It turns out that not everyone needs a hug.
You know the person I mean. The one — it’s very often a guy — who greets everybody with a suffocating embrace that never feels quite optional.
Yes, even in these days of #MeToo.
On the contrary, workplace hugging is becoming more and more common. In some industries (advertising, entertainment, fashion), it’s the norm. This makes some sense because life in general is just less formal than it used to be. Plus, as people spend more time on the job, colleagues become similar to trusted friends, even family. It’s certainly true that mutual regard and even affection can make the workplace a better place to be.
But beware: There are pitfalls. Mandatory hugging is often a perverse way for managers to flaunt their power. Too often, people who prefer not to engage in full-frontal body-to-body contact find themselves pressured into it anyway. Resentment builds, especially when the hugger is the boss and subordinates feel they have no choice. Throw in the male-female dynamic and you have all the ingredients for misunderstandings, bad feelings and potential legal action. All for an activity that doesn’t really belong in a professional setting in the first place!
The good news is that we all are within our rights to set boundaries. Is Mr. Bear-Hug headed your way? Step back, smile, cheerfully announce, “I’m not a hugger,” and stick out your hand for a handshake. If necessary, keep him at arm’s length by gripping his elbow with your free hand. Those who can carry it off could become known for a high-five or even fist bump.
If it’s your boss who’s the problem, you need to be able to come clean and say, “You know, I’m not comfortable hugging and would prefer just a friendly hello.” Use your words! He/she should be able to respect that. (If not, you have other problems.)
Of course, there are times when a brief, sincere, above-the-waist hug is appropriate. When someone announces a pregnancy or that a close relative has just died. When you haven’t seen each other in a very long time. When your company wins a huge piece of business. As long as it’s mutual and voluntary, then great. But do consider that we got along just fine with handshakes for many, many years.