Hugging Etiquette at Work: Advice from The Emily Post Institute

By Robert Half January 27, 2016 at 1:00pm

Business hugs are becoming more common, according to research from The Creative Group. But should you embrace the trend? Here’s what etiquette expert Daniel Post Senning from The Emily Post Institute thinks.

Business hugs. I’m guilty of doling them out from time to time. Granted, I live on the West Coast and work in the creative industry, but a handshake sometimes feels too formal when interacting with colleagues. It looks like I’m not alone.

More than half of advertising and marketing executives surveyed by The Creative Group said hugging coworkers is at least somewhat common in the United States, up from 30 percent five years ago. It’s a different story when meeting clients: More than three-quarters of respondents said they rarely, if ever, greet these business contacts with an embrace. (You can view the full survey results in the infographic below.)

But just because business hugs are happening more often doesn’t mean they’re appropriate, even if you work in a super-casual environment. Non-huggers and fist-bumpers would agree.

So what’s a creative professional to do? I consulted Daniel Post Senning, author of The Etiquette Advantage in Business, 3rd Edition, for some hugging etiquette pointers.

TCG: First, we're curious: Do you shake hands or hug it out when greeting business contacts?

Daniel Post Senning: It’s situationally dependent. But in a business setting, I defer to a slightly more formal standard because the stakes are higher. In an increasingly casual world, we’re asked to make a lot of choices. We have the option to greet people with a handshake, a fist bump or a hug. Generally speaking, unless you’re sure it’s going to be OK to hug someone, stick with a handshake. It’s a universally accepted and globally understood gesture of goodwill and friendship, and it’s still the standard for a business greeting or introduction.

But what if you’re someone who likes to hug? Is there any stigma of being the “office hugger”?

There can be. You need to be aware of other people’s perspectives. Some teams may be comfortable hugging, but it’s not always appropriate. It’s contextual. Know your audience and assume that not everyone is as comfortable with hugging as you are.

People won’t always tell you how they feel – and asking someone if he or she is open to hugging can get awkward. In a professional setting, don’t impose hugs on anyone. Observe body language and let others take the lead.

Another tip: Find ways to greet people that are fair to everyone versus handling it on case-by-case basis. Think of etiquette as ‘people being courteous to people.’ Would you be comfortable hugging both male and female colleagues, for example? Treating people differentially could be problematic.

Are there certain business contacts you should never greet with a hug?

Stick with a handshake when meeting people for the first time. Hugs are only an option once you’ve gotten to know someone.

What’s the best way to recover from an awkward business hug?

Don’t dwell on it, and then try not to let it happen again. This is why I love the handshake – people know what to expect and you avoid any uncertainty. By offering your hand, you can take control of the situation. And good eye contact and a smile also help.

Hugging Etiquette at Work

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