People exchanging digital hugs and kisses is nothing new, particularly in the age of Twitter and texting. But the “xoxo” sign-off once reserved for friends or family who you would actually hug and kiss is now appearing in work emails. A recent article for The Atlantic explores the distinctly female trend, asking whether X’s and O’s are feminizing the workplace or undermining women’s professionalism.

Appropriate email signoffs

On the one hand, workplace etiquette for women is already complicated enough. We have to worry about everything from our heels and hemlines to how we give commands and feedback. Why bother with worrying about when to reciprocate an inter-office “xo,” or what happens if you “xo” a male colleague, to say nothing of your boss? At best, a misplaced sign-off may end in a humorous misunderstanding. At worst, they can cause discomfort or the belief that you are trying to kindle an office romance. More important, as the Atlantic article asks, “Why, after all the strides we’ve made to be taken seriously at work, must we end our emails with the digital equivalent of a pink Gelly Roll pen?”

Yet power players like Arianna Huffington, Wendy Williams and Diane Sawyer all “xo.” Norah Ephron‘s effusive “xo”-ing matched her effusive personality. In You Just Don’t Understand, socio-linguist Deborah Tannen points out that for men, conversation is about negotiating status, while for women, conversation is about negotiating closeness and intimacy. If communication is how women bond, a preference for ending emails to female colleagues with a more intimate “xoxo” instead of a relatively icy “regards” makes a lot of sense. Perhaps “xo”-ing isn’t unprofessional then, but part of a new type of professionalism being created by women who finally have offices of their own?

While there are valid points for and against hugs and kisses in the office, professionalism is mission critical to young women climbing career ladders. Frankly, it’s just not worth risking. Yes, context matters a lot: finance norms are not the same as fashion norms, and hugs and kisses to a close female colleague or peer are very different than hugs and kisses to your older male boss. If you must “xo,” whether you would actually hug and kiss the recipient is probably a good litmus test. But there is never anything wrong with best,” “thanksor regards.”

Do you “xo” your co-workers? Do they “xo” you? Or do you think that digital hugs and kisses at work are equally inappropriate as real ones? Tell us in the comments. 

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