see you!” It conveys the message I imagine the Creepy Hugger is intending to send.

        I used to go on a several day field trip with a male colleague (I’m a woman). I only saw him a few times a year, but when you spend 14 + hours a day with someone, you get to know them fairly well, so I definitely became fond of him (if that’s the right word in the professional sense). Hugging him when he picked me up to go in the field would have been weird and sent the entirely wrong message, so instead, we shook hands warmly. It conveyed the same meaning but wasn’t inappropriate or oogy.

        1. Jamie*

          I may be the odd woman out, but I’m very rarely moved to show affection in a professional sense.

          Admiration, sure. Irritation…often. But affection doesn’t really come up for me.

          There have been times when someone I like at work has lost someone close to them and I’ve expressed my condolences verbally as well as with a letter and donation to the charity noted. Or someone has a baby or gets married and I’ll send a personal gift, because I like them as a person apart from just a co-worker. I guess that’s affection – but I think we have these social conventions which are commonly accepted so we don’t have to worry about crossing lines.

          And women do shake hands – people shake hands with me all the time. I never initiate it because I never remember to – but that’s definitely the way to go at work.

          1. Amouse*

            Jamie I do think kind gestures are a way of showing affection most definitely. Not all affection and warmth have to be displayed physically.

        2. Amouse*

          I’m envisioning the time I first started working in an office setting as a receptionist and nope, the impulse to get up and spring a hug on everyone walking through the door never hit me despite my being a woman. Any woman with any sense of professional appropriateness and minimal powers of observation of their work culture (ie. people probably aren’t walking around hugging each other every time they meet) could figure out that a warm smile and “hello. So good to see you!” or a handshake if meeting for the first time would suffice.

          Sorry I’m probably also responding this way because I just hate gender categorizations in general. But i really don’t think this has anything to do with women not having learned how to show affection in a professional sense. I think we (you included) can give ourselves more credit than that.

    5. KellyK*

      No. People are entitled to their personal space. It can be creepy without being sexually creepy, and this would thoroughly creep me out. (Additionally, it could have sexual overtones. The bit about how good hugging feels seems like it leans in that direction.)

      The world might need more friendly and mutually appreciated hugs. It certainly doesn’t need more unwelcome physical contact or more guilt trips on people who are put off by it.

    6. K.*

      Nope! I’ve met people (male and female) who announce that they’re huggers and just expect me to “tolerate it,” and they get bumped by my outstretched hand because I just met them, I’m not interested in hugging people I just met, so they get a handshake. And that’s in a social setting. This reads like this woman is basically accosting people when they come into a place of business, which is straight-up unacceptable. As Alison says, if it were a man doing this, no one would expect tolerance.

      1. A Bug!*

        I agree here. Nobody should ever be told to “just tolerate” unwanted physical contact.

        I’ve met people (male and female) who announce that they’re huggers and just expect me to “tolerate it,” and they get bumped by my outstretched hand because I just met them, I’m not interested in hugging people I just met, so they get a handshake

        That’s kind of gross. It made my eye twitch. “I acknowledge that my behavior is often unwelcome and makes people uncomfortable, but instead of moderating my own behavior to respect others’ space I’m just going to tell you right now to Deal With It.”

        By the way, this is largely why I’m against pressuring kids to hug or kiss relatives when they don’t want to, whatever the reason. Kids should be learning early on that they get to decide who touches their bodies and when, and “Give Great-Aunty Burglinda a kiss! Don’t be rude, now” seriously undermines that message.

        1. Jamie*


          I’ve always left it up to my kids whether they wanted to hug relatives or not – it went hand in hand with teaching them that their bodies are their own and they have a right to decline uncomfortable contact (even when it’s innocent.)

          When older relatives got pushy about this I’d run interference for them. The irony is a reserved kid will be a lot more receptive to a genuine relationship if you don’t try to force them into disingenuous affection right off the bat.

          And +1000 to those who said elsewhere in the thread that this woman working around children is a really bad idea – if she can’t modify her behavior. I am one of those parents who would be pulling my kids from contact with her and calling to complain.

          Boundaries are important for adults. Even more so for kids who may not feel powerful enough to enforce their own – so we need to help them out.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Exactly. Good for you!

            I always ask my friends’ or relatives’ kids for a hug rather than hug them. If they don’t want to, that’s fine. Only after I’ve been around them several times, too–not the first time. Although if they want to hug me, I’m good with it.

        2. lindsay*

          I think the onus should be on people who want to hug to make sure it’s ok with the other person. Seriously, just ask first: “Is it ok if we hug?” And not while your arms are outstretched and you’re going in for one, but before you give any physical indication or movement towards hugging. People’s space should be respected, regardless of age or relationship (although I have to admit, I’m not going to ask my mom every time we hug because that’s where we are in our relationship, but you have to establish that with the person and it’s going to be rarer than not).

          That said, office hugging is definitely out. Office hugging of people you’re just meeting is 100% definitely out.

        3. Hari*

          Never thought of it like this. Although for me it still feels different since its between family and not outsiders. I’m aware that family members have been involved in cases of abuse before but this is when you teach your kids the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching. However, my family is really open with expressing feelings (hugs, kisses, “love yous”) but I know families who are very conservative about it as well. I think it just depends on the family, I don’t necessarily think one way is better.

          Lol but I am reminded of one Simpsons episode (old school simpsons) where Marge touches Ralph’s shoulder to comfort him and he cries “Help, she’s touching my special area” LOL.

          1. A Bug!*

            I’m not suggesting hugging should be discouraged (except at work, which I suppose renders this comment off-topic, so I’ll clarify my point and leave it at that).

            I am suggesting that any person should be given the right to decline if that person doesn’t want to hug a particular person at a particular time. It doesn’t sound at all like the family situation you describe, which I assume is a 100% consensual hug-o-rama.

            I just firmly believe that, hug-happy family or not, the right to set reasonable boundaries with confidence should be instilled in all children early on, and that absolutely includes the right to bodily autonomy.

            1. Hari*

              Agreed with the work situation and overall on the “no one should have to touch or be touched when they feel uncomfortable” I was responding in particular however to the: Kids should be learning early on that they get to decide who touches their bodies and when, and “Give Great-Aunty Burglinda a kiss! Don’t be rude, now” seriously undermines that message. Which I don’t think it undermines that message (if its appropriate touching) when it comes to family. There are times where I’d rather not hug my distant relative who I don’t know but because my family is huggers I go along with it for their sake. Strangers however, I would not show nor would expect that same courtesy/consideration for.

              1. Jamie*

                I don’t think I was emotionally damaged by being told “go hug gramma” whenever we saw her – but I think there are a couple of benefits of not forcing a child to show affection unless it’s of their own volition:

                1. It doesn’t muddy the issue of allowing an adult to touch you, if you have the power of authority over your own body and know with 100% certaintly you always have the right to say, “no don’t touch me” and have that be respected. So if it’s ever not respected it’s an instant red flag. A kid doesn’t have to evaluate each situation to determine whether something is creepy or if they should be polite. It’s starting no means no really early.

                And ftr, I know most family members are just acting out of custom. My gramma just wanted a hug from me, she wasn’t being creepy. And I understand that it can hurt people’s feelings – but I’ve found that when you don’t force your kids to hug/kiss then the older family members just blame you, as the parent, so there’s no fall out for the kiddos.

                2. Some kids are more reserved than others, introverted/whathaveyou, and when you force them to set aside their own timetables to be affectionate on demand it can hinder what could be an awesome relationship. If people let things develop naturally they might find they have a far closer relationship with people who aren’t clenched and bracing for an unwanted onslaught of over stimulation.

                For me it’s about letting kids know, as early as possible, that you respect them as people and individuals. Bedtime, balanced meals, and education wasn’t optional – but how they chose to express their feelings was (without being rude, of course.)

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yep. And of course kids need to know that “family” isn’t a category of people who are allowed to make them feel physically uncomfortable. Kids don’t always get the distinction between “you have to give Aunt Bertha a kiss” and Uncle Herb wanting to play a creepy game behind a closed door.

                2. Katie*

                  What AAM said was in line with what I was thinking. I hate to take the thread to a dark place, but lots of children are abused by family members who can use their authority as family to manipulate and take advantage of them. Giving your children bodily autonomy in this way sounds smart to me for this reason.

                3. Amouse*

                  Yeah I agree. My parents always said that I did not have to hug or kiss anyone I didn’t want to. I am assuming it was for this reason. I do believe kids have instincts about people and can sometimes read people more accurately than adults can. Forcing them to adhere to physical conventions like hugging and kissing can confuse them and nullify those instincts.

