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Is Hugging at Work Really Bad for Your Career?

Career Advice |

There has been a lot of hullabaloo this week about the subject of women hugging too much at work. Apparently embracing your co-workers when you are a female human is not good for your career. Men shake hands. And wear suits. And grill things. Women hug. And wear pink. And like flowers. Handshakes: good. Hugs: bad. Has it come to this?

But actually, it is a good topic to bring up and a bit of a complex one. In a post for Medium, journalist and founder of Contently Shane Snow said he gets very stressed when it comes to hugging his female colleagues and business acquaintances. He wrote:

“With females, I feel like I’m trapped between two walls of a deep-space garbage compactor. On the first meeting, we shake hands. Easy. But the next time we cross paths? Is a handshake now too formal (especially if we got along well in the first meeting)? Will a hug be awkward? What if the answer to both is ‘yes’?! Maybe I am taking too long to react to her ‘hello’ and am starting to look like a robot. Maybe my mental hug-or-handshake calculation is manifesting in a frightening way on my face. Maybe I have something in my teeth. Maybe I should pull the fire alarm, so I can get out of here.”

Wow. That does sound pretty stressful. And you never want to get lost in the awkward space where you end up, like, shaking the person (watch Just Friends for one of the best examples), or doing that ever-so-awkward do-we-hug-or-handshake dance. (If you do find yourself in one of these, I say just pretend you are actually dancing; people will think you are odd, but sometimes odd is better than awkward. Odd people die of embarrassment less often.)

Now, I am on the fence when it comes to this subject. I myself am not a big hugger, but I support people who hug (hey people, hugs not drugs). But I don’t know if it is that professional. But that depends on where you work. You probably shouldn’t hug your co-counsel right after you win a big case in the middle of the courtroom, but in an intimate startup, hugging is not frowned upon. Well, this wasn’t very helpful.

But I think it is an interesting point that women who hug a lot at work may be viewed as weaker. We have talked about body language that can automatically make you come off as less powerful (big hand gestures, posture, head tilts), but is a hug included in this group?

Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman, leadership blogger for Forbes and author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help—or Hurt—How You Lead, who is actually helpful, told Levo why women should go for a handshake instead of a hug:

“Touch is the most primitive and powerful nonverbal signal. Physical touch and warmth are established through the handshaking tradition, and this tactile contact makes a lasting impression. It may well be what someone remembers most about meeting you. The thing to keep in mind is that the purpose of a handshake is to greet someone or say good-bye or express congratulations or to signal agreement on a deal. As such, it should be perceived as warm, friendly, and sincere.

“People with ‘good’ handshakes (firm, web-to-web, palm-to-palm) are evaluated as being extroverted and emotionally expressive. And this is especially important for in the workplace—because women with firm handshakes are evaluated as positively as men.”

All of these are good points, but I think you need to read the room. Sometimes a handshake will not suffice when a big accomplishment has occurred. But when meeting someone for only the second time, a hug may not be necessary. Then again, in certain cultures you are expected to kiss people on the cheeks when you meet them, no matter what sex they are. Perhaps there are some people who overdo it on the hugging, but I do not think hugs need to be outlawed in the workplace. And sometimes you really need a hug.

What do you think: handshakes or hugs? Tell us in the comments!

Ask Kelly Hoey, Co-founder and Managing Director of Women Innovate Mobile, for her advice on giving a firm, professional handshake!

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Topics

news2 communication body language office etiquette

4 Comments

Meghan Harper

I have this dilemma all the time! I am American (hug/handshake) who lives in the UK (ranging from handshake to cheek kiss) who travels extensively to countries whose traditions range from polite distance to three kisses hello and goodbye!

When travelling and working overseas, I always try to match the cultural traditions but in my experience people understand if you go for two instead of one or one instead of three. It's easy to have a giggle, you showed basic understanding of cultural traditions and even if you get it wrong I feel that it always leaves the goodbye on a high note.

In the office, if I am greeting someone for the first time in a long time or we are quite familiar or celebrating a job well done, I tend to go for a kiss on the cheek with men and a hug for women. No one thinks twice and I would feel more awkward standing back.

And I think it establishes a bit of power to my personal brand- I greet people the same way that a senior colleague would.

3y

I face this dilemma often. Mexican culture expects the cheek to cheek kiss when you meet people, so add that to the awkwardness of it all - do you shake hands? Do you hug? Do you shake and kiss? Do you hug and kiss? In the end, I usually go with my gut feeling and the background of the connection with the person (people) I am meeting.

Great post!

3y

Handshakes all the way! I'm an extrovert, and will give hugs all day -- to my friends & family. When you're in a business/workplace setting, be conscious of the personal brand you want to project, and whether your verbal & nonverbal behaviors reinforce that. Great article!

3y

Thank you Meredith for a great article. I ask myself this all the time. One of my co-worker is hugging me when I help her out/covering for her and telling me that she loves me in front of other co-workers. It makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. I mean I appreciate her as well and love that we can back each other up and support co-workers, but she always seems to cross the line.

3y
Meredith Lepore

Meredith is the Editor at Large for Levo League. Before that she was the Editor in Chief of The Grindstone and was on staff at Business Insider. She has written for magazines including Marie Claire, SELF, Women's Health and Cosmopolitan. She earned her Masters in Magazine, Newspaper and Online journalism from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. Meredith resides in New York full time and enjoys SoulCycle, jogging and playing with her Yorkshire Terrier Otis, who also loves SoulCycle.