As someone who has had a job before, particularly one in the office, it is my understand that physical touch is high risk. However per the votes on this answer it seems to be enthusiastically received from the workplace.SE community, so I was wondering what the more nuanced guidelines are for when you can hug a coworker.

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    You will notice that the hug in that answer is deliberately awkward and meant to discomfit the owner of the ringing phone. You cannot conclude from the votes of the answer that hugging is a good workplace activity. – Kate Gregory Jul 27 '14 at 21:07
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    @KateGregory so you should only hug in the workplace if it deliberately makes them uncomfortable? not sure how to interpret the answer's support at all then. – user1084 Jul 28 '14 at 1:20
  • Of course not. The answer said "make them uncomfortable by hugging them" and the upvotes meant "that's a good idea!" similar to if someone had suggested some other way of making them feel bad about their left-behind irritating phone. Trying to draw conclusions about workplace hugging from some people's reaction to a suggestion of a way to irritate (in a gentle and funny way) a coworker would be ill advised. – Kate Gregory Jul 28 '14 at 2:04
  • For what it's worth, after following the link to that answer, I downvoted it - it's amusing, but I don't think it's a good answer to the question. – Carson63000 Jul 28 '14 at 4:55
  • @KateGregory all that means is irritating someone is also a bad idea if the best way to do it is a bad idea. If it's a bad idea to hug someone, then a fortiori it's a bad idea to hug someone to irritate them. That's what I don't get about the upvotes. – user1084 Jul 28 '14 at 5:22

This probably varies by culture, but in my experience (in the US in the software industry), hugging in the workplace would generally be considered weird. For example, I have seen all of the following kinds of interactions, and in none of these cases were hugs offered or solicited:

  • Someone well-liked is being laid off.

  • Someone has had a melt-down.

  • Someone has just lost a loved one.

  • Someone has achieved something special (promotion, new parent, etc).

  • A team has had a major success (or failure).

I have seen hugs -- generally mild, not big bear hugs -- in cases where the people involved were close friends, whether those friendships developed in the workplace or outside of it. In those cases, the people involved already know if, and if so what kind, of hug the other considers appropriate.

Also, be aware that in some cultures and religions, there are restrictions on this kind of thing between men and women. If you don't know it's ok to hug this person, it's best not to try.

As for the question you linked to, note that the suggestion is fairly sarcastic. It's precisely because hugs like that aren't normal that the answer is humorous. If you actually did that, it would be quite awkward.

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    +1 on "in cases where the people involved were close friends". However, if my friend and colleague (or even just a well-liked colleague) would get a promotion or something very positive I would certainly hug him or her and would consider this normal in Europe. – dirkk Jul 27 '14 at 21:58
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    @dirkk: "Europe" is too diverse an area in that respect. For example, greeting or congratulating someone at a workplace in, say, Germany is generally done by shaking their hand. Anything beyond that would be rudely inappropriate. In Spain, on the other hand, when doing that toward someone female, you will just get weird looks; the allusion of a hug along with the double-cheek-kisses is the only accepted way in that case there. – O. R. Mapper Jul 27 '14 at 23:05
  • @ORMapper In the United States, something as simple as a hug can have repercussions if someone doesn't like to be hugged. Always keep in mind that we have more lawyers per capita than any country in the world :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 27 '14 at 23:36
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    @O.R.Mapper In general, I agree. Europe is very diverse. However, I work in Germany and I consider a hug for a huge accomplishment very appropriate, but would never do so for a greeting. – dirkk Jul 28 '14 at 0:01
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    Agree the answer the OP linked was facetious. – pacoverflow Jul 28 '14 at 3:20


  1. "No" means no.

  2. No exchange of bodily fluids at any time, especially if you have the flu :)

  3. No unwanted contact or touch.

  4. Observe how the person hugs - That should give you a pretty good idea how that person wants to be hugged in return. Some women have perfected the art of hugging with just the arms touching :) Know your boundaries.

  5. If in doubt, explicitly ask for permission first and wait until permission is given. Otherwise, what's the point of asking for permission? :)

  6. Don't rush into the hugging. Give the other person plenty of time to say "No" at the last second.

  7. Watch out for context - where you are, what you are doing, who is with you, what they are doing at that moment. If you happen to be at a meeting of the Board of Directors of the company, initiating the hugging of the CEO is probably not the greatest idea. And people probably don't want to get hugged on their way in and out of the restroom either :) The biggest context of all is, of course, the workplace culture.

If you want to play it safe: never initiate a hug, look around you and see how well hugs are received, and observe how an individual person goes about hugging others before you hug that person.

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    Hi Vietnhi, I believe the question was about when hugs are considered acceptable. For example, are you implying that hugs are always okay no matter what as long as the 6 points are covered? Would you walk into an executive board meeting and ask to hug the CEO? Would you mind expanding on that part of the question? Thank you! – jmort253 Jul 27 '14 at 20:57

We classify people into different groups all the time, but we can consider them a hierarchy as to how close we feel to them.

  • Co-workers are people we work with, occasionally see socially and if we leave the company may never see them again.
  • Friends are people we see frequently socially, may work with, and would see them regardless of where we work.

It may be that you meet someone at work, become co-workers and through interacting become friends.

So if you consider someone just a coworker don't hug them, stick to hugging friends.

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This is highly dependant on culture, both the culture of the coutry where the business is and the individual culture of the company. In the place where I currently work, hugs are common and we would never consider not hugging someone when a death in the family occurs for instance. Nor would I want to work in a place so cold that a death in the family did not produce a hug frankly.

It is best to observe how things are being handled when you are in a new place.

And never hug someone who clearly doesn't want it.

Be especially careful of hugging across gender boundaries and cultural boundaries.

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