what is going on with hugging at work?

You’re greeting a colleague who you haven’t seen in a while – and suddenly, without warning, they’re enthusiastically opening their arms and going in for a hug. Whatever happened to the simple handshake at work?

Hugging used to be reserved for close family and friends, but it’s been infiltrating professional contexts for a while now, leaving huggers delighted and the rest of us shrinking back in the hopes that we can avoid unwanted embraces.

I recorded a piece for the BBC about hugging at work — what the code of conduct should be, how huggers tend to assume everyone else is a hugger too, and what to do if you’re a non-hugger marooned in an office of people who want to snuggle up to you. It’s three minutes long and you can listen here.

{ 349 comments… read them below }

  1. SaffyTaffy

    A colleague and I were just saying that it feels nutritious every time we get some skin contact at our job, because we’re both familiar with more tactile cultures than America, and we find ourselves kind of “skin hungry” if that makes sense.
    So I’m going to credit more hugging with more immigrants. I dunno, I like it.

    1. Kiki

      I’ve never thought of this before, but I currently work in the huggiest office I’ve ever encountered and many of my coworkers are immigrants from Eastern Europe and South America. Maybe you’re on to something!

    2. ElspethGC

      Being ‘touch-starved’ is totally a thing. If you’re used to touching and hugging and you haven’t had it in a long time then suddenly do hug someone, you’ll get a kick of oxytocin.

    3. Positive Reframer

      Yep its totally a thing. I have a chiropractor friend who was just telling me about how some of his clients start crying because it has been so long since anyone touched them.

      IIRC people need 7 positive touches a day for optimal health. There’s plenty of awareness about how much it is necessary for development in infants, but just like their other essential needs that never goes away.

      Now, the key part of that is positive touches and that isn’t going to be the same for everyone. If you aren’t perceiving a touch as positive then its likely doing more harm than good.

        1. Chris Erickson

          I’m a hugger. I know the people that I want to hug and they want to hug me. Those folks that I don’t want to hug, I put on the biggest smile, make sure that I have something in my left hand (a drink, a purse, a folder, etc…) holding it close to my stomach and hold out my right hand for a nice hand shake. Important to have something in your left hand. You can still hug with something in your left hand, but it makes it a bit more awkward!

      1. aebhel

        Agreed on that last point, and that’s something I think gets lost a lot when people talk about hugging: it’s not a positive touch for everyone, in every context, even if that’s how it’s intended.

        /not a hugger (also, I have two small children, so one of the nice things about being at work is getting a break from being climbed on constantly)

        1. Laura

          Exactly. Trauma (childhood and other) is real and sometimes touch is unwelcome in that context. What if there is a woman at work who was sexually abused? (you don’t know this about her) What if it was her uncle who abused her. What if a colleague looks a bit like her uncle. How does she feel when she gets forced into a well-intentioned hug at work? Is work a safe place to be or is it a place where she may get emotional flashbacks from her abuse? Just some questions the huggers should ask themselves. How can I feel empathy for other peoples trauma?

      2. KarenBlue

        Hugging at work makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Most people aren’t good at reading cues so why do I have to suffer because other people want their “7 positive touches a day”

    4. Squeeble

      I think there’s something to that–I work in an office that has international outposts, and the few times a year we get to see our international colleagues, there is a LOT of hugging and it seems totally natural. Meanwhile, I’d feel weird hugging one of my coworkers here.

    5. Drago Cucina

      In the 80s there were lots of stories, studies, TV shows about how little Americans touched. We were only surpassed by the English according to these reports. We were all encouraged to be more physically demonstrative for our own health.
      I find that I touch people more than is sometimes expected. A brief touch on the forearm. Not a bunch of hugs or shoulder squeezes. I don’t like fake closeness, but an acknowledgement that we’re all human is nice.

      1. SaffyTaffy

        Those forearm pats feel so good. I still remember the first time I earned one from particular colleagues that I value.

      2. Positive Reframer

        Yes, there are so many options beyond a full body hug. I almost always opt for the side hug. I’m also kinda a fan of the handshake hug where its off center and there is an arm boundary between the huggers (aka bro hug).

        I know someone who prefers a high five but will “hug” hands as a way to be more friendly/intimate. This has the cool side effect of keeping your eyes up near their face, sometimes handshakes and eye contact can be a struggle.

      3. MJ

        An overseas colleague was transferred with a promotion from his home country, Spain, to New York. Within 3 months he was sent back home because he was hugging everyone “hello” and “goodbye”. This was the early 90s.

    6. Aaron

      I’ve heard that depressed people are prone to hugging more frequently. I remember a guy who would hug people and apologize whenever he got tipsy.

    7. Gaia

      It is funny that you say that because at OldJob the stereotype was that the Americans were the huggers (we were all universally horrified by this and by our European colleague’s efforts to make us comfortable and welcome by hugging us. And then there were those that kissed cheeks….)

      1. aebhel

        I think that’s because Americans are (seem to be?) perceived as very friendly and socially outgoing compared to other cultures–which we may be, but generally speaking we’re pretty physically standoffish with strangers.

    8. zaracat

      Funny you should use the word nutritious, because I have a similar but exactly opposite perception – when I am hugged by the sort of people who obliviously hug everyone regardless of whether the hug-ee is comfortable with it or not, it can literally feel as if they are stealing something from me. It feels like it’s all about them getting their needs met at my expense. In my case it’s not surprising as people in my past have done exactly that (multiple sexual assaults including by people in positions of power such as a police office and a psych nurse). Hard to trust anyone’s good intentions after that.

      1. Amelia Pond

        I feel like something is being stolen too (if I’m the one that initiates the touch) I just thought it was me being weird. Touch is just so, so intimate to me and the amount of people I’m close enough to be ok with touching are few and far between.

        1. Say what?

          It’s not weird. I also feel a strong repulsion to it. I don’t have a history of sexual assault so I don’t think you even have to have trauma for it to inspire a strong response. Just a violation of expectations?

          1. stump

            I’m with you. Physical contact more intense than a proper businesslike handshake makes me want to astral project right out of my skin. It just feels… Entitled? Overly familiar? Oftentimes like some b.s. dominance display? Too much? All of the above?

    9. Kyla

      I don’t know, I also feel touch starved when my husband is traveling for work and I have no one to cuddle with but I really don’t like touching other people, especially unattractive ones. I like Asian cultures in that respect – no handshake, just a bow. So much less gross

      1. Amelia Pond

        A bow is also less germy. I read that a hospital started using fist bumps instead of handshakes for that reason.

    10. benny c

      I get where you’re coming from, but can you maybe come up with a metaphor that doesn’t make you sound like Literally A Vampire?

      You are not convincing me to go along with random hugs is what I mean.

      1. SaffyTaffy

        So I won’t hug you! Random hugs? No idea who does that. I do (quick) hugs between close work friends.

  2. AdAgencyChick

    uggggggghhhhhh I’m not a hugger. And in my industry, clients often want hugs. From the women on my team, not the men. And because they’re clients, I can’t tell them to bugger off.

    I hate it.

      1. Washi

        It can be really awkward and damage the relationship to say no thanks as someone is already halfway to enveloping you in a hug. I’ve found that the best thing is to be really quick on the draw in offering my hand for a handshake while still far enough away to avoid the “are we shaking or hugging” dance.

        1. Chinookwind

          “It can be really awkward and damage the relationship to say no thanks as someone is already halfway to enveloping you in a hug”

          I agree and was so grateful when the facilitator at a woman’s retreat gave people the option to just cross their arms and nod if they didn’t want to give/get a hug. I did this and had one acquaintance still give me a hug and then apologize later when she overheard me mention why I was doing that (I stood out as the only non-hugger). I mentioned that I didn’t fell comfortable hugging strangers but didn’t want to insult anyone by only hugging the people I knew, so I chose to hug no one. It was a relief to be able to do this without having anyone feel insulted with the added benefit of showing these women that not everyone is comfortable with close contact.

        2. Close Bracket

          It can be really awkward and damage the relationship to say no thanks as someone is already halfway to enveloping you in a hug.

          I’m good with that. As far as I am concerned, the relationship is already damaged by the unwanted hug.

          1. Quickbeam

            I read a great interview with Phyllis Diller before she died. She hated hugging and said she physically recoiled when people tried to hug her in public. She vastly preferred a handshake and would put her hand out to prevent incursion.

            I hate hugging and I have a coworker who just dives in when she sees me. She’s really short and gets hammered into my chest. It makes me feel like going for the pepper spray.

    1. 2ManyBugs

      Ugh, I KNOW. It happens so often. I’ll be in a group of coworkers, someone is greeting us, and it goes handshake-handshake-handshake-SURPRISE HUG for me and only me. Because I’m the only woman. I always try to back off and tell them I’m not a hugger. I definitely have a reputation for being stand-off-ish as a result.

    2. ADgirl

      Totally an ad thing. all my clients are huggers! Most of the men do the half-hug, stick your butt out super far barely touch you with my arm thing at elast

    3. AvonLady Barksdale

      Yup. I used to work very closely with ad sales, and every time we went to a meeting, there was so much hugging! And because it was NYC, there was some cheek-kissing too. Most of the time I didn’t mind with clients I’d met before and liked, but soooo many times I got a hug for no other reason than that there were hugs going around! Like the client would hug all three salespeople or whatever, then it would be “weird” not to hug me, so I’d get one too. Advertising, man.

    4. Elaine

      I essentially stiff-arm them, an idea I got years ago watching Walter Peyton of the Chicago Bears stiff-arm a defender. As soon as they approach, I extend my arm at full length for a handshake, while smiling in a warm and friendly way. Then I lock my elbow so they can’t get any closer. As long as I’m smiling and speaking in a warm, friendly way, no one has gotten visibly upset. They just shake my hand. If they are invisibly upset, I don’t care. Don’t touch me!

          1. Elaine

            No kidding! In the particular incident I’m thinking of, Peyton knocked the guy backwards right on his rear. Imagine the amount of strength it would take to knock backwards a 200+ pound man running at you at full speed. Your basic office worker might never get up again.

  3. HS Teacher

    I teach near the border of Mexico, and my students often want to hug me. It always throws me off because it never dawned on me as a kid to try and hug one of my teachers, except maybe at graduation.
    When I worked in corporate America, I had some clients from Mexico who would kiss my cheeks when greeting me; I never got used to that either.
    I’m just not touchy-feely.

    1. Foreign Octopus

      Ooo, this happens to me teaching English in Spain.

      The culture here is to kiss each cheek. It felt weird as fork to kiss my students’ cheeks. I’m used to it now but it was a huge learning curve for me.

      1. AMPG

        The thing about Europe is that different countries have different rules for cheek kissing, and it’s hard to keep them straight. The custom was three alternating sides in one country I spent time in (Switzerland?), but two in another, and in yet another it was two at first, but sometimes one in a more informal greeting.

      2. PNW Jenn

        Even within one country there are different rules for how many kisses based on the region. France varies from 1 to 5 in Corsica. Watching people from different regions is funny because someone always gets left hanging unless they have a death grip on your arms and pull you in for a last bisous.

      3. batman

        And then some European countries don’t kiss at all. I studied abroad in Sweden and no one ever tried to kiss my cheek.

        1. spock

          This is very likely regional, but at least with my French relatives, no one’s lips are touching you, it’s your cheeks that are touching.

          1. Niki

            I’d lived in France for three weeks before I got impetigo on my cheek, exactly where people touched their cheek to mine… Non touchy-feeliness has a lot to recommend it.

            1. Helena

              You don’t even have to touch cheeks. If you put your hands on their shoulders you can just bob in and out with no actual facial contact.

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        My boss at my first US job was from the Philippines, and a huge believer in hugging and kissing.

        He once told me that “when Americans meet, they always hug and kiss on the cheek. If someone tries to hug and kiss you and you don’t let them, everyone will know you’re a foreigner.” (yeah like they won’t know it anyway the second I open my mouth.)