                4. Hari*

                  I definitely see where you are coming from. However “no means no” as in respecting someone’s personal space I don’t agree should apply with innocent hugs between family members. That’s when I think politeness comes in. I don’t think it would raise detrimental issues or muddy anything down the line as long as you made it clear what IS and what ISN’T okay touching for family, friends and strangers. If a child really felt uncomfortable or unsafe around that family member then of course I wouldn’t force contact. But if its just a case of not wanting to hug cousin so-and-so out of awkwardness then you just need to suck it up and be polite. A case could be made for either side though, not saying it couldn’t ever happen where a child would end up confused but personally I don’t see it as a potential detriment by itself.

                  As a introverted child myself, I dealt with this a lot and haven’t ended up worse for it. As far as forcing relationships I agree but its only the initial hug that ends up being awkward. After continuous exposure to that relative you just end up feeling neutral about it.

                  I respect that there is different methods of child rearing and also family environments (see my first reply) so this is my perspective on it. I don’t think your opinions on it are wrong.

                5. Hari*

                  Too many replies so this is @ AAM:
                  Kids don’t always get the distinction between “you have to give Aunt Bertha a kiss” and Uncle Herb wanting to play a creepy game behind a closed door.

                  I think this is where the parents need to step up though. My parents even though they made me give hugs to distant relatives always said anyone touching you certain places no matter who or what was not okay. I don’t see how if this is clear how a child wouldn’t understand.

                  Lol didn’t mean to start a slightly off topic debate but I seem to be doing this a lot in this thread today.

                6. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Not to get too explicit here, but I think the problem comes in when boundaries blur for kids. They might instinctively not want to sit on gross Uncle Herb’s lap when no one is around, but he’s telling them that that’s what uncles and nieces (or nephews) do. It’s better to just not force them to have physical contact with anyone that they don’t feel comfortable with. (And molestation issues aside, why should kids be forced to hug or kiss someone they don’t want to hug or kiss? We’d never demand that of adults. Just because they’re kids doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have volition over their own bodies.)

                  In any case, I’m no expert on this — just parroting back what I’ve seen people who are experts on it say!

                7. Jamie*


                  “However “no means no” as in respecting someone’s personal space I don’t agree should apply with innocent hugs between family members. That’s when I think politeness comes in”

                  I understand that there are differences of opinion on this, but I think this is such an important issue. I just think a child’s right to be comfortable with what is happening to their own body trumps any adults right to politeness. To me that’s not even a contest.

                  Of course I taught mine that they had to say hello, and make small talk with adult relatives. And please, thank you, if there is one last chair gramma gets it. To me that’s politeness.

                  It’s worth noting that it isn’t that kids can’t tell the difference between an innocent hug and bad touching. I don’t need to know that they felt like giving Aunt Bertha a hug, but I sure as hell need to know if anyone was being inappropriate with them. I’m not conflating the two, but it is an important point that often bad things don’t start out clear cut from jump street. Sometimes they start out with hugs that last a little too long, or feel weird in a way kids can’t articulate. It’s often a slippery slope. My goal as a parent was to do everything in power to give the kids tools to stay away from the slope.

                  I do understand where you’re coming from…and I’ll just agree to disagree on this. I just feel so strongly about empowering kids to be safe and be who they are that I wanted to make clarify that I’m not paranoid – I don’t think there is a monster behind every hug – I just think anything one can do to help a kid embrace their own autonomy is a wonderful thing and the entitlement some adults feel to forced affection pales next to that.

                8. Hari*

                  Thanks for your last response. This helped clear your point up for me. I agree with a lot of it. And yes I admit I was responding to what I did percieve as paranoia lol. However, and this is where we disagree — I feel the slope is irrelevant to whether the abuser would try something or not. and I don’t think that autonomy would be able to save them from being abused. Sadly many children still become vicitims even when they protest to the contact as adults can easily overpower them. That’s why I put more importantance on telling the child what is inappropiate and making sure they know that they CAN and NEED tell someone if something happens.

                  I feel like my comment to Jamie kind of addresses yours too.

                9. Anon2*

                  @ Jamie – you’ve mentioned before that one of your children is austistic (or on the spectrum?) – children who are autistic tend to shy from physical contact, has this helped to refine your own views on this or have you always felt this way? (I love this viewpoint btw)

                10. Jamie*

                  Yes, my eldest son is on the spectrum/has autism/PDD-NOS – depends which doctor report you’re looking at. :)

                  Actually, this is a really interesting question. The short answer is I would have done it anyway – I crafted my own version of attachment parenting when I was pregnant with him and just have a core belief that kids are individual people and have the right to be themselves…as long as “themselves” isn’t rude. I consider it a favor to them, as opposed to an infringement of their rights, to teach them manners.

                  In thinking about it though, I’m sure his autism made it easier for the other relatives to abide by this. He was a very sweet and affectionate kid (now he’s a very sweet young man), with me and his immediate family. With other people, they needed to wait and do it on his terms. If you’ve ever tried to force a person with autism to show affection on your time line, you know we’re talking about something pretty unrealistic.

                  To try this on a toddler? That kid could go from silent to a scream that could wake the dead in a milisecond – and kids don’t come with mute buttons.

                  So no, it didn’t prompt my philosophy, his younger siblings certainly benefited by his setting the rules on this.

    7. Emily*

      I want to agree with you, because I love hugs and I am That Girl Who Hugs Everyone…but there’s a big difference between hugging everyone in your personal life, who is there because you like each other and have chosen to keep each other’s company, and hugging everyone in your professional life, some of whom are there just because they have business to do with your company/organization and have not chosen to keep intimate company with you.

      I typically greet all my friends and family with a hug and often a kiss on the cheek too, and I do even hug a few of my coworkers (and I believe I’m the only person in the workplace who hugs anyone), but only the ones I’ve gotten to know well enough that we’re friendly beyond work terms, sharing things about our lives with each other and socializing outside of work. It’s not so much that professionalism prohibits hugs in all working spaces–it’s that there’s a minimum relationship that needs to be in place and a working relationship alone doesn’t meet that bar.

    8. starts & ends with A*

      You know the type of stranger I’d like to promote physical violence on? The ones going around advertising free hugs. The world does not need more hugs.

  7. sam.i.am*

    We’ve been reading “Hug Your Customer” as a group at work and we joke that we need to rename the book, “Affectionately Pat Your Customer on the Arm” because we are not a physically demonstrative group. If I were to walk into this office, I’d be REALLY put off. That said, the book is more about all the metaphorical ways to “hug” your customer without actually wrapping your arms around them.

    There are people that I know professionally (clients, fellow board members, etc.) that are huggers and, honestly? When did hugging become the default greeting? Why can’t we say hello warmly and enthusiastically and just shake hands? I don’t hug my own friends as much as I hug some of these people!

  8. Zee*

    There are people who don’t like to be touched, let alone hugged, at all. Someone like Howie Mandel comes to mind. Wait until she hugs someone with his type of phobia, and the OP will have bigger problems on hand.

    Also, I think when the OP addresses this with the Hugger, she should also mention a solution – either shake people’s hands, nod, or wave while greeting the person. The first still makes contact, but it’s professional. The other two allow for others who aren’t comfortable with contact to still have a pleasant greeting. I can just see this woman being told not to hug and not knowing what to do instead so she starts kissing people instead (pinching cheeks possibly too!). Okay, so that’s a bit extreme, but if you might have a problem if you don’t tell her exactly what’s acceptable when hugging isn’t.

    1. Andrea*

      Good suggestions. There are so many ways to welcome someone and to show someone that you’re glad to see them when they arrive–say so, smile, ask about how they’re doing, offer to get them a refreshment and hang their jacket or help them carry things, whatever. Sharing these suggestions with the employee should be helpful.

      But based on the OP’s letter, I don’t believe that this woman is hugging because she wants to make others feel welcome or show that she is glad to see them. It is indeed all about her and what she wants. People who are sensitive to other people’s needs and feelings would have already figured out that most people don’t like this kind of touching in the workplace. If she cared about what other people wanted, she would notice those people who are uncomfortable and just stiffly going along with the hug. Someone who wants to be hugged relaxes into it and hugs back, and it should be obvious to the hugger who likes this and who doesn’t. But then again, someone who is sensitive to other people’s feelings and comfort would not be hugging in the workplace at all.

      1. Zee*

        True. However, if her job is to greet people, then she should be taught to greet professionally. So my suggestion is for the OP to address it and give alternatives, just in case this woman doesn’t know what a better alternative would be or if she decides to find a way to fulfill this need she has of being rather affectionate, for a lack of a better word. Whatever is the reason behind the hugging, the OP should put it on the table as to what is acceptable and what is not; that way, the OP’s behind is covered.

  9. Blinx*

    I usually can’t tolerate invasion into my personal space, but a quick hug with colleagues I haven’t seen in a long time is fine. Emphasis on quick. But the full body hug WITH color commentary? Nuh-uh. No way. I think I’d have to hold a book to my chest or something to put a physical boundary between me and this person, if it is a known thing. But what would be a graceful way to deflect this? You extend your hand for a handshake, but they pull you in for a hug. Aside from standing there with your hands at your side, I’m stumped.

