11 rules for hugging at the office

There may come a time when you want to hug a co-worker. That’s OK, just make sure you’re familiar with the rules of office embrace engagement.

Hello. My name is Tim Sackett, and I’m a hugger.

Being a hugger can make for some awkward moments. What if the other person isn’t expecting a hug, or doesn’t want to hug, and you’re coming in arms-wide-open?!

Fast Company had an article titled “To Hug Or Not To Hug At Work?,” that delved into this subject. Here’s a piece from the article:

“Awkwardness is … ‘the uncomfortable feeling you get when you realize that your concept of your relationship with someone else doesn’t match their concept. The intensity of awkwardness roughly corresponds to the magnitude of difference in relationship concepts.’ ”

I consider myself to have a number of roles: Husband, dad, coach, boss, friend, co-worker, etc. In each of those roles I’ve hugged and will continue to hug. Sometimes, though rarely, I’ll find someone who isn’t a hugger.

The first time I ever met Kris Dunn face-to-face, we’d known each other and talked frequently by phone for a year. At the HR Tech Conference, he was coming out of a session, I recognized him, he recognized me, and I went full “bro-hug” (sideways handshake, other arm hug-back slap combo) on him. I’m pretty sure he was caught off guard, but he played along.

Dunn is a closet hugger. Jason Seiden, he’s a hugger. So, are Laurie Ruettimann and Dawn Burke. I find Southern folks are huggers, more than Northern people, and Western more than Eastern. Canadians hug more than Americans. Men feel much more comfortable hugging women than other men. Some women are avid hug enthusiasts.

I thought it was about time we had some hugging rules for the office, so here goes:

The hugging rules

1. Don’t hug those you supervise. The caveats: You can hug a subordinate if it’s being supportive in a non-creepy way (major family or personal loss—sideways, kind of arm around the shoulder, you care about them hug); at a wedding and you are congratulating them; it’s a hug for a professional win (promotion, giant sale, big project completion, etc.) and it’s with a group, not alone in your office with the lights off; or, if you would feel comfortable with your spouse standing next you and watching that specific hug.

2. Hug your external customers or clients when they initiate the hugging sequence. The caveats: Don’t hug if it is required to get business (that’s not hugging, that’s harassment). Don’t let the hug last more than a second or two, or it gets creepy; and, don’t mention the hug afterwards, that makes you seem creepy!

3. Don’t hug the person in the office you’re having an affair with (no explanation needed).

4. Hug peers, just not every day. It’s all right to hug, but you don’t need to do it every day for people you see every day. Save some up and make it special!

5. When you hug, hug for real. Nothing worse than the “fake” hug! A fake hug is worse than a non-hug.

6. Don’t whisper “you smell good when hugging someone professionally. That’s creepy; in fact don’t whisper anything while hugging!

7. Don’t close your eyes while hugging professionally. That’s weird and a bit stalker-like.

8. It’s all right to announce a hug is coming. Some people will appreciate a “Hey! Come here I’m giving you a hug—it’s been a long time!

9. It’s never all right to hug from behind. (Creepier!)

10. Never hug in the restroom. It makes for an awkward moment when other employees walk in and see that.

11. If you’re questioning whether it will be all right to hug someone professionally, well, that is your cue that it probably isn’t.

Do you have any hugging rules for the office?

Tim Sackett is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, Mich. Contact him at sackett.tim@HRU-Tech.com. A version of this article originally appeared on The Tim Sackett Project.


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.