What Should Managers Do About Hugging?

More and more people are hugging at work, what's the right way to do this?
More and more people are hugging at work, what’s the right way to do this?
Image Credit: Konstantin Stepanov

How about if we agree to talk about a touchy topic: hugging. Yep, even in this #Metoo era, the concept of opening your arms up and then enveloping a coworker in a big hug is something that is still done in the workplace. You’d think that all of this would be going away in our ultra-sensitive political climate; however, that is not the case. In fact, there appears to be even more hugging going on at work these days. What do managers have to do in order to make sure that our embraces are going to be welcome?

What’s Going On With Hugging?

The big question that managers have to use their manager skills to deal with is whether or not hugging is still permissible in the modern workplace. The #Metoo movement has given women a voice with which to speak up about workplace behavior that make them feel harassed. Examples of hugging gone wrong are all around us. The co-founder of the Pixar movie studio, John Lasseter, had to leave his job at Disney after coworkers complained about his unwanted workplace hugging.

The reason that this is a tricky question for managers to answer is because workplace hugging has become a more common practice in certain industries and we don’t have any manager training to deal with it. A recent survey of managers who work in the marketing and advertising industry revealed that 65% said that hugging coworkers was at least somewhat common. More than half of the people surveyed said that they greet clients with a hug instead of a handshake. Back in 2011, only 30% of the people who were surveyed said that they preferred hugs over handshakes for coworkers and even fewer felt this way about clients.

So why hug when you are at work? The people who support workplace hugging say that when you hug someone you are establishing closeness and trust. People who are salespeople say that good relationships are key to their growth. Attorneys say that they are encountering clients who are going through tough times and a hug is a good way for them to show that they are compassionate and sympathetic. The key that some of these people say is that they have to be careful to not initiate the hug; however, if their client hugs them, then they need to hug them back.

What’s The Right Way To Hug?

Managers need to understand that science tells us that using touch will encourage cooperation and mutual support. Studies have shown that a gentle or supportive touch can engender feelings of affection, reduce levels of stress, and create a sensation of trust. People who work in a culture where they feel free to express affection, caring, tenderness, and compassion for their coworkers were happier with their jobs, supportive of the company, and felt more responsible for their personal performance.

All of this sounds great; however, managers need to keep in mind that there are risks associated with making connections though physical contact. A court recently ruled that no matter the gender of the person doing the hugging, the hugging of an employee may create a hostile work environment. The result of this is that a number of companies have started to ban hugging at work. At the same time, many women tend to shy away from situations in which someone will try to hug them.

Managers need to understand that women avoid hugging for professional reasons. They have a desire to be taken more seriously and they feel that hugging won’t contribute to this. There are alternatives to hugging. Studies have shown that handshakes can be used as an effect way to create a bond with another person. A firm handshake can increase the likelihood of a positive reaction and decrease the chance of a negative reaction. Managers need to have some hugging rules. Don’t hug someone who reports to you. Don’t hug someone if you are not sure that they would welcome the hug. If you are not a hugger and you encounter someone who is, feel free to tell them that you are not a hugger.

What All Of This Means For You

How we interact with people at work is a critical part of how good of a manager we are. It turns out that there is one type of interaction that can cause a great deal of trouble these days: hugging. In the era of the #Metoo movement, hugging comes very close to crossing the line. Managers need to know how best to deal with this tricky situation.

Hugging is a tricky thing in the workplace. The news is full of stories about people who have lost their jobs because of unwanted workplace hugging. However, depending on what industry you work in, hugging may be a common way to great clients. There are some real advantages to hugging someone. When you hug someone you are establishing a bond of closeness. Touch is a powerful way for people to communicate with each other. Workers who feel free to hug each other report that they are more satisfied with their jobs. Despite all of the positive effects of hugging, the courts have ruled that unwanted hugging can be considered to be creating a hostile work environment. Instead of hugging, a firm handshake can be substituted. If you do choose to keep hugging people, make sure that you have some rules in place.

Managers have the responsibility to find ways to get the highest performance out of their team. They need to understand that although some people may like to hug other people, there will be people who do not like to be hugged. Managers need to be aware of this and we need to take steps to make sure that in our workplace and during team building, everyone understands the rules that surround hugging.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: If you ban hugging at work and then someone does it, what action should you take?

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