    Even in the family setting, if I married into this family, I’d probably avoid this person upon arrivals and departures. If she needs hugs that much, get a dog or a cat.

    1. fposte*

      I think there’s a Miss Manners column where she suggests stiffly extending an arm for a handshake when the hugger moves in, so they’ll bounce off the hand. I think it’s the keeping the arm stiff that’s key.

      And OP, note we’re now to the point of developing strategies to avoid being hugged by your employee. Yes, you must make her stop.

    2. TL*

      I usually just block with my other arm and say without any heat or emotion, “I’m not a hugger.”

      And repeat – the last time I did this (at a party) went, “I’m not a hugger.” “I don’t hug.” “Really, I don’t hug.” “I’m going to punch you if you don’t stop.” (That last line is not work appropriate; but the guy had one arm around me pushing me and the other trying to grab my hand to pull me in and I was getting really, really annoyed.)

      I hate getting hugged – and hugging me more just makes me uncomfortable and then angry.

    3. Jamie*

      “If she needs hugs that much, get a dog or a cat.”

      Ha. A dog. I have both and the dogs cuddle when you want to…the cats cuddle when they want to.

      1. Jen in RO*

        I force my cat to cuddle, because he’s so fluffy and adorable. I’ve got constant scratches and bites because he *hates* cuddling on my terms… :(

    4. KellyK*

      Even in the family setting, if I married into this family, I’d probably avoid this person upon arrivals and departures. If she needs hugs that much, get a dog or a cat.

      How about a teddy bear instead? Dogs and cats are generally much less enamored of hugging than people are. (Hug my dog, and she’ll be under the bed…hug my cat, and I’ll be getting you some neosporin and a bandaid. If you’re lucky, you won’t need stitches!)

      1. Blinx*

        Kelly – you’re right. It’s all about respecting boundaries, whether people or pets. One of my dogs I can hug like a teddy bear any time I want. He’s fine with it. My other dog? While he likes being scratched and loves belly rubs, hugs are off bounds! Can’t even pick him up. The cat, on the other hand, is the best – she purrs her approval.

  10. class factotum*

    I leave the pew at church when it is time for the Our Father. Why? Because my parish is obsessed with hand holding during this prayer. Honestly. What ever happened to good old fashioned Catholic distance and coldness?

    I do not want to hold hands with strangers while I pray. I don’t want to hold hands with people I know while I pray. I don’t want to hold hands with anyone but my husband.

    The idea of a stranger assaulting me with a hug when I walk into an office? Ick, ick, ick.

      1. Jamie*

        We don’t kiss – but this is the handshaking time at our parish.

        This is when I always have to go to the ladies room. If there is no peace in the parish blame me, I haven’t wished anyone peace in decades.

        Seriously – touching is just so unnecessary.

        1. class factotum*

          Yep, it’s to the ladies’ I go.

          A few years ago, I saw something on a Catholic blog: a plastic hand that you could hold (by the wrist) so that the person next to you could hold a hand but you wouldn’t have to touch him.

          I just don’t remember ever reading that Jesus said we had to touch our neighbor. Love, yes. Touch, no.

          1. Jamie*

            “A few years ago, I saw something on a Catholic blog: a plastic hand that you could hold (by the wrist) so that the person next to you could hold a hand but you wouldn’t have to touch him.”

            I so desperately want one of these before the next Christmas party – where everyone wants to shake hands before going home for the holiday.

            It can’t possibly be any more offensive than my offering a hand stuck halfway up my sweater sleeve and the dousing of hand sanitizer that follows. A little hyperbole, but not by much…I really hate being sick on the holidays and people are just walking germ colonies that time of year.

              1. Jamie*

                Yeah – I’ve seen how my cats greet each other and that’s even worse than hugging.

                Only a cat can make the most disgusting of activities adorable and elegant. People don’t stand a chance.

                1. The Other Dawn*

                  “Yeah – I’ve seen how my cats greet each other and that’s even worse than hugging.”

                  Ick. I have lots of cats and it always amazes me how they could have just seen another cat 10 minutes ago and they still have to “investigate”.

          2. Zee*


            But Jesus was with those who were sick and He touched the lepers. He was not afraid of being around them, and I highly doubt He would have snuck off to the men’s room.

            Sorry, AAM, not trying to turn this into a religious post.

            1. Jessica*

              If I could heal people with a touch, I’d be a toucher, I’m sure. I can’t, so I don’t. I’ve never had a manicure or pedicure because I don’t want people touching me. I will hug close friends and family, if I haven’t seen them in a long time. I will hug my husband and hold his hand and cuddle with him every day, but I happen to be in love with him. I hate the hugging and handshaking that goes on in churches just for the sake of “greeting your neighbor.” I can greet my neighbor verbally and be fine. Jesus never forced anyone to touch Him, and I dare say He wouldn’t expect everyone to just want Him to go around hugging them (whether they believed in Him or not). His touch was healing and comforting, sought out by people who wanted it, not forced. Too many touches to me are nerve-wracking and not something I’m interested in regularly partaking of.

              1. Zee*

                My point was that Jesus wasn’t going to duck into the bathrooms just to avoid holding someone’s hand during the prayer or shaking it during a sign of peace. And no one is forcing anyone to hold hands or shake hands.

                No one has mentioned this, but I would be more weary of taking the Eucharist from a priest who is using his bare hands to give it out. That is put in our hands and then into our mouths OR the priest sometimes places it on the person’s tongue.

                1. Jessica*

                  I’m nondenominational, so I don’t have to worry about that. We get individual cups (some churches have little glass ones and some have little plastic ones) and individual pieces of the “bread,” so no one is touching it before I place it in my mouth. I went to a Catholic church a couple times with a former boyfriend and was pretty skeeved that everyone drank out of the same cup, so I was pretty glad I wasn’t “allowed” to take communion.

    1. Diane*

      What ever happened to good old fashioned Catholic distance and coldness?


      Except for the time I sneezed during the creed, and nobody said “Bless you” because it wasn’t in the script.

    2. Hari*

      Every Catholic church I have ever been to has done this. It’s just not yours, its normal.

      I’m big on not spreading germs (also I get sick easily) so don’t particularly like holding hands in church during Our Fathers or the shake during the Peace Be With You (always bring sanitizers for after). However, I realize that it does serve an important role of togetherness in the church. If you don’t want the community experience while praying, don’t go to church, cause really that’s what its for.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m admittedly not a church-goer, but I suspect that plenty of churches would still welcome people who aren’t interested in holding hands with their neighbors and wouldn’t suggest they should stay home!

        1. Jamie*

          HA! My childhood priest was the one who told me that I didn’t have to hold hands, I could just hold them face up and hold hands with Jesus – so not wanting to touch people wasn’t a good reason for leaving early. Every week.

          Ftr – that’s what most people in our parish do – hold hands at waist level in front of you palms up. Fwiw I’ve done this for years and the Holy Spirit has never given me the flu.

          The whole sign of peace thing though, Alison is right that they would much prefer you just politely refrain rather than stay away. I think of using the ladies room at that time as a public service – so I’m not in there at the end of mass taking up room when all the hand shakers need to go.

          1. Hari*

            Well I’m sure the priest would rather you stay than to leave so I’m not surprised he suggested it lol. People who sit on the ends or in back rows with no one on their sides hold their hands up to God like that too.

            Actually I would think it would be better to slip away, there’s always those few people in church who move several pews and make sure to shake as many hands as they can. No one would notice someone slipping away as its really loud with all the movement and everyone saying peace. I imagine it would be really awkward to have to decline people, especially in a big or crowded church. Maybe not so much in smaller churches or if you only sat near a few people.

        2. Hari*

          True. But I got the feeling from the commenter’s post that felt the whole thing was unnecessary and stupid. Suggesting she stay home wasn’t meant to be rude but if she would prefer not to touch anyone in a culture where it is the norm, rather than be uncomfortable and maybe come off as rude to others (or suggest it be changed), just to stay home. I also know that in some communities/circles there is a pressure to show up to church and participate in everything. Different people have their own preference to how they would like to feel close to God and pray. No one should feel like they are obligated to go to church in order to be a good Christian. Re-reading my comment I did come off frank but so did the original comment.

          1. class factotum*

            Am I th commenter? :)

            I don’t want to hold hands! Not all parishes do it. Even if I sit in a pew by myself, with nobody across the aisle, someone from another pew across the aisle is sure to come up to me. I would rather just not be there than have to wave that person off. It seems very rude to indicate that I do not want to hold hands!

  11. sab*

    As a person who hates hugging, even by close friends, this gives me the willies. People are so self-absorbed sometimes — just because you like hugging, doesn’t mean that everyone likes hugging!

    I do hope this question ends up with an update — I am curious to know how this turns out…

  12. CatB (Europe)*

    Umm… I am part of a Latin people in a Latin setting, so hugging and air-kissing strangers is a bit more accepted here. But I’d be freaked out to have to hug a colleague on a daily basis. This issue shoud have been dealt with long ago.

