Why you shouldn't hug your colleagues

Business colleagues hugging Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A hug is fine - so long as that what's both of you are comfortable with, says Alison

Whatever happened to the simple handshake at work? asks author Alison Green, and the creator of the workplace advice column Ask a Manager.

You're greeting a colleague who you haven't seen in a while - and suddenly, without warning, they're enthusiastically opening their arms and heading in for a hug.

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.

Hugging hasn't become the norm in every industry, but there are entire fields where it's common in both greetings and goodbyes, especially as workplaces become increasingly informal.

Image copyright Alison Green
Image caption Hugging is now common in many workplaces that have become increasingly informal, she says

That can be odd for those of us who aren't huggers, or who aren't huggers at work. And the fact that different people have different preferences around hugging - and that there aren't any clear-cut rules for when you're expected to hug or how to avoid a hug - makes the whole endeavour fraught with awkwardness and peril.

We could all benefit from a universal code of conduct for hugging at work. Of course, if I wrote that code, it would just say "don't hug colleagues, end of story."

Perhaps I'm a curmudgeon, but really, isn't it better to err on the side of not making someone uncomfortable with unwanted physical contact?

That's especially true at work, where it can be hard for people to say "no, I'd really rather not hug" because of a fear of seeming cold or unfriendly to people we work with.

So huggers would do well to remember that their preference for hugging is trumped by a colleague's preference not to have that type of physical intimacy with a co-worker! Not all of us wish to enter the enveloping arms of our colleagues.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption At work it can be hard for people to say they'd rather not hug, argues Alison

But unfortunately, people who love a good hug tend to assume that everyone else is a hugger too, and are strangely oblivious to the legions of us who instead take great comfort in physical boundaries when we're at work.

Some people push hugs even when they're clearly unwelcome, perhaps on the theory that the power of their warm embrace will melt the boundaries of even the crankiest among us.

So what do you do if you're a non-hugger marooned in an office of huggers? Or if you find yourself greeting someone awkwardly, unsure if they're about to go in for a hug or not?

One time-honoured strategy is to quickly and pre-emptively stick out your hand - making it clear that this is going to be a handshake situation. If you're worried that that will seem chilly or standoff-ish, then pair it with a very warm greeting, making it clear that you're happy to see the other person.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption If you're unsure - then stick to handshakes, she advises

Or, you can mention that you're just getting over a cold and wouldn't want to get the person sick. Although that really only works with people you don't see frequently, since you can't use that excuse over and over.

But it's also okay to come out and declare yourself a hug-free zone! There's nothing wrong with saying, "I'm not really a hugger, but it's great to see you." Let's band together and reclaim our personal space!

And for all the huggers out there: when you're at work, by all means, greet people warmly, look delighted to see them, and take genuine interest in how they're doing. Warmth and friendliness are great!

We could use more of that. But unless you know for sure that the person you're greeting is a hugger themselves, draw the line at physical embrace.

For more workplace letters from Alison Green and other contributors, download the World Business Report podcast.

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