        Some of what he said and did was just him being a creepy creep who wanted to date his subordinates. But some I guess must’ve been cultural. One weekend, he and I had to come into work for a few hours, and he allowed me to bring my then five-year-old older son. All was good, until we finished work and walked to our cars, and the boss suddenly bent towards my five-year-old saying “kiss me”.

        He kind of chased my kid around the parking lot a bit trying to get his kiss. Never got one. Lectured me when I came into work on Monday, about my child having no manners. My son is 25 and still remembers this incident, he was pretty freaked out. There was definitely no sexual component to this, my boss was creepy, but not THAT creepy. He really somehow thought it was a polite thing that children had to do.

        We are immigrants from Eastern Europe, but are not touchy-feely at all, at least not with strangers or coworkers. If I don’t know you, only way I will give you a hug is if you’re a dog. (And I will still ask your permission and let you sniff my hand first.)

        1. alienor

          My in-laws are from the Philippines and it’s definitely considered polite for children to hug and kiss any and all adults (there’s also a gesture that’s sort of like bowing slightly and pressing the older person’s hand against your forehead) and rude to refuse. I never made my child do it if she didn’t want to, though–let them blame it on me, her rude American mother. :)

    2. Muriel Heslop

      I teach in Texas; I get hugged by parents and students. And colleagues! I don’t really care – my population is underserved and for a lot of my families I am part of the family. Definitely not the most annoying part of my job!

    3. Bea

      Awww I used to hug my elementary school teachers as a kid. I wouldn’t have tried with junior or high school because those teachers reminded me more of prison wardens :( as an adult,i don’t blame them a bit but as an affectionate adolescent it sucked.

    4. Close Bracket

      Oddly enough, even though I hate hugs, I can do the cheek kiss. I grew up in Miami, and it feels like a handshake to me.

  4. Amber Rose

    Why do dudes get to shake hands but women gotta hug? Not just professionally, but in every social situation. So awful. I don’t even like to be hugged by family. :(

    1. batman

      Yeah, I hate having to hug strangers or acquaintances just because I’m a woman. It’s so fricking annoying.

      1. Washi

        Yeah, I generally feel fine about hugs, but I hate the gendered hug thing where all interactions involving a woman have hugs but a man gets to another man and shakes hands. I really prefer not to hug at work at all for that reason.

        1. Mockingjay

          I have this problem in Current Job. Men shake other men’s hands and men hug full-body on women. It happens with the company’s senior leadership (all white male) and with our government clients (also all white male).

          A year ago I politely informed my client that I preferred to shake hands instead of hug. He was genuinely perplexed. I like working with him, but that does not translate into wanting intimate physical contact each time I see him. It’s also made more awkward because one of the other two women on our team said at the time, “it’s okay, I’ll hug you.” I can’t speak for her, but she is in a lower-level role and probably felt that she couldn’t refuse? He’s brought it up several times since then at the conclusion of our monthly in-person meetings, shaking the men’s hands, hugging the one woman (the other is more senior and adroitly side-steps), and saying out loud, “that’s right, Mockingjay, you prefer a handshake.” Yeah, dude, just call me out in front of everyone.

          Recently, my company celebrated a milestone and invited employees and clients to an after-work reception. At the end of the evening, I was expressing goodbyes to my client and a couple of senior managers when my client blurted, “so do I get a goodbye hug this time?” Startled, I began to refuse when the company director beside me said, “she’ll give me a hug!” and wrapped an arm around my waist. So yeah, I then had to hug my client.

          I considered addressing it then and there, but the alcohol had been flowing freely (I don’t drink, btw) and they weren’t in a state to have a rational conversation.

          When I started working 30 years ago, I never encountered this weird hugging, even though most women where I worked were in subordinate roles. Business manners were much more respectful of personal boundaries.

          I’ll try addressing it one more time with him, but if that doesn’t work, I’m filing a complaint.

      2. Amber Rose

        And awkward! It’s always like a one handed, half hug kind of situation where you kind of weirdly pat each other on the back. Ugh. D:

    2. mark132

      There is the “bro hug”, but usually guys save it for “important” stuff. So it’s rather infrequent.

    3. Lily Rowan

      I was so proud of myself that I established a professional-friends relationship where we shook hands when we saw each other! We really liked each other, but not hugging.

    4. Bea

      When my partner met my dad, he went full in on the bro hug. I giggled because my dad usually isn’t a big hugger unless you count the times he was high AF off the meds post-surgery. Thankfully though, my parents likes hugs but were raised by parents who didn’t “do that”, leading to all the awkwardness involved when they got my huggy jerkass thrown upon them.

    5. Cheese Boat

      This drives me nuts! I was at a football watch party last weekend and it was me with all these dudes and I was the only one who was hugged, by a bunch of guys who are primarily just acquaintances, no less. I don’t know you, guy, and I don’t want to touch you!

  5. Anon for this one

    I work in the church (Protestant, Canadian), which means hugs are almost the norm here. There are frankly many I don’t wish to hug, but as a female minister, it can be difficult to manage this line without being considered standoffish.
    I agree with Allison’s advice; be proactive with that handshake. I also will add a gentle but direct grasp on the other person’s forearm along with the handshake, both giving contact while controlling how much space I get in between us.

    When in doubt, I like to tell people “I prefer a hearty handshake”, it tends to make others back down a bit when it is about what you are willing to do, as opposed to what you are not comfortable doing (i.e. hugging).

    1. Anon From Here

      gentle but direct grasp on the other person’s forearm along with the handshake

      I like to call this “the Justin Trudeau.”

    2. PlainJane

      I’m OK with hugs, but after dealing with a creepy guy at church whose “hugs” always involved full body contact for a prolonged period, I got leery of the church hug. Creeps ruin everything.

  6. Foreign Octopus

    I would sign up to your code of conduct.

    Don’t hug me at work, please. I’m beginning you. Just don’t do it.

    1. YesSir

      I agree. And with all the media hype about misconduct, better not to get mixed up with that sort of thing. Next thing you know you have a sexual discrimination case coming your way. Arm’s length please!

    1. Danny

      Even so, it’s a good idea to pay attention to their body language. Some people don’t like hugs but won’t say no out of politeness.

  7. Rusty Shackelford

    We had a huge… not quite argument, I guess more of a heated discussion… during sexual harassment training. Some people (mostly women) insisted that them hugging you wasn’t sexual at all, so you needed to just accept it, because that was how they displayed their feelings, and you had no right to take that away from them. And I thought, this is wrong on SO MANY LEVELS. I guess the feeling you want to display is “I can touch you any time I want, and you have no right to stop me.”

      1. Myrin

        Yeah, I was just thinking that that’s not how it works!

        Firstly, just like you say, just because something isn’t sexual doesn’t mean it’s okay everywhere at all times. And secondly, just because something is “the way you express your feelings” doesn’t mean you’re given blanket permission to express those feelings in any way you want. I can be surprisingly exuberant but that doesn’t mean it’s okay for me to whack customers with the wildly flailing hands I want to throw in every direction when I’m excited.

        1. Rusty Shackelford

          And if your feeling is that you like that person, why would you want to do something that makes them uncomfortable?

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        Right? Say Fergus the coworker loves randomly punching people in the face as a way of making contact. Is it sexual? Not at all. Does it mean Fergus gets to punch coworkers in the face? Nope.

        1. Itty Bitty Betty

          My first though was that if someone was a hugger and said they HAD to hug me whether I liked it or not, I’d have to explain that I’m a kicker and will have to kick them to express my feelings.

      3. Dust Bunny

        Yeah, I don’t get subjected to a lot of “creeper hugs” but I am really, really, not a huggy person and I don’t care if it’s sexual or not, I don’t want to be touched.

    1. Lance

      Yeah, that’s just… no. If somebody doesn’t want to be touched, least of all hugged, then don’t. Personal space and comfort is paramount, especially on the side of the touchee, as it were.

    2. NotAnotherManager!

      There are all sorts of touching that aren’t sexual in nature and still make people uncomfortable. I don’t want people petting my hair, stroking my arm, or poking me in the shoulder either. I don’t need to stand there while someone touches me in a way that makes me uncomfortable. No one has to touch me to for either of us to do our jobs effectively, and the huggers should stick to hugging each other, not unwilling participants.

      1. Rusty Shackelford

        the huggers should stick to hugging each other, not unwilling participants

        I think those of us who don’t want hugs from our coworkers should have a little symbol on our nametags. A red circle with a slash or something.

          1. Chinookwind

            I mentioned earlier the facilitator who told us to cross our arms in front of us if we didn’t want to hug (which is what Catholics do when they want a blessing and not a host at communion). It left room to still smile and nod/bow a little as a friendly greeting while still protecting your body from the clueless hugger (which happened with one woman who later apologized).

            I liked it so much that I am tempted to use it in the future when I am in a group that is known for hugging as a greeting but I don’t want to.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

          I’ve been looking for a good place to comment about hug dots.

          In at least one organization that I belong to (possibly more, can’t recall off the top of my head), people wear hug dots at events. Red is “never hug me”, yellow is “ask first”, and a green dot means you can hug this person to your heart’s content if that’s your thing. Maybe the time has come for the hug dots to go mainstream.

          1. Be the Change

            Oh my goodness, I hope no one from my professional organization reads this comment because they will immediately adopt this idea because we are all about individual kindness and accommodation to a nearly ludicrous extent. It’s a wonder we ever get anything done.

            OTOH, it’s pretty darn smart, if everyone is cued into the message.

          2. CanadaTag

            *grins wryly* This is also known at events where there are people who might not care for social interaction (like autism conferences, to use my main example). Green means “I don’t mind social interaction”, Yellow means “Ask first/May not want a lot of social interaction”, and Red means “Please leave me alone”.

            I’d definitely be green on hugs, because I love hugs, but I’m aware that there are people who don’t care for them, and people who have physical issues that mean hugs can be unpleasant for them (or both). So (unless I already know the person and know that they like hugs) I tend to ask first. Only polite, after all.

            On the other hand… I have never done workplace hugs. To me, hugs are something that are more personal – family and friends (and people who are becoming friends) because there is a certain intimacy to it, despite not necessarily being sexual.

            1. Kat in VA

              I just got hired back as full-time from a contract job that I loved and made a bunch of friends at – I hugged the people who were glad to see me, handshook others who were glad to see me, and also made AAYYY I’M BACK at others as well. I’m a hugger but only with “my people”, and some of the folks, while genuinely delighted I’m back, are not people I would hug, ever. It’s a nonsensical scale, and my own. However, I would never, ever, ever hug someone who doesn’t hug or displays that they don’t want to hug. That’s a boundary thing, and a space thing, and I have no right to violate their boundaries, the same way they have no right to violate mine. Forcing a hug on someone who doesn’t want it is just not cool. (And now the word “hug” is starting to look weird because I’ve typed it and read it so many times in the comment section!)

          1. kc89

            I’m like that too, some people I LOVE to hug and others I don’t ever want to hug, and it also doesn’t necessarily mean I hate someone. One of my best friends I just don’t want to hug.

      2. Slartibartfast

        I have fibromyalgia. A poke in the shoulder, no matter how “gentle” or “light” you are being, frickin HURTS.

    3. k.k

      Woof. You should just accept unwanted touching because the other person wants to do it? Your office may need to do some more sexual harassment trainings because some people clearly missed the message.

      1. Rusty Shackelford

        This was a long time ago. If I remember right, the presenter tried to get these aggressive huggers to understand why it was inappropriate, but I don’t think they ever got it.

    4. Rana

      Those are people who fail to understand that a big component in sexual harassment is the UNWANTED part.

      Happy sexual stuff between consenting equal-status adults is lovely! Big warm squeezy hugs between people who like them are great! Handshakes willingly tolerated by both parties because of professional culture are fine!