    Is it possible to find a position more to the back of the room / building? Thus limiting interactions?

    1. Blinx*

      I was wondering if they could move her desk too, but then I re-read the letter, and greeting visitors is part of her job! Maybe they could reassign these duties, because she just doesn’t have the skills to greet appropriately in a professional setting. At least not now, anyhow.

      1. CatB (Europe)*

        Totally missed that part. Yes, she either should re-assess her greeting style or have that part of her job reassigned, you’re right.

  13. Jennifer*

    Is this woman mentally disabled? That’s what sprang to my mind when I read the first paragraph of your question. I’m a children’s librarian and I work fairly often with kids and teens from our local special education school and also interact with mentally disabled adults. They often give hugs, as they don’t understand the concept of personal space and I consider it part of my job, although not something I enjoy. I gets lots of hugs from preschoolers and the occasional elementary-aged kid, especially those who have seen me often. But NOT from their parents! I’d bet your office is known as “the business with the weird lady who hugs people”.

  14. AnotherAlison*

    Add my voice to the chorus of people who think hugs in a professional setting are unacceptable.

    I willingly hug my husband and youngest son (the teenager doesn’t put up with hugs). I tolerate WASPy upper body only hugs from other family members, and maybe a “bro hug” type thing from some friends who can’t help themselves. Anyone who tried to swoop in for a hug at work would be stopped in their tracks by my horrified expression and my giant step backwards.

    Growing up, a like-minded friend and I used to call our personal space our “body buffer zone” and you were to stay out of that area. The older I get, the bigger the BBZ gets.

  15. ChristineH*

    Yikes…I’m a hugger and this woman makes me uncomfortable!! Yes, I am in a field in which people give known colleagues a light hug at a function or when we haven’t seen them in awhile. I’ll even admit to having had issues of hugging indiscriminately when I was younger. However, this person has crossed the line by a mile; the OP definitely needs to deal with this head-on ASAP. Does she seem aware that her frequent hugging is inappropriate, but can’t stop?

    One thing did cross my mind that I want to ask: Does this person have any sort of disability that you’re aware of? Indiscriminate hugging is common in people with certain learning or developmental disabilities. Sure, there are those without disabilities that have similar behavior for whatever reason, but that immediately came to mind even before I started reading the letter.

  16. Kelly O*

    There are definitely times and places that hugs are acceptable, and I have been known to hug a guest from time to time, but they’re people with whom I’ve developed a relationship over the last almost three years, and I certainly don’t do it every time I see them, either.

    Quite honestly I do try to keep them out of anyone’s line of sight, even if it is the proverbial side-hug (props to Jon Acuff for raising awareness of the Christian Side-Hug. It does have a place.)

    This, however, sounds like a personal nightmare and I was raised with huggers and am definitely a hugger when it comes to my good friends.

    1. Blinx*

      I had to look up this side-hug dealie, and that sounds even more awkward, since it is done from the side instead of face to face. I can imagine someone extending their had for a shake, but the other person scoots to their side for an arm around the shoulder or waist? Um, no.

      1. Kelly O*

        It’s easier than it sounds. Once you see it in action and actually participate it makes sense.

        Granted I also grew up learning to “leave room for Jesus” when you go to dances, so I may be a little off in my interpretation.

  17. Josh S*

    For me, it’s not the excessive hugging itself that raises the big red flag here. It’s the fact that the receptionist(ish) is using it as therapy.

    I mean, yeah, hugs in the office are a bit beyond the line in general, though I can see how the sparse use between good friends who are consenting and agreeable to it would be fine.

    But walking in the door to “Let me give you a hug! Ah, there, now doesn’t that just make you feel good!?” —it’s simply too awkward on so many levels that I cannot even begin to get to a mental spot where it makes sense to leave the behavior alone.

    OP, you should end this behavior by your employee. Now. It will be awkward and probably difficult, and I’m sure you will get push-back. But be firm. Make her understand that this is “Not Okay” behavior.

  18. KarenT*

    If I had to visit your office in person, I would dread each visit so very much. (Like, oh god, I really need to talk to Sam, but first I have to pass the hugging lady at the front door.) I’m sure that she means well, but it’s just so inappropriate.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      This. I would probably find ways around visiting that person in the office, like email (I’m not a phone person either).

    2. starts & ends with A*

      The OP should send out an email to their clients “Cindy has been reminded that hugging is not an appropriate greeting in the office, and the next time you visit, I promise she will have no more physical contact than a handshake. Please come back to see us?”

  19. Michael*

    I would second the suggestion to find alternative behaviors. The hugger clearly wants to display affection in some format. In the “no hugging talk,” mentioning that addressing people by name, smiling, asking them how their day is going, etc. are better ways to welcome coworkers and visitors. The manager should then demonstrate this behavior occasionally when s/he is near the front door.

  20. EngineerGirl*

    1. Instituting a work policy over someone’s bad behavior is bad management.
    2. Waiting until performance appraisal to give feedback is bad management. Do it privately at the time of the occurrence.

    As someone with a German background, I’m squirming as I read this! Hugs are intimate and reserved for my circle of intimates. If someone pulled this stunt on me they would find themselves hugging a rigid and stiff board. I would feel so violated!

    1. Rana*

      Agreed! I am fine with hugs among close friends and family, but a handshake is as much contact with a stranger as I’m usually willing to tolerate. Even being tapped on a shoulder bugs me.

  21. Sparky629*

    As I was reading the article and the comments I just kept thinking to myself that the offending hugger really has a problem with office culture fit. She’s in the wrong place for her personality.

    Yes, she should be made to stop hugging people if it’s not appropriate in your environment but I personally think she should find a position in a different non profit with either children who liked to be hugged (in a completely adult appropriate way) or with animals.
    Then she can meet her requisite hug quota and not feel stifled by the ‘no hugging policy’.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I’m not even sure this person should be working with children.

      The OP’s comments about overly long hugs and announcing that it feels so good to be hugged really creep me out. I wouldn’t want a stranger like that near my kids.

      1. DeeDee*

        Yeah, I’d have to agree with you. If other adults are creeped out about her behavior, but don’t feel comfortable saying anything, planting her around a bunch of kids would be a terrible idea. What she needs is to learn is that there are appropriate boundaries for different situations and she’s not behaving appropriately.

      2. K.*

        Yeah, I can think of so many parents who would report her to the principal talking about “Please tell this woman to quit hugging my kid all the time.” There’s so much fear of sexual abuse* when it comes to kids that I cannot imagine that her constant hugging on children, talking about “Doesn’t that feel good?” would be well-received. It looks creepy to me just reading it.

        *And I am certainly not trying to belittle that fear.

        1. Anonymous*

          My dd told me she liked to give her (male) proctor hugs at school. We had to have that talk with her how it was inappropriate at school and save the hugs for family members and close friends. Give the proctor high five, we told her. Then we had to extend it to the other talk about inappropriate touching. Sad but necessary lart of growing up Poor girl just likes her proctor, even said she wants to be a proctor when she grows up! Maybe this woman never got that talk!

          My kids have even come home from school talking about an assembly they had regarding personal space, and how everyone has a bubble that you should not invade without asking! Maybe we should teach that at work as part of the new hire process!

          1. Natalie*

            Ah, high fives. My partner just finished a year-long internship in a middle school and probably high-fived kids 50 times a day. The kids need affection and positive reinforcement, but for obvious reasons too much touching between students and staff is frowned upon.

    2. Jay*

      Agree with the above – hugging is generally not acceptable for people working with children today, IME. I worked as a camp counselor and we had very specific restrictions about touching laid out in the handbook – no initiating hugs (if a girl hugged you, you were allowed to touch her shoulder, but should try to shift into a side-hug), not allowed to help them put sunscreen on, no tickling/wrestling/what have you. There was a triangle rule – a counselor should never be one-on-one with a camper, there needed to be at least 3 people present. People take this stuff seriously (and rightfully so, even if codified hug procedures read a little silly)

    3. Kaz*

      It’s not about the job. She needs to stop expecting strangers to fulfill her emotional needs. Doesn’t matter if hugs are part of the job or not.

  22. Anonymous*

    I was just considering asking AAM about how to handle a hugged when I saw this post! I have a colleague who likes to give me great big bear hugs when he greets me. I have done a few things to try to make it apparent that I am uncomfortable, like not hug back. Last time we met I extended my hand from a distance, and he pulled me into a hug. He is an older gentleman, I am a younger female in a male dominated environment. He is clearly not hugging any other of his counterparts, all male, so not only is it uncomfortable because I don’t like being hugged, I also feel its degrading despite his best intentions!

    This also typically happens amongst a group of cohorts, all peers, so I would feel a little comfortable calling him out in front of everyone.

