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Hugs in the workplace, the official HRNasty guide

Hugs in the workplace

Hugs are like a great cigar. Sincere hugs can make good times better and bad times, not so bad. Of course, this all depends on who is giving a hug, who is watching, and the grope factor. With that in mind, I thought I would try to put together the HRNasty guide to “Hugs in the Workplace.”  The workplace is becoming a new melting pot. With so many different cultures, age groups, and demographics entering the workplace, the rules are becoming re-written. The lawyers are making money reading the unwritten and massaging the definition of HWE (hostile work environment).

What makes me an expert on hugs in the workplace? It isn’t my years of experience in HR.  It’s not the multiple work environments where I have practiced HR ranging from a wild west small start-up to Fortune corporate environments with teams of lawyers. It isn’t the multiple classes I have taken to become certified to facilitate sensitivity training or the 35+ classes I have led on the topic. Quite simply, it is my experience. I am qualified because I went through the full cycle of NOT knowing what a hug was to be a guy that will initiate and own this simple gesture of friendship.

The HRNasty experience:

I grew up in a stoic home. No PDA, no hugging, no touching. A literal flatline. Formal and un-emotional, designed for business efficiency and very little play. When I brought a very outgoing Mrs. HRNasty (then girlfriend) home for the first time, right there on the front porch, we had one last run-through on the rules of engagement when interacting with my parents:

  • “Do NOT address my parents by their first name.”
  • “Do NOT help yourself to a Coke from the refrigerator.”
  • “Under NO circumstances, do you hug anyone.”

Notice the above are not requests. These are in-your-face-finger, pointing, “Let’s be crystal clear about this.” directives. After hearing “OK, I GET IT ALREADY!” a number of times, we step into the front entryway. Ma and Pa Nasty come down to greet us, and their first impression of the future Mrs. HRNasty is a “Hello Johnny, Hello Suzy!” calling both parents by their first name followed by a full-on “wrap the arms around you hugs” for both. OM-effin-G!! Mr. and Mrs. Nasty Parental Units were not feeling the love. I am feeling their stares go right through me as I make a move to protect the refrigerator door.

My wife comes from a very demonstrative family, and most of her friends are the same way. I come from a home that is very “NOT” demonstrative, and most of my friends are the same way.  In some circles, we would be classified as Vulcans, and my father would take that as a compliment.

Hugging an NFL Cheerleader

When my wife and I were dating, she introduced me to her best friend and co-worker. This friend is as hot as they come. Ex NFL cheerleader, an aerobics instructor with a huge smile and a genuinely big heart. When my wife introduced us, I made a move to extend my hand in friendship. She moved in and gave me one of those “I heard so many great things about you, I feel like I know you, full-embrace and a kiss on the cheek for good measure” hugs.

Being the stoic warrior that I was, not expecting physical contact, or knowing how to take advantage of the situation, my hands were by my side, trapped by her embrace. I wasn’t exactly mortified. . .I was in that halfway point between “Uhh, what are you doing touching me?” and “I wish my guy friends could see this, will someone take a picture of us dammit?”

That missed opportunity got me thinking, and I feel like I have come a long way since. Below is a list of traditional and not so traditional hugs. I leave it to you to deliver a thumbs up or thumbs down depending on your company culture.

Bro Hugs:

Shoulder height handshake between two heterosexual men with an arm-wrestling grip between right hands.  Both men pull each other into their personal space, touch upper bodies, bring their left hands around to complete the embrace on the other man’s back, and then shorthold. Pats are usually robust and loud, as if wanting to specifically convey a specific message loud and clear.