      Being unwillingly touched by people who don’t respect your wishes regarding your own body is gross.

    5. MsMaryMary

      I’m a little surprised that so many women, at a sexual harrassment training session, were pro-hug. One of the reasons I dislike the professional hug is that it gives creepers an excuse. The guy who only hugs his female colleagues and lingers too long, or has wandering hands, always says something like “I’m just a hugger.” If you’re not considering consent when hugging, it’s a slippery slope to other non-consentual touching.

      1. Chinookwind

        I am not, but that is because I have also met a number of women who haven’t had unwanted creepers touching them and/or don’t see it as an issue when it is between women. I have learned that explaining to them why it isn’t okay for everyone can change this attitude for some.

      2. whingedrinking

        At one event I met a guy who gave off serious ick vibes and tried to swoop in on me with “I’m such a tactile person!”
        I stepped back and gestured to my very large friend standing next to me. “Great! So’s Dan, he loves hugs!” Dan gave Icky Dude a very large, toothy grin, and suddenly Icky Dude managed to keep his hands to himself.

    6. Annoyed

      Now I dislike those women for 1) reinforcing the stereotype that women are huggers, 2) reinforcing the stereotype of women as emotional, 3) being sexist, and 4) not understanding consent.

    7. aebhel

      My shoulders went up around my ears just reading that. You can have all the feelings you want! …but that doesn’t mean you get to touch me in a way I don’t want to be touched. I don’t much care if you’re doing it with lecherous intentions or not, don’t touch me. Ugh.

    8. Reb

      Honestly, those women remind me of a (former) friend that was the only person I’d ever threatened to punch.

      She was under the (mistaken) opinion that because she was straight, and thus not physically attracted to me, slapping my ass was a hilarious thing to do. She didn’t stop when I’d asked her to the first couple of times so…-shrugs-.

      There are just some people who don’t understand that just because they don’t see anything sexual in it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t/can’t fall under sexual harassment.

  8. Jam Today

    I’ve told this story here before, but I have a pretty firm “no hugging unless we are related or intimately involved” rule, its just my thing. Many years ago at a previous company, we went on a department retreat and I found out that the director of my department put a bounty on me: he offered money to the first person who would hug me (without my consent, by definition).

    I mentioned this to someone who works at the company a couple of months ago, and within a week I was on the phone with their Legal department detailing everything. It was…catha

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        I know! I was horrified when I read it. There was actually money on the table? what was he thinking?

      1. Jam Today

        I doubt it, it happened nine years ago, he’s a VP or SVP now, and the only accounting of it is from someone who worked there in the late 2000s. Unless there was a current record of misbehavior, I doubt they’d do anything. He was one of the earliest employees of the company, so even if he did get termed he’s walking away a multi-millionaire at this point so its not like there’s any satisfaction in his leaving anyway.

  9. Cobol

    I would never initiate a hug at work. First of all because there are so many nonhuggers, secondly because I’m an older white mail, which adds to the weirdness of hug initiation, but honestly, anytime there’s a organic hug I feel great for the rest of the day.

  10. Ellen N.

    Wow, that podcast wasn’t informational about how huggers and non-huggers should navigate each other’s preferences at work. It was an anti-hugger polemic.

    I am a hugger. I don’t hug people the first time I meet them. When I want to give someone a hug I open my arms, smile and take a step closer to the person. If they don’t respond in kind I step back. There are many people who welcome hugs in the workplace and any place else. For me at least, a handshake doesn’t cut it when someone gives you very good or very bad news or even when you really like each other. That said, I don’t think people who don’t want to hug me are cold; I just think that their views on physical affection differ from mine.

    Non-huggers should do what non-hand shakers do; just say that you prefer not to hug.

    Huggers aren’t villains or boundary disrespecting clods. We’re just affectionate people.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      The advice on how huggers should navigate it in the segment was:
      – err on the side of not making someone uncomfortable with unwanted physical contact
      – remember that your preference for hugging is trumped by a colleague’s preference not to have that type of physical intimacy with a coworker
      – greet people warmly, look delighted to see them, and take genuine interest in how they’re doing, but unless you know for sure that the person you’re greeting is a hugger themselves, draw the line at physical embrace

      In other words, don’t initiate hugs at work unless you know the person will welcome it. In the situation you described, people often end up hugging because they don’t know how to say no without coming across as chilly.

      1. Foreign Octopus

        I have to agree with Alison’s last point here.

        If someone opened their arms widely, smiled, and stepped close to me, I would find that invasive and difficult to say no to without being perceived as rude, particularly if it’s done in front of people.

        There’s nothing wrong with hugging but there’s a time and a place for it and I don’t believe work is that place.

        1. Rusty Shackelford

          If someone opened their arms widely, smiled, and stepped close to me, I would find that invasive and difficult to say no to without being perceived as rude, particularly if it’s done in front of people.

          THIS.

          I understand that you think you are giving people the option to opt out of your hug, but really, you are not. Imagine someone extending a hand for a handshake, and the other person not doing the same (oh, hi, future SC justice). Do you really think that looks okay to anyone? Do you really think your coworkers aren’t put in an uncomfortable position when you do that to them?

          1. Riley

            I agree 100% . Hugs should be opt-in, not opt-out, a concept also described as “yes-means-yes” consent culture. Respecting other people’s physical boundaries isn’t about doing what you want until they say no. It’s about asking if something is okay and only proceeding if the other person says yes. Especially at work where there can be different power dynamics at play.

            To be fair, I have had people ask if I want a hug entirely in body language. That looked something like this: them opening their arms for a hug, taking a step *back* from me to make it clear that it was 100% optional, turning their head to the side, and looking at me with a questioning expression on their face. But that’s the key point – they still communicated asking permission rather than putting it on me to say “actually no I don’t want to hug you” when they were already going in for the hug.

            1. Annastasia von Beaverhausen

              Yes, this exactly.

              I have been known to hug people at work when they’ve disclosed something upsetting or horrible; however, I always ask explicitly if a hug would help. Like ‘I’m so sorry for X – can I give you a hug?’ without any physical signal at all. The most often response is a tearful ‘Yes please.’ and then I get in there and hug away, letting the other person move away at their pace. I work in a business office where hugging is very unusual, but sometimes a human needs comfort and a hug can do the job.

              Opening your arms up and moving at someone is pretty aggressive and it would be upsetting for some people – me anyway. For information, when I receive bad news or a shock or whatever, I DON’T want a hug – a verbal expression of sympathy or support is much better for me when I’m the one in crisis.

              Affirmative consent is really a great guideline for work interactions – or any interactions, for that matter.

              1. Florence

                “Opening your arms up and moving at someone is pretty aggressive…”

                Yes, especially if your target has his or her back against a wall or some sort of obstruction. It’s hard to maneuver away from an “optional” hug when you have no way of escape.

          2. Ellen N.

            I don’t feel offended when I put out my hand for a handshake and the other person doesn’t respond. I assume that their religious beliefs preclude shaking my hand (male Orthodox Jews, male Muslims), that they have a compromised immune system or that they are fearful of germs.

            Assuming that the huggers here are correct in their view that many people enjoy hugs at work; how do you propose that we “know the person will welcome it”?

            Most of the advise on this blog is that people don’t know what you want if you don’t tell them. Why is not wanting a hug so different?

            1. EditorInChief

              I shouldn’t have to opt out to invasion of my personal space. If you want to hug someone you need to ask them. Here’s an analogy: How would you like it if I grabbed your phone from your hand without asking and started going through it? That’s how I feel about co-worker hugs.

            2. Owlette

              You know the person will welcome it if you ask them “hey do you like hugs” and they respond with yes or no.

            3. Keep your hands off my body

              Maybe try using your words. “Hi, are you a hugger?” should do the trick.

              If someone steps up to me arms outstretched for a hug I’m going to panic, feel pressured, not know how to get out of being touched against my will, get hugged, then have an anxiety attack. It’s horribly invasive, uncomfortable and upsetting. Please, just don’t.

              1. Kendra

                Using your words is good, but “are you a hugger?” might not be the best question. I waver back and forth between hugger and not, so someone asking that question feels like I’m being asked to decide now and forever whether I ever am going to want any hugs from this person.

                “Can I give you a hug?” or “Would you like a hug?” would both work better on me.

                1. Danny

                  It’s also a good idea to pay attention to their body language. Some people don’t like hugs but won’t decline to be polite.

            4. Rusty Shackelford

              Most of the advise on this blog is that people don’t know what you want if you don’t tell them. Why is not wanting a hug so different?

              Because none of the advice on this blog is “you don’t know what people want, but you should do it anyway unless they ask you not to.” Because none of the advice on this blog is “if you know a lot of people don’t like a particular thing, the default should be to assume that they do like it, and that they’ll stop you if they don’t like it.” Because hugging should be opt-in, not opt-out. Sure, some people welcome hugs. Some people also like really strong shoulder rubs. Some people like being tickled. Some people like to have their hand or cheek kissed. But you should never indicate to someone that you’re going to touch them so intimately if they don’t stop you. People shouldn’t have to stop you.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago

                Also because this is a blog about workplace norms and it’s always safer to assume that not touching people is the default in the workplace.

            5. Eeyore's missing tail

              I think the best thing to do is ask. I don’t hug much at work, but before I do, I always ask. For me, it’s better to ask and risk a slightly awkward situation than to hug someone who didn’t want it.

            6. Archaeopteryx

              Hugging is just so out-of-place in a professional environment. There should be a better term than “non-hugger” for people who shake hands at work- plenty of us love hugging friends and family! You know, relationships that have the intimacy a hug implies. It’s the feigned intimacy that bothers me more than the awkward physical contact even. If can feel phony.

              1. NotAnotherManager!

                This is exactly how I feel about it! Hugging is kind of personal, and it kind of falls into the not oversharing your personal life at work. I love hugging my friends and family (especially my kids, before they hit the angsty phase where we have to pretend we’re not related lest they die of embarrassment)… I just think a handshake is way more appropriate and less problematic in a work situation.

              2. medium of ballpoint

                It really depends more on culture and context. I’ve noticed that the whiter and more profitable a company is the less people hug and vice versa.

              3. Mad Baggins

                This is exactly where I stand. A hug is a level of intimacy that I do not want to go to with clients, 99.9% of coworkers, the lecturer at a training session, the barista this morning, the person next to me on the bus… The comparable situations on this blog are not “you don’t know what people want unless you tell them” (ie non huggers should declare their status and ask for accommodations), but other situations where one person tries to upgrade the relationship to a new level and the other does not want to (ie calling someone a nickname they don’t like, asking personal questions, trying to carpool or hang out after work).

              4. aebhel

                This! I’m not even really anti-hug–I’m fairly affectionate with friends and family. I just don’t like hugging EVERYONE, and certainly not my work colleagues.

        2. Smarty Boots

          I completely agree with you, Foreign Octopus. This sort of “invitation” puts me on the spot, and if the invite is coming from someone higher up, hard to say no to. If you’re a guy, it’s got a creepy factor, too, if you’re “inviting” a woman. I’m gonna say no or step back regardless, because that’s me, but not everyone will feel confident enough to cause awkwardness. Why would anyone who just wants to make people feel liked (what I assume Ellen N does intend) do anything that could make people feel bad?

          1. Oilpress

            There are plenty of women who think shoving their breasts into a guy could never be unwelcome, but it totally can. No need to pick out guys as being the creepy huggers.

            1. Foreign Octopus

              Oh, Oilpress, don’t do the not all men thing. Smarty Boots wasn’t even suggesting that and it’s not helpful.

          1. Manya

            Oh come on. As long as there’s still a foot or so in between you someone is perfectly within their right to place their body there. You’re not entitled to a four foot circumference around your body in public. Coming from NYC, I don’t have a lot of time for people who are precious about their personal space. Those people are the worst in the subway. It’s rush hour on a weekday, and you don’t want any part of your body touching mine? Get a cab, sweetheart.

