Hugging Etiquette at Work: Advice from The Emily Post Institute

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By Robert Half February 11, 2019 at 9:00am

Business hugs. Many of us are guilty of doling them out from time to time. When you work in the creative industry and in a casual environment, a handshake can sometimes feel too formal when interacting with colleagues.

In fact, 65 percent of advertising and marketing managers recently surveyed by The Creative Group said it’s at least somewhat common to hug coworkers. And 52 percent said the same regarding clients and business contacts. (You can view the full survey results in the infographic below.)

But just because business hugs are happening in today’s professional world doesn’t mean they’re always appropriate. Non-huggers and fist-bumpers would agree.

So what’s a creative professional to do? We reconsulted Daniel Post Senning, author of The Etiquette Advantage in Business, 3rd Edition, for hugging etiquette pointers, particularly in light of the Me Too movement. 

TCG: Given current events and growing attention on harassment, what’s your current stance on business hugs?

Daniel Post Senning: Traditional etiquette standards are in place for a reason: They make people feel comfortable. The handshake remains the standard for a business greeting or introduction. If you deviate from it, know that you’re deviating from the standard.

The handshake is like the tie — it gets a bad rap. People think it’s formal and artificial, but it can be a warm and genuine gesture.

We’re curious: Do you shake hands or hug it out when greeting business contacts?

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.

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.

Finally, 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 with a handshake, so 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 AT WORK

MOST PROFESSIONALS ARE ON BOARD WITH BUSINESS HUGS.

How common is it for you to greet the following individuals with a hug instead of a handshake?

Very common

Coworker 35%
Client/business contact 23%

Somewhat common

Coworker 30%
Client/business contact 29%

Not common at all

Coworker 17%
Client/business contact 25%

Never

Coworker 18%
Client/business contact 23%

Source: The Creative Group survey of more than 400 advertising and marketing hiring decision makers in the United States

© 2019 The Creative Group. A Robert Half Company. Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/Disability/Veterans.

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