Try to give hugs to more people at work


The house manager comes in my front door at 8am. I tell her, “The exterminator is in the kitchen but I forgot to get the cats and bunny out of the house, and the cleaning woman is in the dining room, but she cannot clean while the exterminator is here, and I forgot to send the violin to school for first-grade show-and-tell day.”

The house manager watches me run upstairs to change and yell behind myself that I have a big meeting at work and I can't reschedule the exterminator because my son already thinks we have too many ants in the kitchen and I don't want him to think we live in a nut house where we can't even deal with an ant problem. Then I yell downstairs: “Does anyone know where my black top is?”

The house manager comes upstairs. She says, “First of all, you have twenty black tops and second of all you sound like you're losing your mind.”

I look at her.

She says: “You need a drink.”

“A drink? Are you kidding? I have to go to work. It's 8am.”

“You need to take the edge off yourself. You sound like a nut.”

I decide that this is an interesting idea. “But,” I say, “We don't have a drink here. I mean. What would I drink?”

She points out that I still have the wine my editor at Yahoo sent when he fired me.

I think about how Alex Morris wrote in New York Magazine that women who are in control of their lives drink because drinking is more fun: I want fun. I want control. So I say, “Okay. Fine. I'll try it.”

But it turns out that we don't even have a corkscrew.

Fortunately, the exterminator has one on his key chain.

The house manager pours cups for me, the cleaning woman, the exterminator and herself. We drink in the kitchen. I have two sips, and I actually feel it in my head.

My house manager says this is lucky. It would take every other adult in the world more than two sips. I take a couple more and I think alcohol is magic. I think, why don't more people drink during the day?

I get nervous about driving, so I say goodbye. I make phone calls on the way to work and I am calm, and collected, and a little bit more fun than normal. I worry that maybe I'll start drinking every morning.

I get to work, and I am glowing. I walk into my office and the guy I'm meeting with is there, and I give him a huge smile and a huge hug. The kind you give someone on the fifth date, when you think you might marry him.

The thing is, before I realized what I am doing, the guy is hugging back.

And that's why I never drink in the morning. Because only four sips leads to hugging insanity.

But I've met with that guy a bunch more times, and he has hugged me each time. Not like, let's-do-something-inappropriate-later hug. But just sort of a nice, I-like-doing-business-with-you hug.

And I've been thinking about what this means at work, and then I read that Obama is hugging. Men. In the White House. Obama has made hugging co-workers cool by using the combination of a handshake and a one-armed embrace, which Time magazine has illustrated nicely for the uninitiated. (The genesis of this hug might be the hip-hop hug, which black men have been doing casually for years. But, according to Wikipedia, white men have been hesitant to embellish beyond a handshake.)

After my drunken hug, I became aware that men are actually hugging a lot in the workplace — so much that people are studying this at the university level. Really. (These studies remind me of cancer research. We had decades of research about how men get cancer before there was anything about breast cancer. The same is true with hugs. All the hug research is about men. Which is amazing, because there are even workplace etiquette videos, and you gotta believe that the videos for the woman-to-woman hug would be great: Finally! Soft porn that is safe for work!)

The research shows that there are a lot of benefits to workplace hugging. First, a hug from someone you are friendly with can release the feel-good brain chemical, dopamine, which improves your mental and physical health.

Also, if you hug people you are less likely to touch yourself. Not touch yourself like you're probably thinking. Because presumably, you can control that at work. But touch yourself like, nervous touching — your hands, your hair, biting your nails. These are all weird quirks for the workplace that make you look anxious at best, and a liar at worst.

Huggers also benefit their workplace by making the atmosphere more casual and relaxed. The Society of Human Resources says that younger workers frequently hug each other — probably because they are less uptight about outdated sexual-harassment hoop-la emanating from older workers.

So if you feel like hugging someone, go for it. And I'm not saying that you should drink in the morning, but I am saying that drinking made me try something I wouldn't have normally done, and it turned out to be a good thing. And I gave my house manager a hug for suggesting it.

