It's National Hug Day; Should You Hug at Work?

Could you use a hug? According to research, everyone can. Hugging makes a body good by helping to boost your immune system, decrease risk of heart disease and lower stress. Since today is National Hug Day, the timing is just right to hug it out with someone dear to you. 

Just make sure that the person you hug wants your affection, especially in the office — National Hug Day or not. Hugging at work can be a slippery slope, with the level of appropriateness up for debate.

While many of us have coworkers we consider friends, human resources experts disagree on whether hugging at work should be banned or embraced. Even if your office doesn't have a specific policy about showing affection with coworkers, individual comfort level varies widely. And if anyone is uncomfortable, there may be legal ramifactions. 

Below are some guidelines, but just guidelines. It's always wise to closely examine your office culture and your relationships in the workplace before you go in for a squeeze.

Consider office culture. At some offices and in some countries, it's very natural and expected to embrace coworkers, whereas in others such behavior is off-putting and offensive. Carefully observe the environment before you hug someone, especially if you're starting a new job, visiting a new office or traveling to another country.

Watch body language. If someone backs away, stiffens or in any way seems uncomfortable, assume he or she is not open to being embraced. Also, if you're the recipient and don't like this behavior, be direct. Simply say, "I'm not a hugger" to let the other person know where your boundaries are.

Try a side hug. There are many ways you can embrace, and they can all mean different things, to different people. Hugging from the front can be awkward. It's best not to ever hug from behind, as that can be startling and invasive. However, a side hug can come off as less threatening.

Ask permission. It's advisable to say, "May I hug you?" or even "I'm going to hug you." Not only does this give the person a chance to ready him or herself, but it's also an opportunity for him or her to decline your invitation.

Pace yourself. Your coworkers may be comfortable with hugging, but not all the time and every day. Be spare with your affection.

Err on the side of caution. If you're ever in doubt, a firm handshake is the best option. Yes, you'll miss out on the health benefits of hugging (and National Hug Day), but you lessen your risk of causing offense.