Announcing a New and Seemingly Obvious HR Policy on Appropriate Hugging at Work

Lynn Lipinski
Apr 8, 2019 · 4 min read

FROM: Human Resources

TO: All Staff

SUBJECT: Hugging in the Workplace

Last Friday afternoon we bid farewell to Phillip, wishing him the very best in retirement. As the company’s first HR director, Phillip has been an integral part of the organization for many years and his encyclopedic knowledge of our company’s early, boot-strapping days will be missed by those interested in stories about why the conference rooms are named after train companies or how it came to be that only Fanta soda is stocked in the kitchen.

As I prepared for the transition to my new role leading the HR division, Phillip and I have been working together on transferring his institutional knowledge and instinct into clear and consistent written policies. Many of you have told me that you welcome the change from Phillip’s more lax verbal guidance, usually given only after lengthy conversations about the merits of Albert Brooks movies or the price of Lionel toy train parts on eBay. Guidance, I might add, that often resulted confusing and ad hoc policies such as who is allowed to work from home or what time the office opens.

The need for one of these new policies became abundantly clear at Friday’s retirement party. I know it has long been Phillip’s practice to talk about how this organization is a “family” rather than a workplace. With much urging from our Legal Department, I believe it is time to reassert that we are in fact co-workers and not a family and that not everyone enjoys the “culture of hugging and support” that Phillip has long encouraged. I know several of you agree.

Drawing upon my years of experience in large organizations, hugging in the workplace should be a rare event and not a daily occurrence. In many workplaces, co-workers treat one another as regularly encountered strangers such as those seen during one’s commute or during school drop-off and pick-up. In other words, co-workers should treat one another with politeness, prudence, and respect, not as family members forced to pretend they really love one another or would give one another bone marrow.

This is not to say that hugging is forbidden in the workplace. For example, at Phillip’s retirement party, some people wished to hug Phillip and others preferred a handshake. Phillip, of course, is a self-proclaimed and unrepentant “hugger” despite multiple interventions by Legal and HR staff. While I would agree with Phillip that that occasion of retirement is one certainly worthy of an embrace, that should happen only if both parties desire such close contact. Moving forward in a post-Phillip world, I offer you the following guidelines and principles to think about as you decide whether or not you wish to hug your co-workers.

Occasions when hugs may be appropriate

· Retirement parties, when the hugging occurs between the retiree and another and both parties agree

· Greeting a colleague you have not seen in several months that you have a particularly close relationship with

· After the death of a close family member

Occasions when hugs are not usually appropriate

· When you are sick with a cold, flu, or something contagious

· When you are in a position of power over the person you are hugging

· Retirement parties, when the hugging occurs between retirement party attendees for no apparent reason

· After completion of work projects

· When someone returns from lunch

· After drinking alcohol (not in the workplace!) and as a means to tell someone they are your “best friend” and “best bro”

· When someone is crying softly at their cubicle and avoids eye contact

· When you spot someone emerging from the lactation room. Barbara, you can show your support to working mothers by valuing their privacy instead.

· As thanks for bringing in donuts or cleaning the break room’s microwave after its use

Types of hugs that are occasionally appropriate

· Lateral, one-armed hugs, with a quick shoulder squeeze

· “Teepee” hugs: a quick embrace that touches upper body only, forming an A-frame or teepee shape

· Hugs that last no longer than one or two seconds

Hugs that are never appropriate

· Any hug that lasts longer than one or two seconds

· Bear hugs with full body contact and a tight clasp

· Hugs where your hands slide up and down someone’s back or sides

· Hugs from behind, unless giving the Heimlich maneuver to a choking person

· Clinging hugs in which you hold on even as the other person tries to pull away

· Any hug in which you are loudly sniffing someone’s hair

· Cannonball hugs, where you run toward the person you want to hug and leap onto them. Larry, I know you think these are common because you see them in sporting events but winning the office March Madness pool is not an occasion for a cannonball hug.

· Hugs with deep, penetrating eye contact followed by the words, “I see you.”

I know that Phillip has been an institution at this organization, and that stepping into his shoes will mean changes for the organization as I bring my own experiences and expertise to the job. I can promise you that my aim will be to provide top HR services to the organization in a way that is objective and transparent and adds value to our partners. We have much work to do, with roles to fill and projects to complete. Let’s do so as co-workers and not family and with as little hugging as possible.

As always, my door is open. Please continue to reach out (not literally!) to me and my team for your HR questions and support and we will strive to provide you with professional, hug-free service.

The Haven

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