            1. Amelia Pond

              We’re not talking about the NYC subway, this is about hugging at work. Pretending the two are anywhere similar is very disingenuous.

            2. aebhel

              What on earth does the subway have to do with hugging? Advancing on someone with your arms wide open isn’t invasive because your placing your body within four feet of them, it’s invasive because you’re indicating that you intend to glom onto them unless they dodge you. Being jammed together like sardines on a crowded subway is the inevitable result of being on a crowded subway–and even then, if there’s enough room to give people a bit of personal space, it’s polite to do so. If the car is nearly empty, then shoving your body right up against someone IS rude and invasive.

              And hey, coming from somewhere that isn’t NYC, if you’re within arm’s reach of me and there’s room to move away, you’re standing too damn close. It’s almost like the norms where you live aren’t universally applicable, how about that?

            3. NotAnotherManager!

              I don’t even know what point you’re trying to make here. What on earth does cramped public transit have to do with a workplace where there is no space constraint yet people insist on touching me without consent? How does taking a cab keep the huggers away? I may be willing to suggest this to HR just to mess with them.

              (Also, I take public transit. None of the poor people sardined in with me when Metro is on fire are trying to put their arms around me, and most of them apologize when they step on my feet.)

        3. aebhel

          Yeah, this.

          I mean, I would still do it, because I don’t really care if people perceive me as rude or chilly (and more importantly, I’m secure enough in my job that I can get away with it), but a LOT of people are going to feel pressured into going along with it.

          Petition to bring con manners into the workplace: just ASK, “do you hug?/are you a hugger?” before you even think about initiating a hug. If the answer is anything other than an enthusiastic YES, don’t do it.

    2. curly sue

      I moved from a very hug-heavy cultural area to a very standoffish one, but one that also has a lot of expats from one hug zone or another. The easiest thing to do when a hug feels like it would be appropriate is just to ask outright. “I’m a hugger – are you a hugger?” and then hug or not hug as indicated by the other person. No guessing, no physical encroachment that someone might find intimidating, and I haven’t had a negative response to the question yet (as in, some people have said ‘not a hugger’ and we’ve shaken hands, but the asking itself has not garnered any ‘why would you ask that??’ replies.) Needless to say, my calibration for when hugging is appropriate has also shifted dramatically in the fifteen years since we moved.

      1. Washi

        Yeah, I feel ok about hugs but I strongly prefer being asked in words to having someone with their arms open and smiling at me expectantly.

      2. Con Hugs

        This is basically the standard operating procedure at conventions that I’ve been to. Big gaming/nerd cons often involve meeting people you’ve only talked to online or only see once a year at cons. It’s just a normal accepted thing among the people I know to ask “do you do hugs?” when seeing someone for the first time. If they say yes: hugs! If not: fistbump or handshake or thumbs up at a comfortable distance. Moving in for a hug is not asking for a hug. That’s… moving in for a hug.

        It’s just a consent issue. Ask before you go to touch someone unless it’s been previously established that touch is okay. It’s very basic and yet sadly not really taught in American culture.

    3. Justin

      This is just kind of a private/distance/silence/etc population by and large on this site. I have come to expect it, even as a physically affectionate person (though I know enough to pause before trying a hug if it’s not been established in advance).

      Boundaries should be respected and called out if not. But like someone above mentioned, hugging makes some people happy and that’s not automatically bad if boundaries are respected.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        It’s absolutely not bad to enjoy hugging! (Hugging is great. I enjoy hugging non-colleagues.) The issue is trampling over people’s boundaries/not thinking about them in the first place. If people aren’t doing that, then cool, hug away. (Just be sure you’re really not — since there are so many people receiving unwanted hugs that clearly not all huggers are doing it right. That’s the issue.)

      2. Smarty Boots

        I’m a very physically affectionate person in my private life. I *need* a lot of physical touch. I do NOT want it at work or in professional situations. For several reasons: 1. I’m old enough that hugging = unprofessional. 2. (This is the most salient reason for me) Hugging and other forms of touching beside handshakes in my long professional experience are directed to (or forced on) women waaaaay more than men, and women are way more expected to put up with it than men. 3. In my experience, hugging at work has a way of being the opening wedge to all sorts of getting too personal — such as asking about health or about family relationships.

        Boundaries: I think it’s on the huggers to not put people on the spot, that’s the boundary, not merely stepping back from a no.

        1. Owlette

          I’m glad I’m not the only one that thinks hugging is unprofessional! To me, hugs are the same as holding hands, kissing, shoulder rubs…why would you do that at work???

          1. Lana Kane

            To you they are on the same intimacy level as holding hands, etc, but please understand that that’s not the case for everyone. Aside from personal tendencies, there are often cultural norms to consider. I’m Latin American, and we hug and cheek-kiss on a much more liberal basis that do people in the US (where I now live). For me, there are different levels of hugs – for example, greeting hugs are much more superficial than intimate ones, and don’t make me feel like a boundary was crossed because our boundaries are just…different. However, I know that I live in a place where hugging is usually considered intimate across the board, so I don’t do it.

        2. Rosemary7391

          I’m similar – hugs from people I know well and trust a lot are great. Colleagues don’t usually fit that description, and even if they do, it’s work time!

        3. aebhel

          Boundaries: I think it’s on the huggers to not put people on the spot, that’s the boundary, not merely stepping back from a no.

          This. The default should be not hugging. If you want a hug, ask. Don’t make people dodge away from you before you back off.

    4. NotAnotherManager!

      When you walk up to someone and are clearly going in for a hug, it puts them in an uncomfortable position to reject the advance. If there is any sort of power dynamic involved (supervisor, client, visiting VIP, even new employee v. experienced), that doesn’t put people on equal footing to just say “no, thanks”.

      I am grateful I work in a pretty formal environment where hugging is not a thing at all. I don’t want to be put in the position of awkward hugs or rejecting people with whom I’m probably supposed to be cultivating a good working relationship and then worrying if my preference not to be hugged by coworkers endangers my standing with them. If I don’t know you well enough to know to avoid getting close enough to hug, I probably also don’t know you well enough to know that you’re totally cool with hug rejection.

      1. Ealasaid

        “If I don’t know you well enough to know to avoid getting close enough to hug, I probably also don’t know you well enough to know that you’re totally cool with hug rejection.”

        THIS.

    5. Tea Cup Gal

      I’m a non-hugger and just reading “When I want to give someone a hug I open my arms, smile and take a step closer to the person. ” made me super uncomfortable.

      I work with a lot of physically affectionate folks, and the rules they have are they ask first “I’m a hugger, can I hug you” sort of thing. I’m fine with that. But moving towards someone to start a hug…seriously just reading that made me feel a bit panicky.

      1. Dust Bunny

        Right? I’m sitting here crawling out of my skin and wondering how many things on my desk could be used as shivs.

      2. Bea

        This! I’m a hugger. My response is “is it okay to hug you?” and I’ve had people say no or offer a hand, I smile warmly and shake a hand offered.

        Heck I went to shake a guy’s hand a couple years (as in extended a hand to him). He grinned at me and said due to his religion, he couldn’t touch me but was so jovial and smiling, it was the most affectionate turn down ever. I smiled back and told him I totally understood and then went on our way talking away.

        You can’t just step into a hug position. Nope nope nope too many different people with different levels of comfort and boundaries.

    6. EditorInChief

      You would be one of my worst nightmares at work. By initiating “hug mode” with your open arms and expectant look you’re forcing unwanted interaction by making people feel obligated to reciprocate. I think it’s very selfish to impose yourself on people like that.

      I have very strong boundaries, and hugging at work is out of the question for me; I don’t have a problem saying, “sorry I don’t hug, but happy to shake hands”, but alot of people for many reasons can’t or won’t feel comfortable saying that. I’m so happy to be working in a conservative environment where hugging is not the norm.

    7. Rusty Shackelford

      That said, I don’t think people who don’t want to hug me are cold; I just think that their views on physical affection differ from mine.

      Huggers aren’t villains or boundary disrespecting clods. We’re just affectionate people.

      These two comments of yours feel contradictory to me. If you hug because you’re affectionate, isn’t that saying non-huggers aren’t affectionate? It would be more accurate (and less accusatory) to say you’re physically affectionate. Although even that sets up a false dichotomy, because I’m very physically affectionate with people I love. Just not with coworkers.

    8. Delphine

      Non-huggers should do what non-hand shakers do; just say that you prefer not to hug.

      Nope, you should ask before moving in for a hug. Don’t put the onus on other people to verbalize their discomfort with your behavior after you’ve already begun initiating a hug.

    9. Argh!

      “Are you a hugger?” is a less embarrassing way to invite a hug if you don’t know whether the person would want to be hugged. Or if someone’s sad, “Could you use a hug?” Often they do indeed need a hug.

      1. Hugging ok

        Yes. I don’t mind Hugs, but only if asked first. I’ve hugged colleagues when they’ve been upset- but I always ask, “Would a hug help.?” And when they say no, I don’t.

        1. Chinookwind

          And people can change about wanting a hug. I have done this at work and have gotten the response “No because then I will start crying” which I can respect because it is hard to keep it together sometimes. So, while at a different point they would have accepted the hug, at this moment it would be a bad idea.

    10. Owlette

      Why should non-huggers say that they prefer not to hug? Especially when you are already coming at them? Why can’t huggers ask first? I’m sorry, but I started shuddering reading your comment. I am absolutely not a hugger, and I’ve had to literally duck under coworkers’ arms before to escape hugs. I just don’t do physical contact. If that makes me cold, then sure whatever, but I think hugging at work is incredibly unprofessional, at least in my American context.

      1. alienor

        I’m with you on that, and I’m also not especially bothered if people think I’m cold. I probably *am* cold by their standards, if their standards involve lots of hugging and touching. Doesn’t make me a bad or uncaring person, just someone who interacts differently to them.

    11. Sara without an H

      “When I want to give someone a hug I open my arms, smile and take a stop closer to the person.”

      Oh, Ellen N., I’m sure you mean well, but you’ve just put your target huggee in a hugely uncomfortable position, trying to figure out how to extricate themselves without hurting your feelings. If you did this to me, I’d feel I had to apologize for not returning your hug. DON’T do this to people!

    12. Pam

      I will say ‘Please don’t hug me’ or ‘I prefer a handshake.’ But you need to use your words too- ‘Can I hug you?’ before moving in for a hug.

    13. Violet

      This is for the huggers who think the opt-out system is fine. I know people who like to kiss acquaintances on the lips. If you were a non-kisser who worked in a kiss-on-the-lips atmosphere, would you feel comfortable telling puckered-up people no thanks? Or would you feel trapped in the headlights and fear offending your coworkers because “Ewwww, I’d rather die than kiss you!” was written all over your face while their lips grew bigger and bigger in your field of vision even as you backed up and told them politely that you aren’t a kisser? Huggers need to realize that everybody has different boundaries, be it hugging, poking, kissing, or licking on the face (no dogs for me), and invading somebody else’s personal space should always be opt-in.

      1. Violet

        I once had a coworker slap/pat me on the backside. I don’t think there was anything sexual about it, but…Boundaries!!! That was over 30 years ago, and I still shudder at the memory.

    14. Student

      I think you should also consider how this comes off very differently when the hugger has a very different body-type from the hug target. Physical gestures like you describe that seem normal if you’re both the same size can come off very differently when there’s a size difference.

      I’m short and small. When a normal-sized person puts their arms up like that, it can be physically quite intimidating – you’ve gone from larger-than-me to much-larger-than-me visually. When a normal-size person decides to squeeze during the hug, it can be quite painful.

