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Wrap your arms around me



I accept that I may not always come across as the most touchy-feely person on the interweb it is ok….I can live with that.  And yet at the same time I know that in HR we are all known as a bunch of tree huggers. Well, I’m going to let you into a little secret, I don’t hug trees, but I do hug people. 

Ok, not just anyone…..I mean I don’t walk up to people in the street and hug them. Nor do I follow people around or write them scary letters. I’m normal, not psycho. Well ok, just a little psycho…..but then we all need to have a hobby. Come to think of it, I need a new balaclava….

But what about hugging at work? Should we, shouldn’t we, do we, don’t we? Would the workplace be better if we were to hug people every now and then? Would it break down boundaries or would it cause discomfort and unease? Is it a British thing to be so uptight about physical contact?

In my role as chief protagonist and leader of change, I feel it is beholden on me to make a stand. Starting right now.  I’m off to hug the CEO…….I’ll let you know how I get on……

24 Comments leave one →
  1. 11/17/2010 10:35

    I hugged my old CEO a few years back. Turns out, not the hugs type. Great party though!

  2. 11/17/2010 10:46

    I’m usually a little bit more tactile than most people want me to be. I’m more than fine with contact. Ask Lisa.

    I do find it awkward though, when I go for a handshake, and the other party pulls me in for the “guy-shoulder-bump-hug”. You need to show your intent in advance for your greeting of choice, whether it be a cursory nod, a hug, handshake, or kiss even (one or two cheeks?). My in-laws are Italian, and kissing the guys is perfectly normal (stubble is weird though).

    I do still feel a little guilty that in hugs with women, I’m getting more from it than them.

    From an HR perspective, I do think that a hug just before or after an appraisal, can be counter-productive.

  3. Sukh Pabial permalink
    11/17/2010 10:59

    There are massive cultural and gender differences about personal space and what’s acceptable. Saudi males hug each other when they meet no matter for business or for personal reasons. Italians and French do the cheek-to-cheek greet. Indians will expect a handshake from men but nothing from women.

    It’s very British to respect personal space as its a notion and concept we’ve grown up with. Stand a metre away from me, come any closer and you can either expect a slap/punch or you had best know me damned well enough that I won’t think it’s rude.

    But in the workplace? Gosh that’s just fraught with troubles isn’t it. Harassment and bullying claims of all sorts. Is it ever ok? I’m ashamed to say it probably never is. Not in this day and age. Even if you think you know someone well enough, there’s too many checks and balances you have to be sure of from the other person.

    There will be those comfortable enough for this to happen and that’s good and welcome, it’s just not very British though really is it?

  4. 11/17/2010 11:18

    I think this, generally, only works within the context of an existing relationship with the individual in question. I once worked with a guy who was very tactile and hugged men and women alike – and there was never a complaint. It was just what he did and because he would start with people he knew, any new person he met could see that was his normal greeting.

    However, we had another member of the team (for a very short while) who even though he never got into hug mode, female colleagues reported that he made their ‘flesh crawl’ just by shaking their hands!

    So good luck with the CEO. It may be too late to suggest this now, but you could introduce your action with the CEO by saying ‘I’m going to try something now and I need your honest feedback on how it was for you’ – at least you can say it was just research.

  5. 11/17/2010 11:32

    A hug is perfectly acceptable in the work place, why the hell not. To hell with political correctness, harassment etc. I’m man enough to give one and man enough to accept one.
    It’s a good thing.

  6. 11/17/2010 11:57

    I hug my fellow director all the time ;o)

  7. Alison Chisnell permalink
    11/17/2010 12:09

    My view on this is a purely personal one…but I like my personal space at work. I don’t take offence if people try and hug me or attribute more sinister motives such as harrassment; but its just not my bag and I don’t feel it is appropriate, so I usually politely tell them so. I worked with a very tall Swedish male MD once who would crouch down by my chair, with one hand on my chair and the other on my desk, essentially blocking me in and totally invading my sense of personal space. he was a very nice man and entirely unaware of the fact that his actions had this effect on me…I just took to gently and politely reminding him that I had a different concept of personal space to him and please could he respect that. Which he did (in the end!) and we were always able to laugh about it.

    I have also had to have fairly ‘strict’ conversations with at least one male colleague who is so touchy feely at work that the women in his team feel it is inappropriate – particularly some of the US members of his team. He had such a lack of awareness of how people perceived his actions that I literally had to tell him not to make physical contact with anyone at work, unless he was shaking hands. Extreme I know, but given the number of informal complaints about his behaviour bubbling below the surface, it seemed the only option.

    I am not against hugs at work per se, we’re all different and if it cheers people up then great. I think we do need to recognise that one size doesn’t always fit all though and that people will often feel very differently about it….especially those of us who are funny about our personal space!!!

  8. 11/17/2010 14:27

    No. Just no.

