Are Hugs The New Handshake?

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Depending on where you stand on the hug continuum, hugging at work is either inappropriately awkward or a great way to greet your colleagues. Unless your workplace actually prohibits hugging between colleagues, you may be left to your own devices when it comes to giving or accepting hugs at work.

Keep these tips in mind when it comes to hugging in the workplace:

Company culture and your comfort level
If your culture is very conservative and buttoned up, you'll likely want to stick with a firm, but warm handshake and avoid hugs to make the right impression. If people are constantly embracing as if they're reuniting with a long-lost relative, identify your comfort level, and don't hesitate to discourage hugs if you don't want to be embraced. The best deterrent is to make a point to extend your hand for a handshake. Of course, if you do feel harassed by the hugging culture or by a particular hugger, you can refer to policies and consult someone in human resources.

Types of hugs.
There are all types of hugs. These include the bear hug, the side hug and the quick embrace. You can assume, under most circumstances, any hug that embraces a little too long or tightly isn't appropriate in the workplace. If you're the hugging aggressor, make sure you aren't going overboard. If you hug at all, avoid any hug that could be labeled aggressive or passionate; both of these hugs definitely cross the line and are inappropriate in the workplace.

If you're a hugger, watch your colleague's body language.
Some people just don't feel comfortable being hugged at work. However, especially if you're the boss, it may be difficult for them to refuse your advance. (Think: sexual harassment.) Be careful and read your colleagues' body language. If people keep sticking their arms out at you in an effort to shake hands instead of hug and you grab them into a bear hug instead, assume you're crossing into dangerous territory. Don't create a toxic workplace by being overly affectionate.

People to hug or not hug.
Even if you're a compulsive hugger, it's best to avoid hugging subordinates. Keep your company's sexual harassment policy in mind and remember, if you're the boss, people may not feel comfortable asking you to stop hugging them. In some cases, you may be able to modify a hug into a warm pat on the back that may satisfy your need for a more intimate welcome and your colleague or subordinate's need to keep some distance. Keep in mind: even a "side hug" or shoulder pat can seem a little touch-y feel-y to some people.

Extraordinary situations
While hugging isn't a great idea at work, there are some situations where it might be considered okay to offer a quick hug as a way to congratulate or console someone. For example, if your colleague just won a huge award or promotion, or if he or she is retiring or leaving the company for good, it might be acceptable to offer a quick embrace. However, for some people, a "high five" will be more appreciated. Another situation when a hug may be okay is if someone just learned bad news and a consoling hug or quick shoulder squeeze just seems the most human response. Again – keep in mind, it may be best to console with words or offer flexibility and support instead of a hug.

Bottom line.
The safest bet is to avoid hugging in the workplace. You don't want to face sexual harassment charges for hugs you might consider innocent expressions of affection, but that come across as too touch-y feel-y to your colleagues or employees.

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Originally published