      My face too often ends up at armpit or boob level (face at boob level can be quite awkward on normal men, though it’s obviously a bigger problem with women). I often end up tip-toeing to try to prevent the armpit or boob to the face, which means I’m off balance. The hug-lift some large people employ to avoid the face-boob or face-armpit quandary is the bane of my existence – it’s very infantilizing and invasive. Side-hugging doesn’t help with the armpit-face issue, and a side-hug can mean a normal guy’s hand is now covering a fairly large and awkward part of my torso (or, too often, brushing my boob). I’m sure that people who are very tall must experience the same problem from the opposite angle all the time.

      It just doesn’t work well on any level to hug somebody when you don’t match up on sizes, unless you are going for a very intimate level of hug body contact that isn’t work-appropriate. So, please, for us shorties, just take a handshake.

    15. CBE

      You say “a handshake doesn’t cut it for me”
      lemme add some emphasis: “FOR ME”
      You being “a hugger” is about you getting what you want, even if other people don’t want it.
      Your approach as you describe it is VERY forward and pushy. You’re making yourself bigger and going in for the hug ready to take what you want. A smile doesn’t make it any less so.
      Find other huggers to get you the hugs you want….OUTSIDE of work.
      But cool it with the big wide arm aggressive approach and stop assuming that “I’m a hugger!” spoken all perky with a smile means you get to trample over other people in search of affection you want.
      No wonder people are “anti huggers”

      1. RUKiddingMe

        So much this. A handshake doesn’t cut it? So what? Why should that matter to others? Why should someone else be obligated to reciprocate just because she (or any other aggressive huggers) think their way is the way it should be unless the victim intended hugee says “no?”

    16. RUKiddingMe

      This entire comment feels very aggressive to me. People shouldn’t have to opt out. Use your words and ask. Do not take a step in their direction.

    17. No hugs please, we're at work

      “a handshake doesn’t cut it”

      Doesn’t cut what? Doesn’t fill your emotional needs, it sounds like. So instead you coerce other people into filling your emotional requirements. Because clearly your feelings are the only thing that matter here, right?

      “We’re just affectionate people.” No. You are people who express your affection in a certain way. That’s all. It doesn’t make you any better, warmer or more caring. And when you inflict those hugs on the unwilling, it shows exactly what kind of person you really are!

  11. AMPG

    I still feel guilty about the time I sort of accidentally upgraded my relationship with a colleague from another organization to a hugging one. It made things weird for a while because I don’t think either of us wanted to be on a hugging basis, but didn’t know how to back away from it, either.

    1. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster

      Oh, man, I’m still cringing YEARS AND YEARS later about a relationship upgrade I had with a coworker’s wife. I am not particularly huggy at all and had never ever hugged my coworker, despite being quite close with him.

      Coworker and I went out to dinner with our partners one night, and for some reason (no clue how this actually happened) when we were saying goodbye I wound up doing some sort of awkward cheek kiss thing with the wife. Which totally isn’t my thing but I guess we’d had some wine… then I just kind of weakly waved at my coworker and said see ya tomorrow.

      So that was mega awkward, and then of course EVERY time we got together that became our awkward go-to farewell, because we’d done it before. Seriously so cringey.

  12. WFH Lurker

    I’m just starting back to work after being on short-term disability. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction 6 weeks ago. I’m still in a LOT of discomfort and I’m petrified that somebody is going to want to hug me to welcome me back. I’m going to have to be hyper-vigilant and hold my arms up to protect myself from what will be a painful assault. My family knows that all I’m up for right now is “air fist-bumps”, but I’m not looking forward to having to explain to multiple people why I won’t let them hug me.

    1. fposte

      If you know it’s coming, what about carrying a lidless coffee cup with some water? It wouldn’t weigh much, it’s plausible to have, and an open cup of liquid, especially if people can’t see what it is, could dissuade people.

      1. WFH Lurker

        I hadn’t thought of that. I can start carrying a half-empty bottle of water or something in my hands.

    2. Binky

      Are you close enough to your boss or someone else in the office that it wouldn’t be awkward for you to ask them to spread the word about no-hugging? It’s the sort of thing everyone should understand, but might not have thought of.

      My go-to to avoid hugs is to initiate the greeting with a smile, while clasping my hands around chest-height – leaving no room for a hug. And then I sort of incline my head towards the other person – it’s not a bow or anything, just a gesture towards closeness. If someone has already started the hug motion, you can also put your hand on their arm (probably around the biceps) and lightly squeeze, while saying something like “it’s lovely to be back, but I’m not quite up for hugs yet.”

      Best wishes on your recovery.

      1. WFH Lurker

        That’s another great idea…I’m still protecting the vulnerable areas, so holding my hands up will probably happen automatically anyway!

    3. rageismycaffeine

      When I came back from a unilateral lumpectomy I had a similar problem. Worse, it was on my right side, so shaking hands wasn’t really a thing either. But I had made the decision to publicize my diagnosis, so I used it as a shield. I know that was an unusual move, so I don’t recommend it for you if it’s not comfortable for you! But you should absolutely feel free to say “hey, I had a medical procedure” (if you want to be vague!) “and hugging is very painful for me! Thanks!”

      ps, if you want a breast cancer buddy, let me know, I’ll slip you my email address somehow. :)

      1. WFH Lurker

        Thanks! Many people at work know about my diagnosis–they even had a Happy Hour for me before I went out, something like 100 people came–it was so wonderful knowing that that many people cared and wished me well. It’s not a secret, and hopefully the people who would feel comfortable hugging me will know what I went through. Still the thought of hugging petrifies me, as do large crowds where I might get bumped. Maybe I ought to go to work wearing an inflatable costume. ;)
        Thanks for the offer of a breast cancer buddy, not sure how to exchange email addresses without getting on some spammer’s list somewhere…

        1. rageismycaffeine

          …that’s a really good point tbqh.

          Considering how many times I’ve come on here offering to be a breast cancer buddy, I should have done this a long time ago: I just made a gmail account with this username. Hit me up at this name @ gmail and we’ll talk!

      2. Rosemary7391

        I hurt my right shoulder once then went to church before I realised how bad it was. Confused so many people by offering my left hand for handshakes, but we all managed somehow! It’s worth trying – I just had my right hand in my pocket. No one minded as far as I could tell.

    4. stk

      I was once in a very similar position post-cancer treatment, and I found most people were hyper aware of bringing it up at all – mostly people desperately didn’t want to say the word “cancer” to me and they didn’t want to make me describe anything gross. (There was a small percentage of people who wanted me to Tell! Them! Everything! including, like, details about my hair falling out, but they were thankfully very rare.) So if I even slightly backed away and said “sorry, not right now!” in a cheerful sort of way, that was almost always enough to make sure they stopped talking, backed away ten feet, and stepped around me like I might fall over if they brushed my arm!

      Good luck, that’s a really short time to be off; I hope you can be kind to yourself.

    5. whingedrinking

      A friend of mine actually made herself a pin that said “side-hugs only please” when she first started taking hormones. A naggy acquaintance wouldn’t stop asking why until she said, “When YOU go through second puberty and grow your own set of boobs, you can hug whoever you want, but right now I’m not up for extra chest pain.”

    6. Someone Else

      This is not the same thing, but you just reminded me I once had second degree burns on my back sort of trapezius region. I didn’t say anything to anyone because a) I don’t like sharing medical information and b) I thought, well, what the hell reason for anyone have for touching me there at work anyway, right? I thought I’d seem standoffish for out of nowhere saying “by the way don’t touch my back”.
      Sure enough, someone decided a big ole’ clap on the back (coming up behind me too so I didn’t even know they were there yet) was just a fabulous way to greet me. THE SCREAMS, y’all.
      I wouldn’t have appreciated being touched at all in the first place, but I’ve actually had multiple experiences where people randomly decide to touch me in contexts when I wouldn’t have expected to need to tell them not to, and they just magically honed on it some not-visible injury when they decided to unwelcomely touch me.
      I no longer care about being perceived as standoffish.

  13. Antilles

    The one thing I’ve never understood about hugging? In my experience, the person who’s initiating the hug almost always announces “I’m a hugger” right as they go for it. Like…what’s the purpose in announcing it? It’s not an apology. It’s not a justification. And it doesn’t really give me the option to say no because they’re usually announcing it right as they go in.
    I’m not particularly anti-hugs, that particular part about hugging has just always struck me as especially odd.

  14. Ivy Employee

    At my current job, my manager hugged me on my first day when I showed up. Why oh why did they not show that red flag when I was interviewing?

  15. mark132

    I’m largely in the hug-free camp. I think the last time I hugged a coworker was after the funeral for his wife.

    1. MsMaryMary

      The only time I think it’s appropriate to hug at work is if something really really good or really really bad has happened to your coworker. And even then, only with their consent.

    2. Bea

      Yeah aside from coworkers who are actual friends leaving a job or returning to visit a job, the only time I’ve hugged someone was after getting news my boss had Alzheimer’s. It was a “and now we’re both crying, hugs to complete this terrible moment.”

  16. rageismycaffeine

    At my last gig we had someone who, when she came in for her interview, insisted on STARTING the interview by giving everyone in the room a hug. I was so alarmed but too surprised to figure out a graceful way to get out of it. I think because she had worked peripherally with our office before, she assumed a familiarity she had no business with.

    We hired her. Through NO choice of my own. She continued to be touchy-feely (like, she stood behind our boss in a meeting once and rubbed his shoulders, and there were a number of rumors that they were having an affair because of her touchiness). Not to mention aggressively perky. I hated every minute of working with her and don’t miss her at all now that I’ve moved on. :)

      1. rageismycaffeine

        She used to stand in my doorway and do a little shoulder-shimmy dance. It was The Worst.

        The hugging was just the preview to that, I guess.

        1. AuntAdaDoom

          So much of this comment thread has been giving me the creeps, but this genuinely made me back away from my screen. Congratulations?!? Brrr.

          1. rageismycaffeine

            Oh geez, I am so sorry! But at least that reaction tells me I wasn’t wrong to find it horrifying. :)

  17. Lucille2

    Thank you for this, Alison. I’m a non-hugger who joined a company full of huggers. Why do the huggers apologize for being a hugger while they’re coming in for an embrace? It’s like sorry, not sorry I’m giving you a hug now.

    Also, I’m a tall woman and used to work with a hugger who is a man much shorter than me. I’m sorry, it crossed a line for me, and it’s how I’ve become an expert at the one-arm side hug.

    1. MsMaryMary

      Hugging is really common in my industry and I’ve given up on fighting it. No one even apologizes, they just come on in for a hug.

  18. Art3mis

    Someone’s child hugged me at Bring Your Child to Work Day a few years ago. I’m not a hugger AND I’m not a kid person. So it was very “2319! 2319!” I endured it but did not enjoy it. Luckily he did not come back the following year.

  19. Bunny Girl

    I am not a hugger. I don’t want to be hugged, patted on the back, grabbed by the arm, you get the picture. I don’t really even like physical contact between friends so I really don’t want to touch people at work. It drives me insane when people think that their preference to hug overrides my right to be comfortable.

    I had a guy at my old job who was an aggressive hugger. He went to hug me and I said Oh no I’m not a hugger. He ignored it, gave me a big hug anyways and said “Well you will be by the time you’re done here!” Do you want to get shanked? That’s how you get shanked.

    By the way, I know not all huggers think that they can bash through people’s boundaries like that and most people are respectful.

    1. Not All Who Wander

      I have to disagree a bit…IME *most* huggers are not in fact respectful of people who are not. I have a chronic pain issue that is fairly invisible. If someone hugs me I will sometimes be in pain where they touched me for hours. Even after being told that multiple times there are a depressing number of people who still insist on trying to hug me. Like it will hurt me less because they are just huggers who express that they care that way? I don’t freaking think so. The one old guy at work who tried to insist repeatedly, I finally basically screamed at and told him if he touched me one more time I was filing an assault complaint. Not recommended but it was the only thing that got through.