    1. fposte*

      Can you be distracted by something and turn sideways, so all he gets is shoulder? Or carry easy food or beverages? You can also say “Sorry, Bob, I’m not a hugger” as he swoops in and you take evasive action; you can say something without calling him out.

      I’m also thinking of the raised knee you present to a jumping-up dog, but that would be wrong. Probably.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I like fposte’s suggestions here a lot. You could also say, “Good to see you! Let’s shake!” while holding out your hand. (A little cheesy, maybe, but would probably get the point across.)

        1. Blinx*

          This is where I think that cultures who greet with a respectful bow have perfected the professional greeting — no touching involved!

    3. Anon2*

      If you don’t want to call him out in front of others, then why don’t you have a talk with him in private? The best timing would be right after the latest hug, but any time would be fine. Simply explain you are uncomfortable with the hugging and you need him to stop. Don’t get pulled into long discussions about why, just stick with “I’m not comfortable with the hugging and I need you to stop.” Say it firmly and with a neutral tone of voice. If you have to, offer him a handshake instead.

      Also, while I appreciate that you’re sensitive to his position by not calling him out in front of others, he has really abdicated that kind of consideration by initiating the poor behavior.

    4. Andrea*

      This happened to me at a former job–an older male client unexpectedly grabbed me and hugged me. I pulled away as soon as possible and immediately moved to the other side of a desk and told him that hugging wasn’t appropriate. Everyone acted like I was out of line. Apparently I was just supposed to deal with someone else taking control of my body and my ability to move freely just because he was a “nice old man who went to church with the owner.” I said that a nice man wouldn’t have touched a young woman he didn’t know like that without her explicit consent. But then I was the bad guy, of course. In any case, don’t be so sure this person has the best intentions. He’s not hugging men, as you said. He probably wouldn’t like it if someone gave his wife or daughter unwelcome hugs. But he feels entitled to hug you even though you made it clear that you didn’t want to hug by extending your hand. That’s not what best intentions look like. I’m not saying this is necessarily sexual, but it is degrading and you shouldn’t have to put up with it.

      1. Jamie*

        I wish I could say I was surprised by this, but I’m not. FWIW I’d have been on your side.

        I used to get a lot more of the unwanted physical contact of this kind at work when I was in more forward facing positions. Maybe it’s moving to an environment where I am now where people aren’t invasive, or maybe it’s just that no one wants to get that close to IT…we don’t really emit warm and fuzzy vibes as a general rule.

        It is ridiculous that anyone should be made to feel bad for not allowing strangers to drape themselves all over you. And I’ve never seen men do this to other men…so even if it’s not sexual it still has a creepy feeling to it, since it’s only because you’re a woman that it’s happening.

        1. Andrea*

          Exactly. The kinds of men who do this are counting on the fact that most women have been socialized not to speak up and stop the unwanted touching and will just tolerate it instead. Men who respect you as a fellow, equal human being aren’t going to grab at you like that.

          I had kind of forgotten about another hugging incident (at a different job) until just now. I used to work with a great guy named Fred who was hired at the same time and who went through training with me. We became close friends. I was one of three women on the team of 10, and one day, our manager’s new boss came to meet us (he was located in another state). He was an older man who immediately tried to hug the other woman on the team, after shaking hands with two of the other men as he made his way around the room. She looked mortified but basically just took the hug, arms at her sides. Fred stepped out of line and went up to the new boss and tried to hug him, and when the boss put his hands up to stop him, he said, “Oh, sorry, I thought we were all going to get a hug! Nice to meet you,” and then he shook his hand. Everyone laughed, and that was the end of that, and no one else got hugged. I thought it was a great way to inject humor and show respect for the women on the team and to point out the unequal behavior in a subtle way. That kind of thing obviously won’t work everywhere, and it is a risk to take with a higher-up, but then again, it’s better than the women having to deflect that kind of treatment all by themselves. The woman who was subjected to the hug at least saw that someone was trying to do something about it. In these situations, I imagine that most men are uncomfortable seeing their female colleagues being disrespected like that. But it’s hard for anyone to know what to do in the moment.

          1. EM*

            What a great guy! Your friend is going on my list of Men Who Really Get Feminism. So far my dad is the only one on that list. :/

            1. Andrea*

              There are lots more out there, I promise.
              And Fred had a wife and a small daughter. For most people, it’s easier to think about how you would want someone to react if it was your loved one, so that may have partially motivated him (he is also a very thoughtful and considerate person in general). But like I said, it’s hard for many people to know how to respond in these situations, especially when things happen quickly.

  23. Amouse*

    For some reason I have the irresistible urge to try and picture what this over-hugger looks like in my mind. I won’t share my impressions because they’re probably way off. In any case, wow. Talk about no sense of boundaries. I agree with Alison that she needs to be talked to and soon. Imagine your clients dreading walking into your office for fear of the “mad-over-hugger” coming after them. Not exactly good for business. Or even employees dreading interacting with her for fear they will be taken unawares with a hug. Not good for interoffice functioning.

    The point is the the right context and with a somewhat apt judgement of when appropriate, hugs can be lovely. But when overused without discretion they become a dreaded breach of physical boundaries. She cannot be trusted to know the difference as has been demonstrated.

    I’m acutely reminded of my own sense of dread when I’m abut to attend a social function with my Italian side of the family knowing I will be assaulted by two-cheek kisses all day. ick. I love my family but I don’t love that custom.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Remember the lady in Office Space who says, “Looks likes somebody has a case of the Mondays.”

      That’s who I’m picturing.

    2. Blinx*

      I’m picturing Mimi from The Drew Carey Show. While she’s definitely NOT a hugger, I would absolutely head for the hills if she ever tried it.

      1. Amouse*

        :-) I would too! I’m picturing possibly a female version of Michael Scott from The Office. Michaela Scott maybe?

        1. Blinx*

          Michael Scott would probably create a team building exercise where everyone gets full body hugs. I can picture his entire office cringing, except for a select few who would entirely creep me out!

          He would also demonstrate Hug Your Customer by doing just that! Cringes all around.

          1. Amouse*

            haha I can hear Angela complaining about how inappropriate the whole thing is, Dwight becoming suuuper-creepy and Michael making some awkward comment about males hugging males not being a sexual thing intended to make Oscar feel comfortable that actually singles him out in some cringe-inducing awkward way LOL

  24. Nichole*

    I generally don’t like to be touched (in fact, I sometimes find myself apologizing when I unintentionally recoil from an acceptable touch, like a shoulder tap), and I definitely don’t hug much, even with people I know well. Aside from with my husband, hugging/touching=comfort, not general everyday contact to me. However, I don’t mind being hugged by people who ask. If someone says “is it ok to hug you?” or “do you hug?” I usually say yes and allow it with no ill feelings. I think (after waaay too much reflection, thanks OP) that it’s because of the lack of boundary violation. If they ask, then 1) I’m not surprised by being suddenly touched by a stranger; 2) I have the opportunity to say no if I want; and 3) they recognize that they don’t “know” me and can’t just touch me without asking, therefore I feel comfortable pushing out that boundary a little bit. It’s not the hug I’m opposed to, it’s the imposition. I know that’s not helpful, so for what it’s worth, I agree with the all around ban. This person doesn’t understand boundaries and there are lots of reasons why someone may not like it at all. If someone who likes the hugs comes in, they’ll ask her for one (and in that case, I would say let her do it…it just can’t be her idea).

    1. Ellie H.*

      I sometimes inadvertently recoil from touches too even when it’s inadvertent. I’m sensory sensitive and I particularly can’t stand a light touch in just one place on my back (like, the exact kind of touch from someone who is fixing a tag). My flinching away drives my mom CRAZY – of course I love to hug my family members but unexpected touching is a totally different story.

    2. Ellie H.*

      I meant, instinctually recoil, when the person doesn’t touch me on purpose. Inadvertent. Inadvertent. . . .

      1. helen*

        I have a chronic pain issue. My close family and friends know about this and hug me gently, carefully avoiding the most sensitive bit.

        Anyone else is likely to be greeted with an ‘OWW!’

  25. Kate2*

    I want an update to this one already! I hope that the hugger takes the “no more hugging” talk well, but I imagine it may be a rough transition from full body hug to polite smile.

  26. Taria Shadow*

    What also occured to me is that this could almost be considered a case of sexual harrassment, but because the one causing it is female, it’s not being treated that way.

    Think about it – if this were a MAN giving full-body hugs to coworkers and clients, would it have been allowed to go on so long? Likely it would have been addressed the first time it happened.

    And even if she does have a disability that makes it so she doesn’t realize this is inappropriate, a calm and clear discussion should still help – especially making it clear that it makes her feel good, but it isn’t good do to for anyone but family and close friends.

  27. Jamie*

    The OP mentioned that some people have told her directly that they do not hug.

    Does she respect that? Or does she make a comment about how she would hug them, but they aren’t huggers, drawing attention to it either way.