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  1. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    As long as the drinking in the morning doesn’t become a habit or something you feel you NEED to do, it sounds like a positive experience that made you see things differently. But, man, that sounded like an insane morning. No wonder you need a house manager (though if you’d got her to schedule the exterminator in the first place, you might’ve avoided the conflict with the cleaner).

  2. Jason Taylor
    Jason Taylor says:

    After reading this my wife and i talked about hugging and the lack thereof in many of our social circles anymore. I was freaked out this weekend when a woman I didn’t know hugged me as I was entering her church for the first time. Now that I think about it, I don’t hug as much as I did growing up and that’s sad. I instinctively know it to be a great way to encourage another human being, because it encourages me. Even the “side hug” for those conservatives out there is better than a handshake. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  3. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    I like to hug. When I do networking lunches with someone I’ve gone out with more than once, I or the other person usually hugs after to say goodbye. I also think we should bring back the cheek kiss. Those are totally cool.

    • steve muir
      steve muir says:

      Right on Rebecca…have great female friends…3 Scorpio s….hug freaks…hugged them first #1/#2 then hug me…If they don t
      there is reason…don t try to hug…once got 6 hugs at a Blue Jay game from 4 different woman….1 gal birthday…July 17…
      ladies born on the 17 love hugging…

  4. MJ
    MJ says:

    See? That’s a great thing about Madison – the exterminators have corkscrews. He probably has a 25-use multi-tool on his belt and is ready for anything.

  5. Chris Hansen
    Chris Hansen says:

    Today’s one of those days I challenge Penelope’s post. Not for the hugging bit, I do my fair share of that. It’s the early morning “sip”. I, too, started out with a little shot in the mornings to take the edge off a stressful job. Innocent, fun and it did make a difference heading to work in the mornings. I didn’t realize it until years later that those sips turned into a full-blown obsession. Several failed jobs later and barely a marriage left, I have only recently come to grips with an alcohol problem in my life. I innocently built up a habit that I eventually couldn’t handle. I now depend on a bunch of wonderful, caring people to keep me focused and on track and off the bottle. It involves lots of hugging too. My point to you and all your readers: A little sip is fun and makes you glow and bold and takes the edge off. But in the stresses your job, how often will you need that? Trust me… there are some of you who won’t be able to handle a morning drink. I caution those on following the content of Penelope’s post, while encouraging everyone to follow the purpose of her post; Hugs can be had without any type of reinforcement, it just might take a little more effort.

  6. Hope
    Hope says:

    Hear, hear, to Chris Hansen’s comment! While hugging is a good thing, there are many in this society who cannot (repeat, CANNOT) handle a drink to offset stress without it becoming a nasty addiction. So hug away, but do it sober!

  7. Esther
    Esther says:

    I love hugs, so I’m fine with them as long the person doesn’t linger. Being 7.5 months pregnant means people constantly want to touch me anyways – a hand reaching out to my belly is common these days, but I have to say I’d rather the hug than the belly pat.

  8. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    Ugh–sorry but this thought freaks me out–for some reason I have an aversion to at-work touching of any kind. In regular life I don’t mind it as much–although the whole who you hug/kiss socially and who you don’t think is uncomfortable. Something about it being at work just makes it weird for me.

    @Penelope–I mean this in the most helpful, non-judgemental sense, but I personally would recommend zoloft or something instead of alcohol. Unless you’re already on it; in which case throw some xanax into the mix.

    • Amanda
      Amanda says:

      This post made me laugh for what I think are obvious reasons. “Don’t have wine, just medicate yourself.”

      At least alcohol still carries a stigma with it (don’t use it before noon, and not more than 2 drinks before 5, etc.) that would deter someone from abusing it. Xanax and Zoloft, not so much.