      1. Slartibartfast

        OMG, this. Soooooo much this. “I barely touched you”. Yeah I get that, but that doesn’t change the fact that my body has an abnormal reaction to certain types of contact. If I ask you to please not do something, just don’t do the thing.

      2. Bunny Girl

        Yes after I typed that I kind of thought “most” was a little generous. “Some” might have been more appropriate. To be fair though I don’t think I have a very warm and inviting personality that makes me a hugging target.

    2. Buckeye

      There’s so much flawed logic with people who think that if they force hugs on on you, you will somehow come to love hugs. It’s like finding out that someone doesn’t like spinach and then forcing them to eat spinach every day with the expectation that it will become their new favorite food.

      Not likely.

      1. Bunny Girl

        Exactly. My hobby is baking and cake decorating. I sort of have an open invitation within my friend group that I’ll make cakes for birthdays if I have time available. But I’ve had people that say Oh no thanks I don’t want one. I don’t bake them an elaborate cake and shove it down their throat. There could be so many reasons they don’t want one. And I’m totally fine with that. Baking is my way to show affection to people. I’m not going to force my sugary affection on people if they’ve told me they don’t want it. That’s how I feel about hugs.

    3. Bea

      This dude sounds like he’s going to be a #metoo statistic. Gross. I’m sorry this happened to you. If anyone forces touch on you, it is harassment.

  20. HoorayCollegeFootball

    Hugging also brings you into close contact with their perfume/cologne. As someone who is somewhat sensitive to scents (especially when they rub off on me a bit), I am definitely in a no hug zone. Even hugging friends is problematic, especially the couple who love to wear patchouli oil. Right now one of the staff is standing outside my door talking to the woman in the office across from me, and her perfume is so strong I can smell it 15 feet away.

  21. Argh!

    There is a lot of cultural variability with touching and hugging. The “rules” have to be shared rules. I’m a hugger, but I wouldn’t hug people I see every day. It would have to be a special thing for me to hug someone at work, like their last day. I’m not very much worried where I currently work. I’m in the midwest and we are required not to show any emotion at all. No enthusiasm. No frustration. No humor. The midwest can be a very dour place to work for someone who has spent a lot of time on the East Coast!

  22. RussianInTexas

    Please please please don’t hug me, or touch me in any way except handshakes. I don’t like hugging from my friends, family, or partner, at work it’s a complete no-no.
    I will be that person who either turns sideway or sticks the elbow between us, and it will be awkward fo both of us. Just don’t.

  23. Some Sort of Management consultant

    My team are huggers, mainly because we’re close in age and like each other socially, so it’s not unusual for us to hug.

    But I don’t see them everyday, more like every other week so it’s always a bit of a celebration.
    The colleagues I work day-to-day with I don’t hug, as a rule. There have been some awkward moments, like starting a new project with a colleague you know but don’t know well.

    My manager actually hugged me the first time she met me and told me how very excited she was I was finally there. And I did think it a little odd at the time, I’m fine with it. I like hugs.

    But I would never ever force them on someone and I’m quite good at reading other people’s cues. Just because I like something doesn’t mean others will and I don’t want to violate their boundaries.

  24. Hamstergirl

    I work in the entertainment industry and hugging is HUGE there -I’m not a big hugger, but the fact that it’s pretty “industry standard” and (at least in my circles) applicable to all genders, I don’t mind hugging a producer, cast member, AD etc. upon hellos and goodbyes.
    It’s definitely an industry very outside of a lot of professional norms though.

    1. Ellen N.

      I was also in the entertainment industry (entertainment business management) so I’m used to hugging at work. I’m shocked at the anti-hugging vitriol expressed here.

      1. RussianInTexas

        Tha’s because not being hugged does not affect you. It’s the absence of a thing. When you are being hugged while not wanting to, it does affect you.
        This is to say, please do not hug, touch, or stay close to me.

      2. Delphine

        It’s less “anti-hugging” and more “pro-respecting people’s boundaries more than your own preferences.” Hugs are lovely and it’s great if you love hugging, but this insistence that you should be able to hug anyone you want without first confirming with them that it’s okay is…not a good look. It doesn’t matter how much you enjoy it. Be considerate of others.

        1. Ellen N.

          I have never insisted that I should be able to hug anyone I want without first confirming with them that it’s okay. The non-huggers here shut down any way of confirming that it’s okay. If you want to shake someone’s hand the accepted practice is to hold out your hand. Apparently, it’s a horrible experience for a non-hugger when a hugger holds out their arms. The huggers here who ask if someone wants a hug are being mocked.

          Many people here have made it clear that they believe that hugging is out of place at work and that people who hug are inconsiderate.

          1. Owlette

            You’re ignoring what the non-hugging people are saying. There are like 5 comments on your other post saying “ask us first!” What’s wrong with asking first?

            1. RussianInTexas

              And not get weirded out when people say “no, thank you”. Because people totally get weirded out.

          2. EditorInChief

            The ritual of shaking hands is a long standing workplace norm. But even that is changing. At my office the fist bump is starting to become more common, which I’m very happy about, especially during flu season. Hugging is not the workplace norm by any means.

            1. Ellen N.

              As I’ve mentioned; hugging was the workplace norm (in fact more than handshaking) when I was in entertainment business management.

              1. Rusty Shackelford

                But if you’re no longer in that business, why do you continue expecting the rest of the world to work the same way? Why such harsh language against people who don’t work in that environment and don’t want to be hugged by coworkers?

            2. Botanist

              Ha! A few years ago I was at a luncheon for people at my company who had hit milestones for how long they’d been there (it was my five year anniversary). The CEO was handing out award certificates. Right before he called my name to come get mine, he coughed into his hand and casually mentioned that he had been sick. Mind, he’d been shaking hands with everyone. So right after he coughs into his hand he calls my name. I went up and made a slightly comic routine about not wanting to shake his hand, so he switched to fist bumps after that. And we work in a disease diagnostics lab.

          3. Rusty Shackelford

            The non-huggers here shut down any way of confirming that it’s okay.

            No, the non-work-huggers here are trying to shut down YOUR way of confirming that it’s okay. You say people who don’t want hugs should just “use their words.” Why shouldn’t you do that? Why shouldn’t you ask people “would it be okay if I hug you?”

              1. Pathfinder Ryder

                In your first comment on this post:

                Non-huggers should do what non-hand shakers do; just say that you prefer not to hug.

          4. Student

            Yes, that is exactly what we are saying. Please don’t hug at work, broadly speaking – many of us find it horrible. It’s too much physical contact to be work-appropriate in the vast majority of places in the US. The outliers that allow it or encourage it are exactly that – outliers.

            It’s like not wearing a shirt, holding hands, or running around barefoot. Inappropriate for work because it’s too intimate, too casual. Not inherently wrong in many social situations.

            I enjoy walking around outside without my shoes on. I wouldn’t trot around unshod through the cubicle farms in any job. I’m not miffed that some things that are acceptable socially are not acceptable at work, because I understand why that is. At work, people have to interact with you even if they don’t particularly like you, or simply don’t know you at all. They still need to maintain good enough terms with you to do their job and allow you to do your job. So, we all make some sacrifices to try to get along with other people that we don’t actually like.

            Socially, people have a lot more freedom to not interact with you if they don’t want to. So, the rules are much looser. You can try to hold your sister’s hand. You can walk around barefoot, or shirtless. People who don’t like you can just walk away or ignore you, so it’s easier to be more live-and-let-live about these demonstrative and intimate behaviors if you want. At work, I have to worry if my hug-snub would translate to you being less helpful to me in my job duties when I need it, and try to come up with a way to tell you clearly but inoffensively that, by my standards, we aren’t close enough to hug.

            It’s hard for you to understand why there are different norms for a professional job environment than with your friends and family socially. I get that. However, you are very much in the wrong on this issue – most of society has decided that there are different norms for different situations, and this is one of them. It’s not personal. It doesn’t mean you can’t ever hug. It does mean you should not hug at work, in the vast majority of jobs and locations.

            1. Ellen N.

              I’ve always worked in Southern California where workplace standards are casual. Add to that, I taught preschool (where of course hugging is the norm), then worked in entertainment business management.

              I’ve seen plenty of coworkers walk around barefoot and hold hands. I’ve seen male coworkers take off their shirts. I had a coworker who had been a gang member. At the slightest provocation he would remove his shirt to show everyone his tattoos and the scars from when he was shot.

              1. Mad Baggins

                That makes sense as to why your norms are calibrated that way. But norms are pretty different in white-collar offices, universities, factories, and jobs that take you outside like surveying. Plus cultural norms are different across the US and in other countries. It would be strange if I insisted that one should always wear suits and heels at work, despite contrary voices from people in construction, tech startups, gym teachers, etc…

          5. Someone Else

            There are dozens of comments saying the appropriate course of action is asking “Is it ok if I hug you?” In what way is that “shutting down any way of confirming it’s OK”. Most people are recommending a very explicit verbal method of confirming it’s OK.
            The inconsiderate part is initiating the hug without the question happening first.

          6. RUKiddingMe

            No one shut down anything. Many, many people have said “ask first.” That seems like a pretty good way to confirm things.

          7. RUKiddingMe

            “Apparently, it’s a horrible experience for a non-hugger when a hugger holds out their arms.”

            Yes, for lots of people it is a horrible experience.

      3. Owlette

        It’s not vitriol to say “we don’t like hugs, so please don’t hug us.” It’s nothing against you, unless you’re forcing upon us without consent.

      4. EditorInChief

        It’s about showing respect for other people and their boundaries. You don’t know what people’s struggles are–Maybe they have a physical injury or condition that makes hugging uncomfortable. Maybe they’ve set strong boundaries because of a trauma or violence in their life. Maybe it’s inappropriate for religious reasons. Or maybe they just plain don’t like hugging. In what world is it appropriate for someone to have to tell another person not to touch them? Not touching should be your default.

      5. ThatGirl

        I’m a hugger. I hug my friends, I hug my dog, I hug my husband, I love hugs from people I love and enjoy. (I do not like creepy men hugging me without permission.)

        I do not hug my coworkers without explicit cues that they would like one; on rare occasions (crying/someone I am close to) I have offered one and been very open to a no. It is not anti-hugging vitriol to be asked to respect people’s boundaries.

      6. NotAnotherManager!

        I’m shocked that you don’t seem to understand that people would like to be consulted before having a coworker step into their personal space and press their body against them and that you seem to think that being expected to simply *ask* someone if you can hug them is patently unreasonable. Surely you’re aware that vast swaths of the country do not work in the entertainment industry. I’ve worked in commercial real estate, defense contracting, college admissions, and legal. Hugging’s not a thing in any of them.

        Your continued protestations of how weirdo the no-hugs contingent is also undercuts your assertion that you’re not offended by people who don’t want to hug you.

        1. Rusty Shackelford

          Hmmm… if it weren’t for what you said about being in the entertainment industry, I’d think you were one of those people from my sexual harassment training I mentioned upthread.

          See, there’s a very wide spectrum of “the problem.” Unwanted touching is on that spectrum.

          1. Owlette

            I don’t want to derail too hard, but wouldn’t unwanted hugging count as sexual harassment? I’m sure it depends on the person, but…I don’t know. It just feels really creepy for someone to ignore someone’s boundaries.

            1. Owlette

              But how are you going to find out they’re unwanted? You ask the other person and don’t assume. That’s all we’re saying.

            2. Bad Touch

              You seem really super invested – to a scary degree- in getting to hug people you work with. To the point that you are strongly resisting the ideas that you shouldn’t just attempt to hug people and expect them to resist if they aren’t into it, and that you could ASK them for consent.

              You might wanna talk to a therapist about that!