    Just curious as I’ve known some people like this (not at work, fortunately) and it’s almost as annoying to listen to a lecture on how you don’t hug as it is to do it in the first place.

    However, if she does respect their wishes and greets them normally, then there is more hope that she will take the feedback well and adjust her behavior without too much argument.

  28. Joey*

    I thnk the Op, like most managers, might find it hard to justify prohibiting one specific employee from hugging while the others might hug occasionally. Hence the desire to write a policy. I think it’s a little stern to tell her “no more hugging, ever”. I think it’s better to tell her “look some people are uncomfortable with hugs so you need to make handshakes the default. Thanks.” End of story. If its still an issue then it’s time to make it a bigger deal.

  29. Sophia*

    I have really long hair and had lice 2-3 times as a child. Since then I just don’t like getting too close to people. (Don’t ask how riding the bus for 5 years during college went).

    So yea…. think of the lice before you hug :p

  30. The Other Dawn*

    I am not a hugger at all. To me it’s a comforting-type thing, and I rarely seek comforting. I’ll hug my husband if HE wants a hug, as well as one or two relatives I hardly ever see and truly miss, but that’s it. It drives me crazy when a friend’s friend wants to hug me when meeting for the first time. Or relatives want to hug hello AND goodbye (seriously, I just saw you the other day). So if someone in my office, or at a vendor’s office, wanted to hug me, that would be truly weird and uncomfortable for me.

    I usually avoid hugs by saying that I’m not a hugger. I don’t beat around the bush, I just come out with it. My friend’s friends make it a joke now and offer me a fist bump instead. I just grin and bear it with the relatives.

    1. Jamie*

      “I’ll hug my husband if HE wants a hug”

      Sure, me too. There are a lot of things I’ll do for my husband that a co-worker better never ask me to do! :)

  31. Just a Reader*

    This is so weird. I am NOT a hugger. I am an enthusiastic cheek kisser, so professional contacts who seem to need physical contact beyond a handshake get a cheek kiss. I am fine with this and it only happens with a couple of specific people outside my workplace.

    But the marching band and forced hugs are off putting in two different ways…it must seem like being approached for money on the street, or like those cart vendors at the mall who jump out and try to hard sell products.

    She’s panhandling for hugs.

    I don’t think this needs to be put delicately. “Hugging is inappropriate and it needs to stop. So do the loud/effusive greetings of anyone who walks in the door.” I also like the replacement behavior idea.

  32. Anon2*

    I’m a hugger. I LOVE hugs and physical affection – but not with everyone and definitely not at work. It’s not that I wouldn’t feel comfortable hugging sometimes, but it’s too iffy. Even so, this woman would weird me out. A full-body hug complete with commentary about how good it feels? No. If she’s this over the top about it, I’m surprised she hasn’t see enough push back on her own to learn that it’s not okay. Someone has to have pushed her back or said something to her face. I know I would.

    I hope she doesn’t take it personally and learns a valuable lesson about how not everyone is the same, with the same comfort level when it comes to touching strangers (and acquaintances). Since I am fairly physically affectionate, in the workplace I will sometimes pat people on their shoulders. Yes, I know people are cringing. I learned my own valuable lesson when a coworker cringed out from under my hand. I didn’t take it personally and I felt bad that I made her cringe. So, I don’t pat much now. I do still pat a few, but I know they don’t mind (closeknit, hang out outside of work and none of us are timid) and I keep it to a minimum.

  33. Ellie H.*

    My mom sent me to a two week sleepaway camp when I was 14. It was a Quaker camp (I was raised Quaker) and it had this ritual where every evening we’d all walk across the road, watch the sunset in a field, and then walk around hugging each other for several minutes. I absolutely hated this and would try to just shuffle around avoiding as many people as possible without being noticed in doing so. I hated the camp a lot for other reasons too, but this was a big one!

    1. K.*

      Wow, I went to Quaker school K-12 and this sounds really strange to me. In kindergarten we had to line up at the end of the day and each shake our teacher’s hand, but that was that teacher’s preference, I think (and Mrs. W. was the bomb so I doubt anyone questioned it. She remains one of my favorite teachers.) Meeting for Worship (the Quaker form of worship) ends with a handshake, but I don’t remember my school experience being huggy at all.

      1. Ellie H.*

        Yeah, it was a really touchy feely camp (China Camp) and like I said, I hated it. I hate retreats and stuff like that too. Basically anything “programmatic,” I’m a contrarian.

  34. Liz in a Library*

    I am absolutely the hugger type, too. However, this scenario is ridiculous. I think it’s incumbent on the hugger in the duad to make sure that no one is made uncomfortable, and it sounds to me like this lady is completely blind to the fact that someone might be. Here’s what I do:

    1. I always ask new people “Are you a hugger?” and am not offended when people say no. I try to gauge their faces too, so if they say “Sure…” with a grimace, I can just do a fist bump or wave instead.

    2. It would never occur to me to hug people at work. I have hugged at work when a close co-worker’s family member died and they found out at work. That’s it. I’m a hugger with people I’m close to, but I’m super particular about who I like to touch/be touched by, and most co-workers who aren’t friends are so so not in that category.

    3. Consider the situation. I think a constant hug upon entering the office looks pretty unprofessional and leaves you open for some misunderstandings. When my husband was taking classes at the university where I work, I had a “no physical contact” discussion. It doesn’t matter that I’m obviously fine with hugging him in personal situations–at work, it just felt inappropriate.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      This cracks me up. You and several others have talked about asking permission to hug, or asking “Are you a hugger?”

      If someone asked me that, I imagine the look on my face would be about the same as if they asked me if I wanted to jump in their spaceship and head to Mars later.

      I can’t imagine why anyone would feel a compulsion to hug me. I’m not sad & I don’t need a hug.

      (Also – this whole discussion & no one has mentioned Buddy the Elf hugging the raccoon!)

      1. Jamie*

        A Buddy the Elf reference! What a lovely way to kick off the holiday season – albeit a little early.

        Ftr I would hug Buddy the Elf. I would also hug Michael Scott, and a raccoon. I don’t work with any of hem – maybe that’s the theme.

        Now that I’m thinking about it, I was hugged at work once and it didn’t bother me. It was a thank you, thing, and for the life of me I can’t imagine why it didn’t bother me…but I appreciated the sentiment even if it wasn’t how I would have expressed it.

        So – once. Not great odds.

      2. A Bug!*

        If someone asked me that, I imagine the look on my face would be about the same as if they asked me if I wanted to jump in their spaceship and head to Mars later.

        You mean, totally excited because holy crap, a spaceship, how awesome?

      3. Liz in a Library*

        And sane huggers would see that look and realize to never ask you again.

        I promise…being tactile doesn’t automatically make you crazy! Some of us can recognize social cues. ;)

        1. Jamie*

          Of course not – and tactile can be wonderful in some circumstances. My sister is and my mom was a hugger. Both of them went into nursing with the specialty of geriatrics. When you’re a hugging nurse and work in a nursing home where some people never get visitors – and can heed social cues to hug only when it’s wanted it’s a good thing.

          A lot of those older people will grab your hand when talking to you and when they go in for a hug you’d rather not have someone like me trying to bolt through the ceiling tiles.

          But I’m sure either one of them would have given someone whatfor if offered a hug in the doctor’s lounge or by a pharma rep. Time and a place.

  35. Elizabeth West*

    AAM is right; this should be dealt with right now, not at evaluation time. It’s just not appropriate. Not that hugging at work is completely verboten. Once the US division president came to Exjob and surprised me with a quick hug, but I hadn’t seen him for months, and we both are quite friendly people. And once I side-hugged my boss (she wasn’t my boss at the time yet) when she was crying over her cousin’s death. I think those were okay. But this lady is waaaay out of bounds.

    1. Long Time Admin*

      Hugging the bereaved is generally a good thing. I gave & received millions of hugs when my dad died, and again later when my mom died. It was what I needed at those times.

      Otherwise, I tend to pull away/cringe when someone I don’t know well (or don’t even like) tries to hug me.

      1. Jamie*

        I will always love a former in-law for running hug interference at my mom’s funeral.

        She knew I was one more hug away from leaving a Jamie shaped hole in the wall as I ran away so she put herself between and the huggers as a human shield like it was her job.

        Seriously – I will always love her for that. I consider it one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. So even when bereaved it’s a ymmv issue. For some people who are already on edge it can be way too much simulation.

        However, if someone is bereaved and wants to hug me I will always return that hug – because some people do need it and I’m not a total robot.

  36. Erica B*

    oy. this sounds awful. I dont’ have anything new to add but just had to say that I’m glad I’m not visiting this company. If I were to walk in and someone randomly hugged me, I’d be all “wth?!” and then I might mention it to the person I was visiting, and say, ” what is up with the lady downstairs huggin me when I come in? It’s weird.” Because it IS weird… and inappropriate

  37. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater*

    Ok, I totally agree that the hugging has to stop because, well we’ve clearly beaten that to death.

