New reports are documenting a worrying trend. Very worrying. And it might be coming to an office near you. A survey has found that, contrary to professional protocol, and to socially acceptable behaviour – and to being British, too, probably – hugging is now becoming common in the workplace. And, as word spreads, across the country thousands of non-huggers are slowly wheeling their cheap office chairs to a safe distance from their colleagues, squirming at their desks and silently screaming: “please, Brian, do not fucking touch me”.
According to the report, work-based hugging culture has seen a steady rise over the last few years. Last year, more than half of advertising and marketing executives surveyed said hugging was common in the office, up from one third in 2011. The trend apparently stems from a move towards more relaxed office cultures, and blurring of lines from work to home life. Ted Baker’s CEO Ray Kelvin made headlines last year when he revealed that he operates a very huggy office, complete with a “hug zone” (ugh) “big enough for two people to get in it, sometimes three if you feel like having a group hug” and that – this is the kicker – everyone must hug him before they talk. Some experts say that it can boost creativity and create a better working environment.
Or, it’s the death knell of not only professionalism but also of socially awkward people existing in offices.
I don’t want your cold. And I don’t want to have worry about bumping boobs with you seconds before a meeting
Because, anyone who has ever felt the pang of anxiety overwhelm them during a social encounter might agree that hugs are notoriously easy to mess up. The potential for pitfalls – and prospective awkward moments that, once occurred, will be inevitably and unavoidably relived, again and again, during every quiet moment for the next decade – during hugs is off the scale. The variables are so numerous that it is near impossible to pull off a hug without humiliation. And now, apparently, the huggers are bringing this potential for failure to work, too. Why?
As if there isn’t enough office politics to deal with, now we could have to consider risks like bumping lips with our bosses during a double head tilt gone wrong, or whether to cheek-kiss as well. Suddenly that split second in which you decided to stand up to greet someone ever so slightly too late could become an excrutiating mid-air, crouching, half-hug. Distractions: was the one-arm side embrace appropriate, or not? Did my line manager notice that a few rogue strands of her hair are now coated in lipstick? Should I... stroke your back? What should I do with my hands? Am I clammy?
The office hug is the equivalent of the regrettable one night stand: eye contact, a fleeting embrace and then an overwhelming feeling of “well, that was a bit fucking weird”. Which wouldn’t be too bad, except you can’t sneak out of a meeting before your boss wakes up and block their number on the bus home.
But this over-personal protocol does have more far-reaching – and serious – repercussions too. Further to the reports that show huggers are on the rise, a separate US study found that more than one-quarter of workers in the fast food industry felt like they were hugged inappropriately. It makes sense – by lowering professional boundaries, we’re blurring the line between working and personal relationships. It creates confusion and leads to people working at crossed purposes. Not only that, but friendliness in the workplace can breed a culture which becomes expectant of “favours” rather than “extra work”, and important formal processes being diminished to ultimately unhelpful “friendly chats”.
Plus, I don’t want your cold. And I don’t want to have worry about bumping boobs with you seconds before a meeting, or, as someone who is six foot, worry about whether I should ungracefully bend my knees to reach you, or know whether you washed your hair this morning (yes, you, Brian). If you’re a hugger, good for you – go and find your fellow huggers, I wish you well. But let’s keep socially awkward situations for the pub, if you will; handshakes are plenty intimate enough for the office. Please – don’t touch me at work.