            3. NotAnotherManager!

              Having an industry norm that expects hugging gives all the creepy perverts who want to press their body up against a woman cover to do so under the guise of a “professional” hug. Coupled with the power dynamics endemic to the industry, it’s problematic.

            4. RUKiddingMe

              Wow it seems like you are really invested in forcing touch without others’ consent. It’s almost like you think that pretty much anything goes unless you are told “no” instead of nothing goes unless told “yes.”

        2. EditorInChief

          Unwanted touching or a reluctant hug in the workplace certainly is a problem and could easily be considered sexual harassment.

        3. RUKiddingMe

          Well since you brought it up…pressing your body against someone without their consent without taking the time to ask them first if it is ok is analogous to sexual harassment.

  25. Whoops, forgot what my name is here...

    We had a new employee I had to work closely with that was a hugger of epic proportions. Nothing would dissuade her every time you bumped into her which was just too, too much. Rather than anyone in charge come in and directly tell her to stop touching her coworkers, hugging became one of the agenda items at a company wide training session.

    We were taught how to physically turn an attempted hug into a handshake gracefully and then had us all practice it on each other till it felt natural. Lots of laughs ensued by people in other offices wondering why this was chosen as a topic meeting but I was hoping it got the message through. Alas, she continued to try to hug right up to the end of her position there less than a year later.

    1. Close Bracket

      You know, people don’t really get hints. Not just about hugs, but in general. Training for everyone was a good idea bc that sounds like a helpful skill to learn, both how to do it and how to take it gracefully. It should not have replaced actually talking to the huggy employee, though. I’m glad you don’t have to deal with her anymore.

      1. Sara without an H

        Yeah, while it sounds like a useful skill to learn (especially with commenters like Ellen N. around), the manager really should have talked with the hugger.

  26. Rae

    I have hugged a colleague once and that was because it was her first day back after the death of a sibling. I stopped in and asked if she was doing alright or needed anything. She said she thought she was ok. I asked if she needed a hug (not something I EVER do so not sure why it came out) and she said yes that would be much appreciated. Other than that, I have never done anything other than shake hands.

  27. Kristin D

    A sheriff in California got sued for hugging a subordinate over 100 times over several years. One of the interesting facts is that he mostly shook males’ hands but hugged women. The court of appeal said the plaintiff could go to a jury on whether the hugs constituted sexual harassment. As far as I know, she never asked him to stop hugging her. Caution is warranted.

    I have hugged colleagues for announcements of vacations and engagements (and I knew them to be receptive to hugs). But generally it should stay out of the workplace.

  28. Lebanese Blonde

    I work in Mexico and everyone kisses on the cheek as a greeting AT. ALL. TIMES. Hated it, then indifferent, now sorta like it?

    1. MsMaryMary

      One of my clients kisses me on the cheek and I don’t like it. He is also a former NFL football player and very large, so I feel like it’s physically awkward too. Ugh.

  29. irritable vowel

    Funny, I was just thinking last night about when my staff member and I were saying our final goodbyes on his last day of work – it was clear to me that he was expecting a hug, but I offered a handshake instead. I just don’t think hugging has any place in the office, and I have a hard time understanding people who want to hug. Hugging is so intimate, and we have a physical gesture already for business interactions – I have zero desire to press my entire body against the body of someone I work with (and especially not someone I supervise or am supervised by).

    1. MsMaryMary

      I had a manager who was not a hugger, but recongized that some of the people who reported up to her were. Or that even people who were typically not huggers might want a hug if they had a family emergency, or a medical situation, or even a really bad day at work. We had a running joke that she could just delegate her hugs to one of the huggers.

      “Lucinda, I know you’re having a rough time. Do you need a hug? Percival, go hug Lucinda.”

    2. Manya

      Some of us don’t feel that hugging is that intimate. Different people have different boundaries. It’s not that difficult to understand.

  30. MissDisplaced

    HaHaHa! I grew up in a very non demonstrative family that rarely hugged. But when I began working with Europeans I had to get used to all the hugging and air kisses! It was kinda awkward at first, but I’m used to it now. If you truly feel uncomfortable, I suggest just being somewhat more forthright with a handshake extension.

  31. Mr. Bob Dobalina

    The only hugs that I have accepted (not initiated) at work were (1) hugs initiated by a super-hug-happy female boss that I once had, which always made me uncomfortable, and (2) a few sincere good-bye hugs from close female colleagues who were leaving, on their last day of employment, or the reverse, on my last day of employment.

  32. Zona the Great

    I worked in a kitchen at a Southwest U.S. ski resort for a few years. I don’t really know this but it seems even more unusual in such an environment to have huggers. But that is exactly what it was there. For some reason, when I first started, my peers who started with me successfully began a hugging culture. These were lesbian bros, bro-bros, old Native American men, dainty little waitresses, Mexican nationals, crotchety old women, etc. And we hugged every day and also said, I love You to one another upon leaving. It was truly bizarre but even I, a touch-phobic former Orthodox Jew, actively participated in it. This is also the place where we shared one locker room and routinely saw each others’ schmecks so who knows….

  33. AutumnAlmanac

    Thank you for this! I’m somewhere in the middle I suppose, although I veer towards the side of non-hugging at work. I would never initiate a hug with a colleague, but it wouldn’t necessarily weird me out if a colleague came in for a hug, depending on the circumstances.

    For example, I have (rarely, thankfully) been in situations at work where someone has been in a very stressful situation, and comfort in the form of a hug seems a natural thing to do. In those situations, if I’m the ‘comforter’, I tend to briefly touch their arm first. If they then turn towards me for a hug, I’ll reciprocate. If not, I’ll offer some other form of comfort, like suggesting we go and make a cup of tea and chat in the kitchen, or offer tissues if they’re crying, or just let them know that I’m around if they need anything, and I’m happy to cover their phone for a while if they’d like. In those circumstances, it really comes down to reading the situation as best you can.

    I do think, though, that even in unusual circumstances, it’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to hugging. If someone is already miserable, the last thing you want to do is make them uncomfortable as well by forcing unwanted physical contact on them.

    As a general rule, I prefer a warm verbal greeting among colleagues, combined with a friendly handshake if it’s someone I’m meeting for the first time, or haven’t seen in a long while. I have a couple of close friends who aren’t huggers, and I don’t have a problem respecting their boundaries. The idea of assuming that a colleague expects a hug is a little weird to me.

  34. Lynn Whitehat

    I was doing a volunteer thing once, and the woman I was paired with kept patting my back, touching my upper arm, placing her hand on my shoulder, etc. I guess she could tell I wasn’t into it. So she said, “it’s OK! I’m a gynecologist!” Not making it any less awkward!

    1. irritable vowel

      Ha – I would have blurted out something inappropriate like “well then I hope you washed your hands!” and then immediately regretted it.

    2. AutumnAlmanac

      Yowch. When people say things like that (not the gynecologist comment specifically, but the “It’s OK!” comment) they’re basically saying “Hey, my behaviour is normal to me! You’re the weirdo for not reacting how I want you to react!” Super gross.

      1. jolene

        “I don’t understand – my arm is not my sn*tch?” said in a confused voice, would have sorted that right out.

    3. zaracat

      As a health professional myself I’d be giving her the side eye and exclaiming in surprise “I’d have thought that meant you had a *better* understanding of boundaries and consent then average! Glad I’m not your patient!”

  35. Pam

    I attended a 12-step meeting with my sister, celebrating her birthday. EVERYONE, all of whom were strangers to me, insisted on a hug when greeting me.

    Sigh.

    1. RUKiddingMe

      Oh wow. So much no. I’ve gotten to a place in my life where my give-a-fuck meter has all but broken. I wold have had no problem whatsoever with telling them all to back off…even at my sister’s 12-step meeting.

      I’m pretty bad at interacting with people anyway. I mean I can be charming, conversant, etc., I just don’t like to. On Wednesday I was stuck in a car for three hours with someone I don’t know well and had to be “on” for the majority of the time. After I got home I had about an hour and the Cable Dude™ whom I’d forgotten I had an appointment with showed up.

      Cable Dude™ stayed way too long for my comfort. His work was done, he’d stuck around making sure stuff was working for a long enough amount of time…he needed to go and not make small talk with me. Fortunately I had a lot of veggies needing to be cut so I was a room removed (open floor plan though) with a long sharp knife in my hand the majority of the time he was here.

      Anyway I digress. My point, and I do have one, is that after three hours in the car, not nearly enough time to decompress, and the Cable Dude™ here for over two hours… I was exhausted so badly that it took me all of the rest of the night and Thursday to recover.

      Twelve strangers hugging me? Nope, nope, nopity, nope, nope, nope.

    2. Tree and Sky

      I attending a twelve step meeting and its quite common to have hugs unfortunately. I’m not a hugger with people I don’t know well and have had a couple awkward hugs from people that made me uncomfortable when I first started in my program a year ago. I did made a habit of specifically asking people whether they wanted a hug or not, and it seems to have caught on in my group (i.e. I see other people doing the same thing now which is nice). Somedays I like hugs, other days (when I’m having a PTSD flashback for example) I don’t want anyone touching me, as much as I may like them.

  36. Lady Kelvin

    I work in the international realm so there are tons of cultural differences that you have to navigate when it comes to hugging/greeting. When I go to Europe hugs and cheek kisses are expected after the first meeting, men, women, it doesn’t matter. When I go to most Asian countries, it is handshakes or bows almost exclusively. Usually handshakes, but I’ve been surprised by bows. In the US it definitely depends on region, I work in the Pacific Islands, and hugs between people you know are common, handshakes for people you are just meeting, but when I go to the East Coast it is strictly handshakes.

  37. Mr. Bob Dobalina

    Hmmm. On *rare* occasion, I will briefly and lightly touch someone on the upper arm. Sometimes to get their attention or for emphasis. Is that unwelcome touching? Maybe so. After reading the comments, I should be more aware that some people do not want to be touched at all. I will stop doing it.

    1. Rusty Shackelford

      It wouldn’t bother me, but some people would find it unwelcome, so it would be best to err on the side of caution.

      (Hey, look at that. Someone who learned that his coworkers might not want to be touched, and so decided not to touch them. See? It’s not hard! Thanks for your thoughtful consideration on this topic, Mr. Bob!)

    2. Paris Geller

      Oh yes, please don’t do this unless absolutely necessary! (there are times in my work where people need to get my attention ASAP when I might be busy, and if they’ve tried everything else I can forgive a touch on the arm. It’s happened. . . maybe twice in five years? So rare). I actually like arm touches less than hugs, because they’re out of nowhere. At least a hug I can normally see coming, even if I don’t have the reflex to avoid it.

    3. AutumnAlmanac

      There are situations where you need to get someone’s attention fast (I mean in an important work situation, not a life-or-death situation.) If you can’t get someone’s attention by getting into their direct eyeline, giving them a significant look, and moving your head in a “I need to talk to you, now,” manner, or if they’re so dense or distracted that they’re not reading your obvious signals, then you’ll probably need to touch them.

      In which case, I think that touching them deliberately on the back of the hand or wrist, or on the forearm, is usually best, and making sure you get into their eyeline first. I am only speaking for myself, but being touched unexpectedly on the upper arm, especially by someone I can’t see, awakes a defensive instinct in me. I’m not so primal that I’ll turn around snarling, but it will make me uncomfortable more often than not.

      We are human beings, and we’re going to touch each other now and again. I think the best we can do is try to be sensible about it, respect each others’ obvious boundaries, and respect less common boundaries when they’re given to us.

    4. RUKiddingMe

      “…that some people do not want to be touched at all. I will stop doing it.”

      On behalf of others like myself, thank you!

    5. Mr. Bob Dobalina

      Point taken, folks. If I become aware that people may be uncomfortable with something like this, I stop doing it. (I just wish the office fingernail clipper-guy felt the same way.)