    Really though, most of the posters today have some serious personal space issues :-)

    Anyone for a group hug?

  38. Amouse*

    The personal space debate going on is reminding me of the introvert/extrovert debates from recently. I wonder if there’s a correlation? That said everyone here, the self-professed “huggers” and those who prefer to avoid physical contact with co-workers seem to get that this OP’s employee is being totally inappropriate.

    1. Jamie*

      It’s a pretty mild debate when everyone is on the same side. :)

      I think we’re all saying that, despite our personal preferences, no one should force physical affection on anyone where it isn’t welcome.

      Things like this make me wonder, though. There are people who get so much pleasure and delight out of things like this; hugging, interaction, going out of your way to connect with people. My mom was like this – she was one of the kindest people to ever walk the planet and one of the few people I’ve known who I think was genuinely, completely happy most of the time. She got sometime out of connecting with people that I’ve never understood.

      I’m not jealous, exactly, because that way of being isn’t appealing to me…but I’m curious. Sometimes if I see human interaction kind of how people born blind understand color. They can understand it in theory, but I’m sure it’s not the same level of understanding as those who can see the difference between azure and indigo. Like maybe there is something I’m missing and just not equipped to understand.

      Or maybe I just get pensive when I’m starving. Today was hectic so I couldn’t get out – now it’s too late to get lunch.

      This lady panhandles for hugs (tm Just a Reader) maybe I should go panhandle for whatever crap food people have in their desks.

    2. EM*

      I’m an introvert, but I hug friends I haven’t seen in a while. I’d say my need for personal space is average. I thought I read somewhere that how big one’s personal space “bubble” is depends on region, and that certain countries stand closer than Americans tend to.

      1. Amouse*

        That’s a good point. The cultural “bubble”reminds me of a woman who came in for an interview last week. She was one of the two final candidates for the third position in our office. I was showing her around the floor and she was walking incredibly close to me and talking incredibly close to my face. It creeped me out. When I was asked to give input on her I left this out because I wasn’t sure if that was a cultural thing and I didn’t want that to play into the hiring decision. She didn’t end up getting the job anyway for other reasons.

        1. Minous*

          I was in a similar situation once and told the others on the hiring committee that I had been creeped out by an interviewee’s lack of boundaries. I was particularily worried because the position involved working with young barely adult students and I was afraid the lack of boundaries would lead to abusive situations.

          Fortunately the cultural bubble worked for me in this instance because we were both from a similar cultural backgrounds where we like a lot of space surrounding us, so I didn’t doubt myself. And fortunately the rest of the committee respected my concerns.

    3. Laura L*

      I was thinking that too. :-)

      I think I’m either an ambivert (thanks for introducing that concept to us, Jamie!) or a slight extrovert, but I am not very touchy-feely at all. I don’t like being touched, I only like hugs from certain people and in certain circumstances, and I really, really like my personal space.

      So, not sure if there is a connection. I agree with the person who said it varies by culture, but even among Americans, there is a wide range of attitudes.

      1. Jamie*

        Oh yes, even within a culture there are huge variations – at least the main US culture.

        If I sit down at a user’s computer to troubleshoot a problem most people will stand a decent distance away – a couple of feet, minimum.

        There is a not insignificant number of people who will stand with their hand on the chair or my shoulder as I work.

        My rule is if I can feel your breath in my hair you are too close. If you want me to stay and continue to help, then two giant steps backwards before I type another thing.

        1. Amouse*

          haha! This reminds me of my co-workers who have different boundaries than I do. One is annoyed by co-workers who come in and sit on her desk while asking a question/chatting etc. I totally get how this could be annoying but it doesn’t bother me personally. Still, I never get the urge to just sit on someone’s desk while they respond to my question at work and even if i did, I would probably think it was inappropriate.
          The other doesn’t like to feel like someone is standing behind her desk close enough that she couldn’t “escape” if she wanted to . So different strokes for different folks.

        2. Rana*

          Oh, gosh, that breath in the hair thing gave me the total weebs just reading it!

          I’m moderately touchy-feely with a small number of people (though it’s more in the sit near each other camp than the pet and cuddle camp) but I really dislike being that close to strangers or more casual acquaintances. I can sort of tolerate it on crowded public transit (because everyone’s trying so hard to pretend everyone else doesn’t exist) but if there’s room to give me space, you’d better damn well do it.

          Basically, if I can see you clearly without my glasses on, you’re too friggin’ close!

        3. M-C*

          Just to be fair here, I’m sure I’ve occasionally been too close to people, because they insisted on having me read something on their screen, high-resolution and not with the large fonts I use. I could well end up draped on their shoulder if they really insisted. But I really prefer to talk about it and not be made to read.. although plenty of people act like my near-sightness is a personal insult, a demonstration of not caring about the topic, etc.

    4. sophylou*

      I’m an extrovert and this kind of behavior would completely creep me out, to the point that I would not want to go to this office unless I absolutely had to. Not just because I don’t want a stranger full-body-hugging me (I really, really don’t!) but because I would resent having to come up with some tactful way of dodging it… or risk looking like I was OK with it. Extrovert =/= no personal boundaries.

      In addition to what people have said along the lines of having chronic pain issues, people who have experienced sexual or physical abuse probably really don’t want this kind of contact, either. People have all kinds of reasons for not wanting to be touched randomly. It definitely shouldn’t be allowed to continue in a professional setting.

  39. Rachel*

    I hug my family and friends. I like hugs. But hugs are personal. And personal does not belong in a professional setting. This is just odd! Did this lady hug all of you in her interview? Has she always done this, or is this a recent thing?

    I’m interested to hear the outcome as well. This is just bizarre!

    1. JT*

      I don’t like hugs, but I know they do occasionally happen in professional settings, enough to not say they don’t belong at all. We see hugs in politics, we see hugs when a company wins a big contract or has a big success. In my organization, some staff hug when they haven’t seen each other.

      I personally don’t like the feeling of it, but it actually is professional to go along with a few hugs at key times when other people are doing it. It’s like if I lived in Europe and had to do the kiss thing, or even the air kiss. It’s normal. If it really bothers someone, they can extend a hand for a handshake and hope the other person gets the message. But a few hugs are normal in many professional situations.

      Of course, the person the OP is dealing with it doing it to an abnormal level.

      1. Rachel*

        Oh they certainly happen occasionally, and it varies by industry. When I was in movie distribution there were hugs all around, whereas my current workplace doesn’t really hug at all. Totally depends.

        But hugging random strangers as therapy? WEIRD!

  40. Katie*

    Fun story: after getting fired (not for cause), the Chief of Staff of the company tried to hug me after escorting me out of the building.


  41. lucy*

    This sparked so much interest in me! I spent way too much time reading it at work. I work on a team with 2 other women, one of which is a HUGE hugger (and over-sharer, but that’s another topic) and the other one is average on personal space. My first day, Madam Huggs hugged me, finding out three days later that I am NOT, at ALL, a hugger. I tense up and want to die a little.

    But.. it does make an interesting dilemma. When we’re meeting clients, or sister-company coworkers, Madam Huggs will hug them all. The ones we work with a lot and are close to, the other team member will hug as well. Which puts me in a very awkward spot. Sometimes I just shake hands, which I very, very much prefer, but sometimes when I’m feeling weird about it, I’ll hug as well. Which probably is more awkward than if I just stand there with my hands in my pockets. What a mess.

    1. NewReader*

      Tell the other team that Madam Huggs is in charge of collecting and recording all hugs. Therefore, there is no need to hug YOU!

  42. Laura L*

    This thread reminded me of this quote:

    “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”

    It’s Thoreau, from Walden Pond. I’ve always liked (and agreed with it).

  43. Nicole*

    I have nothing to add to this conversation that hasn’t already been said, but lordy, reading this actually made my skin crawl! I consider my office extremely close-knit, and even we don’t hug in the office. Period. We often will if we see each other outside of work, but never in the office. I would never want to come to work.

  44. NewReader*

    OP, I hope you are still reading. There is lots of good stuff here. One person mentions chronic pain. We don’t know who has chronic pain- many suffers say nothing because they are trying to rise above the pain. I have a cousin who suffers even if she receives the lightest, gentlest hug humanly possible. I would be mortified if someone HAD to explain a health condition to me, in order to make me take notice that they did not want a hug.

    Then someone else wrote in about lice and bed bugs. The adult version of cooties- but a very real point.

    I would like to add, I would be very concerned about the full body hug (plus running commentary). That sounds to me like material for a sexual harassment case. From a legal standpoint- it’s not good. AT ALL. As Alison pointed out- you do not need a company policy on this to say- a full body hug can be construed as sexual harassment. Ms Hugs could end up facing formal accusations. She clearly does not read the front page of the newspaper. Those of us that do read the front page, are quietly assessing our own interactions with others so that we are above reproach.

