Stop hugging at work or you’ll be hugging the HR manager

2019-04-29T08:49:44+00:00 May 1st, 2019|Categories: Opinion, Print|Tags: , , , , , , |

Some people are huggers. Their first instinct in every situation is to fly at someone, arms outstretched, squealing at them.
I’m not one of them. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. I’ll happily hug someone I’m close to or someone who’s visibly upset and makes it clear they’d benefit from a hug. Hugs are for loved ones, and only for everyone else at times of high emotion.
What hugs – and their nefarious cousin, the air kiss – are emphatically not for, is work.
Hugging at work is one of these recent American trends like taking coconut oil in your coffee that makes some of us feel a little uncomfortable but others downright sick to the stomach.
Work used to be the place you were sure nobody would try to hug you, but those of us who aren’t huggers aren’t safe anywhere now. After years of dealing with PR people whose first move in every meeting is to grab the unsuspecting colleague for a smooch and a prolonged hug, I can now “pass” as a hugger. But it takes a lot out of me.
Reluctance to hug work colleagues has nothing to do with Me Too (the kind of boss who uses hugs to cop a creepy feel is a whole other article). It’s just good old fashioned discomfort at too much physical contact in the wrong context.
And it turns out I am not alone. A survey of 2000 people by the website TotalJobs finds that 76% of people would prefer if physical contact was reduced in the workplace. 25% avoid a colleague or client due to their choice of greeting and 27% want an end to cheek or air kissing at work.
Like so many other things, this is a very culturally specific problem. This is a British survey, but in this we are very like our neighbours across the Irish Sea. Irish people don’t tend to be demonstrative. We’re too easily mortified.
In France it’s customary for men to shake hands every morning at work, and for women to exchange bisous (that’s a kiss on each cheek if you’re not au fait). Men and women also exchange bisous with each other. Germans also shake hands at the beginning of every working day. In Holland, the cheek kissing gets complicated – one per cheek then another one, like some kind of terrifying Dutch roulette where you just know you’re going to hit their mouth if you go for the wrong side.
In my working life I’ve been lucky to get an audible grunt before 11am from behind the monitor of most people I’ve worked with. But I’ve worked in newsrooms, the last refuge of the surly, where expectations of interpersonal behavior extend just as far as toleration and basic personal hygiene.
I’m usually the chirpiest person in the vicinity, but in this environment that’s a very relative term indeed. I’d probably be considered somewhere between Wednesday Addams and Victor Meldrew on the cuddly spectrum in any normal workplace.
And while journalism is usually what is these days called a ‘safe space’ for misanthropy, the lines between journalism and PR are constantly blurring, and a particular type of PR person loves nothing more than close physical contact. #NotallPRs, of course, but you can usually tell who they are in advance, because they sign their emails with kisses.
I’m not sure if this happens in any other workplace – do teachers do it?
“Dear Mrs Murphy, Sean is coming to assist in your class for an hour because I will go off my rocker if I have to look at him for five more minutes today. Yours, Mr Walsh. X”
Or doctors? You’ve heard of Doctors without Borders, here’s Doctors without Boundaries!
“Dear Mr O’Callaghan, The patient 34F complains of pain in her metatarsals. Please advise, hun. Yrs, Dr O’Leary, X”
I don’t think so.
So perhaps the more demonstrative among us should pay some attention to the results from TotalJobs.
68% have called for clearer guidance on workplace greetings. Face it, a workplace should be guided by cultural norms. In Ireland and the UK, we tend to only hug or kiss people we know well on greeting them. And workplaces should follow suit. Nothing wrong with a handshake, for men or women – and I’m firmly of the probably very old fashioned belief that you can tell a lot about someone by their handshake.
People say they can gauge when someone is a hugger. This is patently not true. If 76% of people want a reduction in physical contact, that’s 24% of you who are causing the trouble.
If you think you should hug someone – they’re upset, they’re happy, they’ve just won the Champions League – ask if they want a hug. Keep it simple. Or the next person you’ll be hugging just might be the HR manager.

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