  38. Susana

    That qualified as a PSA, Alison. Thanks! Now if only we could play it for casual acquaintances who take the opportunity of a social gathering the manhandle you under the guise of friendliness…

  39. tsumommy

    I admit I spontaneously hugged someone at work who I hadn’t seen in a while and have been embarrassed ever since. Yeah, I’m a hugger, but I wish my brain had kicked in soon enough for me to hold back.

    1. Positive Reframer

      Ugh the social awkwardness of having hugged someone unintentionally. There was a situation where hugs were happening, and even though I knew the person isn’t precisely keen on hugs (at least in our interactions) they got one too. Bonus points for a height differential. Felt weird about it for a while but then there’s the whole is it weirder to address it or not to address it?

      Fortunately the next time we both went back to the normal high five thing.

  40. Anon anony

    At my current job, they hug people from the branch when they come over. I don’t get it, because they see them often, but I guess it’s just what they do? I don’t know. I was hugged at my last job by 2 of my coworkers when I left the toxic job, because I think they felt bad for me.

  41. BlueMonday

    I was at a conference last year. Earlier in the day I had a really awful phone call back to the office regarding a project I was working on that wasn’t going well. My whole day at the conference I just felt really upset. I ran into one of the vendors we use on the trade show floor and greeted her with a big hug. In that moment I just was so happy to see a friendly face I recognized. However, we were not on hugging terms at all. I barely knew her. I felt totally embarrassed and honestly have gone out of my way since then not to interact with her.

  42. ShwaMan

    Definitely a dynamic that varies a lot by region, industry, gender, and individual. As an awkward dude who isn’t great at picking up cues, my personal policy of (very nearly) never initiating workplace hugs has never steered me wrong.
    Where I am, there’s not a lot of hugging, and I’m fine with that. I agree that being asked is the best option.

    I was clued in a few years ago that some cultures don’t like to shake hands either. That’s gotta be tricky for them when they come here (Canada) where handshakes are so ubiquitous.

    1. RUKiddingMe

      Handshaking: I’m American, born and raised and well acquainted with handshaking. Unless I know that not shaking an offered hand will be direly negative, I say “I don’t shake hands.” I think most people assume it’s religious which is fine. It’s actually germs/my active imagination abut whether they’ve washed their hands since doing their most recent gross thing… but I don’t elaborate. I rarely, rarely, rarely offer my own hand first, but again it’s a “know the situation” thing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  43. Empty Sky

    Regarding the comment about how you can’t use the “getting over a cold” line repeatedly with people you see every day: if you are a parent of a small child, yes you can. Especially if they are in kindergarten or daycare.

  44. just peachy.

    When I resigned from my previous toxic job, my disingenuous boss who had only been with our organization for a few months and kept cancelling all my check-ins with her, gave me a big hug and said I would be missed. What a load of crap! I mean of course I’d be missed by my coworkers who I liked, and I’m sure she would miss having a competent, organized person with a really important role in the organization, but she barely made the time to connect with me anyway when she joined our organization. I can’t stand fake pleasantries.

    1. annejumps

      Ha! I got a big hug from my boss when I was out-of-the-blue laid off (position eliminated) last December a week before my birthday! Thanks, lady!

  45. Tendell

    I don’t mind hugging at work, though it can make me feel a little awkward, and I don’t usually initiate it because I know a lot of people don’t like it. If someone else initiates it, fine! Or, if I’ve been close work-friends with a coworker and they’re leaving, or I know they’re going through a hard time, sometimes I’ll ask if I can give them a hug. (So far nobody’s seemed to think that’s weird.) Touching someone’s arm or shoulder is as touchy as I’m willing to get without some kind of express permission/welcome, but I don’t usually mind if their boundaries aren’t as strong toward me.

  46. Former non profit professional

    My ex boss hugged me after he had laid me off.
    I have a deep, deep disgust for this man.

    When I was a student teacher, a student kissed me. I now have a firm no hugging policy. My colleague hugs everyone. Even when they clearly don’t want it. Knowing her, it’s a power/dominance move.

    I hate hugs at work.

  47. Videogame Lurker

    I hugged one of my classroom teachers (substitute teacher’s aide here) but it was a “thank-you” hug of excitedness when she gave me a copy of a letter of recommendation, and I immediately felt bad because I didn’t ask if I could hug her, and that hugging was very unprofessional, and apologized for it.

    I don’t hug in general, though “thank-you” hugs had to be carefully trained back through my code-switching to the realm of “not-at-work” behavior. I don’t mind if I get hugged, but I prefer to ask and be asked. I will tap on shoulders to get someone’s (a student’s) attention, but I generally prefer to get said attention via visual or auditory means (unless student is blind/deaf, restricting me to one of those means and tactile as last resort like safety).

    Also, public schooling has very strict rules about hugs where I live, mostly to prevent hallway-blocking-group-hugs, injuries, and sexual harassment.

    1. Tree and Sky

      My spouse is a teacher and has a very firm no-hugging rule at work with colleagues and students. He is a primary school (K-3 teacher) and often has the littles offering him hugs. He transitions to to a high five type thing to avoid the hugging issue. As it turns out, he is extra careful because of the fact that he is a male and enjoys teaching young children and has to be extra aware and careful of the reputational risk that comes with that unfortunately. The last kindergarten class he taught a parent complained to the principal about having a male teacher as just the mere presence of a male teacher was an issue for this particular parent (!!!!).

      1. Pam Beesly

        This reminds me of the one education class in college (and did not become a teacher! GO TEACHERS!) and I remember the instructor saying in his many, many years of teaching that he never, ever initiated hugs with students, but always responded with a hug if a kid tried to give him one. I thought this was a great way to handle it. Some kids don’t get hugs and home and a kind, caring teacher might be the only person available. So he freely gave hugs, but only when they were obviously wanted. I’m tearing up just thinking about it now!

  48. Forensic Accountant

    I am a Director at my company (pretty senior) and female…and a hugger. Based on the comments, it sounds like I should stop. I’ve never received the stiff arm / Heisman….and about 99.9% of the time, I am happy to see the person and I’m engaged. Note to self to tone it down.

    1. Close Bracket

      Try asking first. As a director, it might be hard to ask someone and get an honest answer out of them bc they might feel pressured to say it’s ok. You could try using enthusiastic consent as a guideline. If you ask, and they say yes excitedly and genuinely, you can hug them. If they are more guarded or not that enthusiastic, then tone it down. Maybe opening by saying you are trying to be more sensitive to people who just aren’t big huggers could defuse any awkwardness with people who want to flat out say no but aren’t comfortable.

    2. Sara without an H

      Yeah, your staff probably know by this time that you mean well. But there is an imbalance of power created by your role, and staff who really don’t like hugs probably feel uncomfortable, but afraid to say anything.

      You sound smarter and more self-aware than several of the pro-hugging commenters upstream.

  49. Doctor Schmoctor

    Ugh. Hugging
    I don’t even hug friends or family. At work? Hell no.
    What’s wrong with friendly wave?

    1. Some Dude on the Internet

      I used to not like hugs either until my senior year of college. I’m glad I’m not the only one. I guess some people just don’t grow out of it.

  50. Matt

    OMG, nooo. I’d go the opposite way and get rid of the handshaking as well – it makes no sense other than distributing germs. We have a culture of meetings with about ten people and everyone shakes hands with every other at start and end of the meeting. Why, just why? It’s an archaic symbol of showing that you’re coming in peace and not carrying a weapon, I don’t believe that’s necessary in your typical present day’s office setting.

    1. Sara without an H

      Personally, I rather like the Asian bow, and wish there were a way to introduce it to the West. It would solve a bunch of these problems.

  51. Bookworm

    Unless it’s some sort of trauma or something like a goodbye or it’s MUTUAL, don’t hug.
    Huggers and touchy people need to keep their hands to themselves. It’s called boundaries.

  52. Delta Delta

    I once had a woman I vaguely know hug me at a work conference. It was an unwarned attack hug. It felt sort of violating. I actually lost a little respect for her, and now I am wary when I see her. From her shoes, she probably thought it was ok to do since we are acquainted, and now may wonder why I keep her at arm’s length.

    Socially, though, I hug people sometimes. I’m involved in an activity that generally attracts a hug-based crowd, and I’m totally fine hugging my friends within that crowd.

  53. Jennifer Juniper

    Flu season is coming up. Non-huggers can discourage intrusive huggers by saying they’re scared of colds and flu. If the hugger pushes back on that, the hugger is a jerk.

  54. Health Insurance Nerd

    The other day I passed my boss in the office and we’ve been so busy/overwhelmed/stressed we’ve barely seen each other all week, which we both noted, and then we spontaneously hugged (which is not a normal occurrence!). Honestly, it made me smile and instantly boosted my mood, so we both must have just really been needing a hug in that moment :)

    *this is no way means you should go around hugging your employees, which may not be as well received as the above hug, I just mean to say that hugs sometimes happen, and as long as you’re ok with it, that’s ok!

  55. Janie

    I’m an attorney. I recently had a much older, male opposing counsel hug me after I offered him a handshake (at our office following a settlement meeting, not in front of our clients). In the moment, I couldn’t think of a non-awkward way to reject the hug. Please, please somebody, stop all the hugging :(

  56. Danny

    I think it depends on the company culture. I work at a startup, and the smaller office means a closely-knit company.

    That said, I personally generally don’t initiate hugs unless it’s something like a death in the family, or if one of us was leaving the job and wanted to say goodbye. Even then, I usually ask first unless I’m 100% sure the person wouldn’t mind.

  57. Pam Beesly

    I’m a hugger. And an arm toucher. Just a touchy person, really. If I like you, I’ll probably try to touch you.
    BUT, if I ever get even the slightest sense that you don’t like it, I’ll remember that and I won’t touch you again. And I won’t even hold it against you at all, because different people are different and some people don’t want to be touched and that is super, duper ok.

    1. Hands Off

      Why do you get to touch in the first place? Why do I have to be touched and dislike it for you to get the message? Can’t you just ASK before getting your paws on my body PLEASE? ftlog

      And that “even” is passive aggressive as hell. Damn right you shouldn’t hold it against anyone who doesn’t want you touching them. OF COURSE YOU WON’T HOLD IT AGAINST THEM, THAT WOUD BE UNREASONABLE AND BIZARRE AND ENTITLED AS ALL GET OUT.

  58. Survivor

    I have worked with several people who for faith reasons, wouldn’t find a hug appropriate. One of my friends/colleague who joined me on a training course and was in the difficult position of explaining why her Muslim faith meant that she chose not to shake the hands of the room in the room and give hugs. I had never thought of how difficult that is, she is a wonderful communicator and a friendly person but that assumption that physical touch is ok puts her in an awkward spot. I try to be mindful now not to assume things about how much physical contact is ok. I have PTSD and have been sexually harassed in previous jobs so hugs are generally a no no for me too.

  59. Joe in Frederick

    It’s not appropriate for me to touch people in the workplace, other than a handshake or to pull them away from a hazard. I’m sure there’s more gray area than that, but it sets the expectations of my interactions exactly where I want them: cordial, professional, and consistent.

  60. Triple Anon

    When I made the switch from restaurant work to the office, I went through a culture shock. I missed all the hugging and cursing. Wearing your emotions on your sleeve, saying exactly what you think, making crude jokes. Sometimes you really want to curse about something and then give your co-worker a hug.

    But there’s a reason that happens in kitchens but not offices. Offices are a less physically oriented work environment, and the power dynamics are more rigid. In a kitchen, you might work beside your boss, but you function in a more egalitarian way – you’re both doing hot, sweaty, messy, fast paced work, at the same time, in the same context. It just isn’t as weird to hug. But in an office, it’s different. So I think there is more room for physical contact to be abused – for people to feel pressured into things that make them uncomfortable.

    There’s obviously a lot of room to debate this, but that’s my take on it.

Comments are closed.