It’s World Hug Day, but should you show affection in the workplace?

Its origins are sketchy, but today is World Hug Day, and the idea is to share the hugs in the name of spreading goodwill and happiness.

Across social media site Twitter, under the hashtag #worldhugday, countless people are sharing “virtual hugs” and encouraging everyone to hug in real life.

Australian media personality Lisa Wilkinson, host of the Channel 9 breakfast show Today, was among those vocal about the idea.

“Morning! Today is World Hug Day. And you know what that means. Go on…you’ll never have a better excuse. @thetodayshow #WorldHugDay”, she tweeted.

Indigenous strategist and principal of training and development business Arrilla, Shelley Reys, joined the chorus tweeting, “Today is world hug day!! #worldhugday Give someone a hug today.”

While the sentiment is positive, when it comes to the workplace, it raises the question of appropriate etiquette towards staff and colleagues.

As the boss, is it OK today, or at any time to hug your team? And can colleagues share a friendly hug like friends often do when they meet and greet?

Psychologist and founder of workplace training resources business Seven Dimensions, Eve Ash, is convinced that hugs should remain out of the professional workplace.

“It is not appropriate,” she says. “Laws have just increased on bullying and harassment in the workplace. There are so many different cultures in a workplace, and just because people work together it does not mean that they are close friends,” she says.

Implementing an idea like World Hug Day, or bringing a culture of hugging colleagues into a business could anger people, Ash says. She says hugs should be kept out of work hours.

“I can’t think of a workplace that would say, that this (hugging) is ‘us’,” she says.

The fact that hugging is a physical act is one of the key the issues, Ash says. If employers wish to boost camaraderie in the workplace, she suggests it is best to translate the idea of a physical hug into “doing something good for others”.

“Laughing is a feel food factor, and it makes work enjoyable…caring for others is a better way of expressing a hug,” she says.

Public relations specialist from The PR Group, Cristina Whittington, has a different view.

“I think hugs are perfectly welcome in the workplace if you feel comfortable enough with your work colleagues to do so,” she says.

“Here we like to give each other hugs when we are saying goodbye, especially after a tough week at work or if someone is about to go on holiday. But you shouldn’t force it.”

Whittington thinks hugs are probably more acceptable in female dominated professions or creative industries such as public relations, as opposed to traditional corporate fields.

“In PR, it is all about relationships. So as you build up relationships with your clients, journalists and other people in your network, it becomes more acceptable to welcome each other with a kiss and a hug. I always try to take the other persons lead though. And once you have done it once, that becomes the standard for next time,” she says.

Whittington says Australian workplaces can be more reserved that in the UK, where she finds workplace relations more akin to Europe.

“Kissing people on the cheek when you meet them is the norm. I always thought a handshake was an acceptable welcome when first meeting someone, but in the UK I quickly found out you were expected to go in for the kiss. Not once, but twice. When I would try and start with a handshake, it always got awkward.”

The co-founders of Melbourne-based App development company Imagine Team are also in favour of the occasional workplace hug.

Zakaria Bouguettaya and Andrew Clapham work in a relaxed co-working space, and are not afraid of a sporadic hug in celebration when some tricky technology coding goes right, or a fun “high five”.

“We worked in a different co-working space with civil engineers before, it was very dry, there was no hugging whatsoever,” they say.


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