Bro Hugs V.2

Note for both Bro Hugs; under no circumstances should any man gently place his head on the other man’s shoulder or bosom. This pushes the hug into the “unacceptable” zone and is inappropriate in the workplace.


hugs in workplace

“Up high” in victory, “down-low” with a flourish

These Professional Fly Fishing anglers can be seen here on the Evolution Anglers Blog and here at Brett Seng Photo

Up high and down low (technically not a hug, but the same feeling of brotherhood and camaraderie is communicated)

I was in a fish camp when two guys who I know would take a bullet for each other got out of their trucks. Instead of the usual Bro handshake, they pulled off the “Up High, Down Low” from Scrubs. This is not a move for amateurs. Up High, they bumped chests in the normal “I just slam dunked on that biatch” fashion that two teammates will share in an emotional victorious moment.

The Coue de tat was a PeeWee Herman-esqe dance move. This was a coordinated single thrusting of their pelvises forward, towards each other. (There was no sword crossing or physical contact.) They came close enough that all witnesses took a quick deep breath as they saw what was going to happen but then were able to let it out as the two bodies stopped just short of physical contact.

This actually takes quite a bit of coordination and teamwork. Both anglers were collegiate athletes, so easy for them. I am not coordinated to pull this off. This move is probably not appropriate for mixed company, and I wouldn’t recommend this type of hug in the workplace. Amongst a couple of fly fishing guides that live extreme outdoor lifestyles, I don’t think their brotherhood could have been communicated more effectively.  Yes, I did feel left out.

Camaraderie team hug

This group hug looks more like a Rugby scrum and is typically used pre-game when a basketball team huddles up and rocks side to side in unison. This display from an obviously tight-knit group is performed impromptu. Loud music, flashing lights, and high levels of adrenaline add to the excitement. All of the players are bent forward at the waist, and they sway from left to right as a strong, unified team and a single unit. This one is fun to watch done well, and no matter how little you appreciate sports, this will get you fired up. I would love to see this in the workplace.

“Let’s hug it out Bitch”

Ari from the HBO TV Series Entourage uses the line he made a classic “Let’s hug it out Bitch” to make the transition from a serious moment to a lighthearted one. The line is implemented after putting Eric or Turtle down with an insulting remark about their lack of style, lack of height, or lack of women and then followed up with a smooth transitional “making up” hug. This is probably not appropriate in a work setting, considering Ari – although the epitome of a corporate hustler and a personal hero. He also happens to be the poster boy for an HWE, aka Hostile Work Environment.

Credibility Hug:

I was recommended to interview for an HR position. Unfortunately, I was going to be interviewed by someone with who I had no personal connection or history. I was introduced to the CFO who I was interviewing with, and we greeted each other with a formal business handshake. An extremely attractive blond and very outgoing employee literally ran up and shouted “HRNastyyyyyy” and gave me a big hug right in front of the C level hiring exec.

For me, it was pretty awkward, but the exec played it cool and immediately said. . . wow, it is going to be very hard to decline anyone that can build relationships like that in this company. The attractive and outgoing colleague bestowed on me instant cred that cannot be bought. The loop-hole in this example, which made the hug OK, I was still at the interview stage. I wasn’t a hired employee yet. A job offer was graciously extended and accepted. Energetic hugs in the workplace had to cease and desist. 


This hug takes place when a person that is saving a life moves behind the choking person and hugs them from behind. The act is an attempt to dislodge the day-old donut scavenged from the marketing department. Perfectly acceptable in any environment as long as the one getting hugged is on the verge of tapping out.

As a guy in HR, I am probably more conscious of physical contact than a hypochondriac in a daycare. There is nothing worse than an awkward hug. The one where you try to do the right thing and stick your hand out, and at the same time, your counterpart leans in for the hug.  Realizing the miscalculation, you lean in for the hug, and your counterpart sticks their hand out for the shake.

Solution 1:

If you think there is going to be a hug, lean in with confidence, and act as the hot NFL cheerleader.  Own it.

Still, have questions about what is acceptable and what is not?  When in doubt. . . handshake it out.  Fortune 100 company?  Handshake.  Future mother in law?  Handshake baby. . . just make sure to look them in the eye, smile, and own it.

See you at the after-party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky, and manipulative but with the result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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