The do's and don'ts of hugging at work

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A pressing concern that recently garnered some traction on blogs is whether to hug in a professional situation. Technology journalist Shane Snow found the problem particularly difficult when it involved women. “With females, I feel like I’m trapped between two walls of a deep-space garbage compactor,” Snow wrote on the blog Medium

In The Atlantic Wire, Jen Doll suggested that the conundrum required bold intervention. “This is, in fact, a real dilemma, and it is often one only solved by the alpha person in the interaction who forges forward with whatever greeting mechanism they prefer and owns it, because a hug must be owned for it not to become awkward,” she argued.

However, over at The Tim Sackett Project readers can find the most detailed and helpful advice as to how to navigate the situation, as well as the most unabashed generalisations: “I find Southern folks are huggers, more than Northern. Western more than Eastern. Canadians more than Americans. Men feel much more comfortable hugging women than other men. Women will hug anything.”

With that in mind, here are Sackett’s priceless rules on hugging:

  1. “Don’t Hug those you supervise.” However, Sackett appends a number of caveats to this, for example if you’re comforting them after a significant loss, or supporting them after a significant win. He adds that such a hug should never happen alone with the employee, or in the dark.
  2. “Hug your external customers or clients when they initiate hugging sequence.” But Sackett warned that you shouldn’t hug a client if you have to in order to get their business.
  3. “Don’t Hug the office person you’re having an affair with in the office.”
  4. “Hug peers, just not every day.” Hugs should be saved up for special occasions, Sackett suggests, not doled out willy-nilly.
  5. “When you Hug, hug for real.” Be authentic, because fake hugging is worse than no hugging.
  6. “Don’t whisper – ‘You smell good’ – when hugging someone professionally.”
  7. “Don’t close your eyes while hugging professionally.” It just makes you seem like you’re a bit too caught up in the moment.
  8. “It is alright to announce a Hug is coming.” Some might appreciate the heads-up, according to Sackett.
  9. “It’s never alright to Hug from behind.” Goes without saying really…
  10. “Never Hug in the restroom.” For the sake of those who happen to wander in in the middle of the Hug.
  11. And the golden rule: “If you’re questioning yourself whether it will be alright to Hug someone professionally – that is your cue that it probably isn’t.”

Would you hug a colleague?


  • Anne-Marie Harris on 2013-05-31 10:24:24 AM

    This doesn't answer how to avoid an initiated hug. I don't like hugging anyone except my close family, but I sometimes get trapped by other people trying to hug me. My method is to step back a half step and hold out one hand for a handshake so it's clear I won't be hugging.

  • Ana on 2015-04-23 4:24:23 PM

    Often times, I get the feeling that my employer thinks he is doing something nice for me that would merit a hug. I DO NOT LIKE to get hugged by my employer. For example, yesterday, it was National Administrative Day, he brought flowers and some hand lotion for me. He made somewhat of a fanfare of it and stood in front of me after I have already said thank you 3 times, would not leave my work area and I knew it was a cue for a hug. I stood there about 2 feet away and verbally thanked him again for the fourth time. It is very uncomfortable when an employer does that and even more uncomfortable to push away your employee's coat aside so that you can pull her on her waistline for a hug.

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