    The only concern I have is if you tell her there is no hugging in the office- then if she sees someone hugging she will squawk. I think that steering her towards an standard and appropriate way to greet people would be more to the point. “This is your job. And this is how we want you to present yourself….” If she is not greeting people in that manner then you can document further instances.

    My last thought- and I don’t know why I sense this- but I am thinking it is going to take more than one chat to get her to change what she is doing. Her behavior is sooo far out- roping her back in might be an effort.

    Before you have this convo think of objections she might toss at you- and figure out your response.
    “My family is big on hugging.”
    You: That is at home. We are talking about at work now.
    “I need my hug quota.”
    You: This is not the place for that.
    “Everyone loves hugs.”
    You: It’s not appropriate at work.

    Keep corralling the remarks to focus on work alone. Yes, more of that herding cats stuff.

  45. Michelle*

    Hehe…I chuckled while reading this post as it reminded me of the time a coworker went around hugging everyone at one of our office parties. I was all like “No! No no no no no omg no!” and moved away from her (she chased me and my boss thought *I* was the odd one). Another time she snuck up behind me and shook my chair as I was deep in thought. It frightened the crap out of me and, in response, I swung my chair around fast with my arms up near my face. She thought I was going to hit her (I wasn’t….it was an unconscious response to protect myself) so that stopped the hugs and she never disturbed me again :)

  46. Chocolate Teapot*

    I would be in the “Gerroff Me!” camp as soon as she advanced towards me.

    Even in a European enviroment, it will depend on the culture and nationality of the workplace as to how you greet people. In my experience, kisses would only be for somebody’s birthday/leaving bunfight/thankyou for the lovely gift for the new baby etc.

  47. Minous*

    I had an office colleague for approximately four years who “hugged” everyone who was not middle or upper management. She was around 58 and quite small physically. Her hugs consisted of what I felt was a football tackle. She would put her arms around people’s rib cage and her head on their waist or chest, depending upon how tall her victim was, and then would squeeze until the person was on their toes and off-balance. If a person wasn’t holding anything and their arms were on their sides, she would wrap herself around their arms and pin the arms down too. When a person was sitting at their desk her “hug” consisted of coming from behind and grabbing the person around the back and neck and pushing her head against them. She once did this to me so hard that my neck bones moved and made the same popping sound as when I have been to the chiropractor. (This also bent people’s glasses across their face.) She often hugged a woman who walked with a cane and one time I saw her grab this woman so hard she lost hold of her cane and screamed in pain and yelled stop. The hugger loosened up, looked at her, smiled, and repeated the hug/tackle until the woman yelled again. I repeatedly told this “hugger” to stop, that I didn’t not want to be touched and that it was not professional. I also told her that she was hurting me and others. This confused her because she felt she was too small to hurt anyone. When I would see her coming towards me I would would put my hand up in a stop signal and say in a loud voice, no hugging. She would would tackle me regardless. Management wasn’t interested in dealing with “behavioural problems” so it went on and on. Not sure if she was passive-agressive, a sadist, or socially limited but am just glad I don’t have to work with her anymore.

    1. Jamie*

      Wow. And this is an example of how some actions are seen as harmless when an older woman does them, but if this was a man he’d have been written up and dragged to HR before the first hug was over (at least where I’ve worked.)

      There shouldn’t be age/sex exemptions for assault – which is what this was. That poor lady with the cane, that had to have been terrifying.

      1. Minous*

        I felt terrible for that woman with the cane. She had been in a car accident and had just returned to work after a couple of years off on disability. I verbally attempted to stop the aggressor from continuing to tackle her after her cane dropped but with no result.

        I completely agree with you that she needed to be written up and brought to HR immediately.

          1. Minous*

            Yes, an intervention would have been a good idea. We didn’t think of doing that. We would individually say it was inappropiate or sometimes if we were 2 or 3 in a group one of us would say “please don’t do that” but a formal meeting in a meeting room might have provided a more positive response.

  48. Nancypie*

    I had an employee who was a hugger that I had to tell to stop. She hugged select people that she felt affection for. As far as I know, it didn’t bother the people she was hugging, but she sat in a very public area and others thought it immature (she was in early or mid 20’s) and weird.
    Once I heard about and saw it, I told her to stop. I had a long talk with her about how other people might perceive her because of it (Joe well do people think you’re handling your job if every day it’s so bad that “you need a hug.”. I wanted to tell her to put on her big girl panties, and I hope I did so professionally.
    I actually had to help her set parameters; like it’s ok to discreetly hug someone returning from mat Leave (if hug was welcome) that you haven’t seen in 6 months, but not ok to hug someone on Monday that you just saw on friday.
    And one of the regular hug partners was an older man. One time (and I forget the context) she did something revealing in front of him (maybe changed her sweater and he saw her in just a Cami? Whem I told her that was a bad idea it was clear that she didn’t think a man on his 60’s might get ideas. Just Because a man is old enough to be tyur grandfather doesnt mean he only thinks of you like a granddaughter!

  49. Joanna Reichert*

    I have a suggestion that will produce a noteworthy outcome.

    Ask some ‘secret shoppers’ – friends, relatives, etc. – to come in. They are under strict orders to receive her hug and then go above and beyond. Play with her hair. Pinch her tush. Rub their cheek along her cheek. Or on the flip side – thrash about wildly, as if trying to escape, and shout in an aggressive-sounding foreign language (German is great for this.) Do SOMETHING to weird her the hell out. Repeat often and with both men and women so that she will learn distrust the response of those she hugs.

    Because surely, if she does it work, she does it at the grocery store, standing in line at the bank, etc. Negative reinforcement will get you your results: no more forced inappropriate bodily contact. ; )

    1. mh_76*

      I’m in for that – I’ll either squirm and push her away or turn sideways and stick out my bony elbow in self defense. Years ago, I’d offer to put a bony hip into her gut but I’m not as light as I used to be. I have had colleagues who I’ve hugged, both men and women (not full-body hugs though..eew), ages varied for both, but Huggies has definitely crossed many professional and personal lines.
      (sorry if this double-posts, my browser choked)

  50. Cassie*

    Thankfully my current coworkers are not big on hugs. In the past, there were a couple of older women who would give me an occasional hug (well, one lady liked to tickle me), but I was a student back then (younger than them) and it didn’t bother me much. There was one guy who asked for a hug – and I admit, I did give him a brief hug, but it was weird.

    Even when my boss pats me on the shoulder (as in “good job!”), I have to fight the tendency to flinch. In my family, we do not hug or have any physical displays of affection. It’s a combination of old world culture plus older generation culture. I was at a family reunion recently and a cousin of mine (in her 40s?) hugged my parents. It was very awkward for them.

    It’s kind of sad, really, but that’s how it was in the olden days… but still, no hugging in the workplace.

    This topic reminds me of two tv shows: Arrested Development (No touching!!) and Seinfeld (the kiss hello).

  51. The Engineer*

    Simple solution to unwanted hugs is sold online.

    Terminator 8,800,000 Volt Stun Gun

    Similar to the “bark collar” for pets

    1. Jamie*

      Yeah, I’m not a run to HR sort of person as a rule – but this would do it.

      I also can’t guarantee that my language would be office appropriate as I yelled for someone to get the f*ck off me – tickling would be as weird as someone going in for a kiss (a real one – not a greeting kiss)…who does that?

  52. Catherine*

    Reminds of a summer job as a teen, working on a grain carrier on the Great Lakes, as part of the galley crew. One afternoon, I ended up alone on a deck with one of the crew, about the same age as me. He hugged me. I said, “let me go, I don’t want a hug.” He insisted, so I bit him. I was quite scared at that point, so I bit him Hard. ( on his shoulder.)
    Another of the crew later told me that the bruise extended half way down his chat and back.
    Nearly forty years later, I’m still not sorry.

  53. ThatAlice*

    Some of the really creepy examples notwithstanding, this isn’t a gender-neutral issue. Many women learn early on that their worth comes from care taking, expressing affection, and creating and maintaining a connection with others. I am not saying this is appropriate in the workplace, but I am saying that one can’t say that whatbshe is doing is no different than a man doing it.

    All of my life, men, especially strangers, have decided that because I am small and seem “sweet,” they can touch me however they want. When I was twenty, the unwanted touching from a professor became unwanted phone calls night and day. To my horror, I’ve found that the older I get, the worse this has gotten. Recently, a man in a position of power and twenty years my senior actually said, after I told him not to hug me (especially because of the weird sounds that elicited from him the first time he did it), that if I wanted to negotiate with him, I *had to let him* hug me. No joke. A more horrid example came even more recently, in a very public situation with a man I’d known for a few hours–a psychologist in his professional life, as a matter of fact. and yes, I do tell them to stop. I SEEM sweet on the outside, but it’s best not to take face value at face value, with me.

    The power differential is only one of the ways in which the woman in OP’s letter is decidedly not like a dude who over-hugs. The fact that she isn’t calling the people she hugs for dates (it appears) is another.

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