What If Your Boss Is a Hugger?

What is this and why?

Photo: RayMorris1/Flickr

Greeting someone in a business interaction should be simple: a handshake, firm but not too firm, a two second interaction at most that reaches a mutually agreed-upon end. Exceptions, of course, exist. If you’re in the middle of saying goodbye to a business colleague and both of you are doing the thing where you say “Goodbye, I’ll see you next week” at the same time while still holding hands and shaking them, that interaction usually clocks in at a neat 10 seconds. There should never be any other contact — no patting of the shaking hand with the free one, or god forbid, a grasp of the arm or worse, the shoulder.

This is the way of the world. This is how things should be. That’s why this dubious “trend” of the hugging CEO is so worrisome to me.

Embraceable You: When the CEO Is a Hugger

In an attempt to seem more open, receptive, warm and caring, some CEOs are moving towards a hug as a standard greeting over a handshake or just a casual wave from across the office as they check their email.

Huggers say their touchy-feely approach breeds teamwork, trust and better business results. Huggees don’t always agree. There are legal and physical risks to consider, not to mention the awkwardness of being embraced by the person who does your performance review.

It’s great to be friendly with your boss, but the idea of trying to go to the kitchen to heat up your curry and living in fear of being hugged at random by a coworker or a C-suite employee makes me very, very uncomfortable.

Here are a few other scenes from my nightmares:

At 5 feet 6 inches tall, Sheldon Yellen occasionally has to get creative to get up close and personal with his 7,400 employees at Belfor Property Restoration, of Birmingham, Mich. He says he jumps on a chair to hug a company manager in the Netherlands who tops 7 feet. Mr. Yellen, the CEO, says a Belfor worker once hugged him so hard he broke three of his ribs, sending him to the hospital.

The redeeming bit about the story above is that it was the CEO who was sent to the hospital for a hugging-related injury and not the other way around. These are the consequences you must live with if you’re going to be a hugger in the workplace.

In this instance of workplace hugging, I will allow it because it seems like there’s a pre-existing medical condition that allows for it.

“We don’t just hug for the sake of hugging,” Ted Baker CEO Ray Kelvin says. He adopted the practice 12 years ago, when bad arthritis made handshakes painful.

A circle around his desk at the company’s London headquarters is labeled “hug zone”; about five times a day someone will stand within its confines and receive a hearty embrace, he says.

The circle is about 10 feet in diameter, “enough for two people to get in it, sometimes three if you feel like having a group hug,” Mr. Kelvin says.

As someone who prefers a handshake over a hug and a wave from across a crowded room over a handshake, I would say that the Hug Zone sounds awful but I respect the need to hug in this situation and this situation only. Work isn’t for hugging, it’s for working. For sitting at a desk and texting your friend and then having a snack and going home. Hug if you want to, if you’re that kind of person. Don’t feel bad if no one wants to hug you at work, though.

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