• Thu, May 16 - 10:00 am ET

Women Need To Stop Hugging At Work And Start Shaking Hands

Romy_and_Michele_s_High_School_ReunionWhen it comes to getting dressed in the morning, men have it easy because they keep things simple: Put on a suit. They keep it similarly simple on the question of hugging or shaking hands at work: Shake hands, always. No muss, no fuss. Ladies, we cannot rule the world until we stop hugging at work.

Shane Snow, cofounder of the “storytelling platform” Contently, has written a brief blog post for Medium about the supreme awkwardness of the workplace hug, especially when it involves a man and a woman.

When he bumps into a male acquaintance, Snow writes, it’s obvious they’re going to shake hands. “I even shake my dad’s hand,” he writes. But:

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.

First of all, Shane, it makes me cringe to hear people refer to women as “females.” So stop doing that.

Second of all, I want to dismiss this hug-vs.-handshake thing by saying it should obviously be handshakes always and forever in a work context. I hate the work hug! But the truth is that there is something slightly uncomfortable about shaking hands with someone you’ve met more than a few times. It seems fine when men do it, but I always feel a bit cold doing it myself.

So Snow’s problem is legit, and I can think of two ways of addressing it:

1. Everyone needs to get comfortable with hugging at work.

2. Women need to fully embrace the handshake.

Neither option will be comfortable, but I vote for option #2. Shaking hands is more professional, it’s a more clearly understood gesture, and it’s an easier move. Unlike hugging, you don’t have to decide if you’ll lean to the left or the right, use one arm or two, embrace fully or lean awkwardly at the waist. Sure, there are slight variations in handshakes, but it’s 101-level body language stuff compared to the Advanced Senior Seminar that is hugging.

I am not one of those anti-hug crusaders who wants to eliminate touch from all human interactions. I often hug my friends hello and goodbye, I hug my parents. In my junior-high days, the members of my church youth group used to bunch together in something called a “grug” — group hug, yuk yuk — and I never hesitated to squeeze on in. Hugging is great!

The anti-hugging movement is strong in some quarters. In Maryland this spring, one school district banned parents from hugging any child not their own. A principal in New Jersey declared his school a “no hugging school” last year. These hug bans aren’t about awkwardness, but they do emphasize the point that hugging is an intimate touch. Shouldn’t that make us question its place in the office?

And sentiments against workplace hugging seem to be growing, too. Last year, in an NBC article subtitled “How a workplace hug can go awry,” one professor described an excruciatingly awkward hug with the president of the university where he worked:

“It was a long moment for me because halfway in, I realized what was about to happen. At that point, however, my body had already hit his outstretched arm that was expecting a handshake, and I knew that I couldn’t call it off. I completed the awkward, inappropriate embrace.”

Horrific!

So if no one really likes the workplace hug, there’s only one thing to do: We women need to man up and start shaking hands.

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  • Bosworth

    What about the half-hug, plentiful kisses, greeting Europeans perform? Is it just a cultural preference? I think cheek kissing is as intimate as hugging.

  • Sophie

    “Man up”?? No no. We’re not in the 50′s here. This is 2013. Some shake hands, some hug, some give akiss on the cheek.The Italians all kiss on the cheek whether it’s business or not. It’s up to each person to feel the vibe of the other person, man or woman. Not all women wants to hug. Not all men wants to shake hands. They want to hug. Perhaps we’re more forward in Sweden where I come from, because this article feels very outdated.

  • Amber

    It’s common for women to be referred to as females in the military. I’m a woman and I use the terms males and females sometimes because of my time in the army. I’m not going to stop because it bothers you. Deal with it.

    Also, who walks around hugging people at work?

  • Laura

    I am a European woman and I work in a mainly male environment in different locations. The men I encounter give hugs but in a very specific way, they use one arm to hug but no close body contact and the other to just touch the back of the person they are hugging. It’s taken a lot of observation on my part to perfect this but I think it works in situations where the people involved have equal status. I find it quite endearing to watch people give this kind of hug and it works for both men and women.
    The handshake is for people of higher status or for people you don’t know well enough to hug, so a formal handshake feels easier. The hug with close body contact is reserved for people we know well, friends, family etc. and for me that is the big difference. As for kissing of the cheek, I have just returned from Italy and learned that they don’t actually kiss the cheek, they just make cheek to cheek contact, great for in Italy , but not sure I would use in the Uk as people here are far more reserved.

  • Susan LaFever

    Sorry, but being from the Midwest, I had to drop hand-shaking in the ’90′s when I moved to NYC and everybody hugged. I would rather shake, but the A-frame hug works, where only the shoulders touch.