  9. footbug permalink
    11/17/2010 14:40

    I don’t like being hugged by people I don’t have an “emotional connection” with. It doesn’t mean I have to know them personally, but there has to be something I would call an “emotional link” between us. That can mean a number of things, but being just a work colleague is not enough an excuse for me. I find it awkward. I think my body language would say it all if suddenly my boss came up to me and gave me a morning squeeze after a staff meeting. I am sure I would question his intensions!!! Saying that, I think there is a moment for everything and if someone you know fairly well isn’t having a good day, it may feel right to give them a hug, if that’s what you want to do. I usually pass the box of tissues instead! My parents were not that way inclined and I had to learn a hard way with my own children, simply because it just doesn’t come natural to me…

  10. 11/17/2010 14:46

    I did chuckle when I read this. It reminds me of some shocking team building things I’ve come across where the trainer (a little like the dog in your post yesterday, perhaps?!) imagines that teams should be all wonderfully lovey and huggy, totally missing the point that business teams operate in a commercial environment, that people differ in their demonstrativeness, and that there needs to be enough trust and safety around for people to be intimate with one another at work. There is also a legislative minefield to consider around the whole subject of harassment…

    I suppose that’s the long answer to your questions. The short answer is that I think it depends on the individuals. I suspect there’s no “should”, but if a hug or any other form of physical greeting is mutually and spontaneously okay for the huggers, why not?

    • The Engaging Engager permalink
      11/26/2010 04:14

      Oh I hear you Christine!
      Was forced into a group hug once.
      The dead eyed protagonists muttered something about “closing the circle”.
      I couldn’t shake the image of myself as a “shopping trolley” recently dragged from a cosy canal by clammy hands. Apparently that’s what my response felt like too.
      Still proud of the feedback, if I’m honest…..

  11. robjones_tring permalink
    11/17/2010 15:54

    I agree with Mrs Jones @Footbug (who given her particular Mr Jones I can see why she’s not a hugger) that it’s a connection thing. There are a few colleagues I would (and have) hugged but it’s completely dependent on a) context b) relationship c) alcohol consumption

    Now, does anyone have a view on arse grabbing? That’s something I would quite happily become an advocate of….

  12. 11/17/2010 17:35

    I’m not one of nature’s huggers, unless I know someone very well indeed – in which case, bring on the hugs… Having said that, I don’t think it’s wrong to hug your colleagues – especially ones that you also consider to be friends. I offered to give one of my HRM’s a hug yesterday when he was having a tough day. Seemed like the natural thing to do, but it definitely pays to know your audience.

    A supplier foolishly tried to kiss me the first time we met. Big mistake. Forgivable if he was French or Italian – but he was from Lancashire. From there on in he was referred to as The Kisser.

    • The Engaging Engager permalink
      11/26/2010 04:19

      Count yourself lucky.
      Once had a Swedish client who favoured mixed saunas as part of the pre-meeting ritual.
      “Did you know that it takes precisely 37 pieces of 2 by 4 pine to construct the average sauna ceiling and……”

  13. 11/17/2010 18:57

    I love this post for so many reasons. Not sure if the personal distance is a British thing or not, but I can tell you when I visited TRUlondon I was hugged A LOT. Maybe it’s just the company I keep. 🙂

    Seriously, I actually did a little experiment on hugs in my workplace back in 2009. Check it out here.

    Wow, now I have this sudden urge to hug you….

  14. 11/18/2010 13:28


    At any given time, the ratio of people who tend to want to hug me to those I don’t mind being hugged by is about a gazillion to one. Go home & hug your spouse/friend/pet instead.

  15. 11/24/2010 10:11

    @James Mayes – Are you becoming the Les Dawson of the blogging world? 🙂

    @Stephen O’Donnell – With my French in laws and friends I’m sure they change the number of times we kiss each time to confuse me…….

    @Sukh Pabial – Interesting that when I meet my colleagues from Germany they will hug me….I think you’re right it is all about cultural norms.

    @Barry Rees – Really interesting point… there is almsot a subconscious reaction as well as a conscious one?

    @Sara Headworth – I hug your fellow Director too…….

    @Alison Chisnell – I once had a supplier who lunged towards me in front of a group of people to engage in a continental style kiss… involuntary reaction was to side step and step back….much to the amusement of everyone watching as supplier kissed the air….

    @The gold digger – Go on……gis a hug 🙂

    @footbug – Welcome and thanks for commenting. Interesting point about the kids. I’ve seen a real difference in the way that we react to our children… it just upbringin or is it cultural norms….I don’t know.

    @Christine Livingstone – Ooooh I hate those kind of training events….”now turn and massage the shoulders of the person on your left” uhhhh no thanks…..

    @robjones_tring – I’m not adverse to grabbing your arse Rob….you only had to ask…..

    @Katie McNab – Hi Katie and thanks for taking the time to comment. Sounds like we had similar kiss experiences!

    @Trish McFarlane – I can remember reading that at the time Trish. Is it British, yes I think so…..but then we’d always make an exception for you! 🙂

    @Gekkette – Misery guts……you just need a…..

    • 11/26/2010 11:27

      Use of the word “becoming” suggests a process not yet complete. I may take issue with that.

      • 11/29/2010 10:03

        Go on…..tell us one about your mother in law…..


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