  9. June
    June says:

    I think hugging is good as long as it’s not excessive or creepy. I prefer the “side hug” where the man (usually taller) puts one hand around your shoulder and you put one hand around his waist. It’s casual, not too up-in-your-face but gets the point across.

  10. tinyhands
    tinyhands says:

    Sorry, but you’ve been misinformed. The only men who are hugging are the ones who have camera-persons following them around all day- Obama, celebrities, etc. This hasn’t filtered down to actual human beings yet.

    • MJ
      MJ says:

      True. The guys I work with might hug once a year, maybe, if someone really prized rejoins the team or something like that (e.g., on last day when someone leaves for a glorious new role with lots of referral and good PR potential for the team). Otherwise they scuttle away like hermit crabs (and I’ve seen most of the husbands at church to the same scuttle to avoid the 2 men and 25 women who are huggers). Apparently it is not “manly” or they are insecure. Whatevs.

  11. Greenman2001
    Greenman2001 says:

    Does it come as a surprise to you to hear that you need to have a (metaphorical) drink, P? You’re so busy worrying about (and blogging about) what other people are thinking about everything you do and say — I gather you’re never relaxed, so it’s a good thing you’re pretty and funny. Insert link here, for data on how people put up with more bullshit, narcissism, and rudeness from pretty or funny people.

    I had the usual American male discomfort with hugging and kissing, until I started dancing tango. In the world of Argentine tango, everyone — including the men — hug AND kiss hello and goodbye. Once, in Buenos Aires, a tango instructor whom I had never met was 45 minutes late for a lesson (tango people are invariably late). I had steam coming out of my ears. As soon as he walked in the door, he hugged and kissed me hello. My anger: gone. But you and I both know this is a minefield in the workplace. A couple of sexual harassment lawsuits from women employees will put a stop to this.

  12. Greenman2001
    Greenman2001 says:

    And another thing: you forgot to get the pets out of the house, the violin to school, to tell the housekeeper not to come in, and you can’t keep track of your 21 black tops. You don’t want your son to think he lives in a nut house because of ants, but, presumably, living in a house made nutty by you is okay. This isn’t even Management 101 — although this post gives us a good window on how you must run your company — it’s List-Making 101. Fix this, Penelope: it will make it easier for you to make payroll, and it will make it easier for you to not yell at your kids who, believe me, don’t believe that ants in the kitchen are a reflection on YOU. Get your ego out of it and substitute basic task management skills.

  13. Eli
    Eli says:

    Believe it or not, having a drink before work puts you in some pretty good company. Namely, President Harry S Truman, who is reputed to have started each day with a shot of bourbon, fifty push-ups and a constitutional walk – all before breakfast!

    Perhaps it’s impossible to return to a point in history when the leader of the free world could act in such a way, but then, you’re not the leader of the free world – so if one drink in the morning makes a positive difference in your day, my advice is to make it a habit. Of course it goes without saying that you limit it to ONE drink, lest the day be lost before it’s begun.

  14. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I think hugs are great as both parties benefit. It was interesting to read about the various types of hugs in the Time article. Also I loved the video for it’s infotainment value.
    Hugging isn’t for everyone so there’s going to be those awkward, stiff, or even rejected hugs if some sort of connection hasn’t already been made prior to the hug. I think you have to trust your instinct and be genuine to give and get the best hugs. Here’s a virtual hug to you for researching and writing this post.

  15. Bill
    Bill says:

    “Outdated” or not, a guy giving a woman an unexpected hug is a basis for a sexual harassment complaint. But hey, if hugs are now okay, let’s also bring back the “corporate kiss” – that fad died too early.

  16. Erin
    Erin says:

    I am *so* not a hugger, except with my close family. It makes me really uncomfortable when people hug in a work setting. I noticed in my last job that our vendors from New York (I live in Massachusetts) always hugged us when they came to our office and it really weirded me out. Manhattanites seem to be big huggers both in work and social situations. It seems strange since New Yorkers have such a reputation for being standoffish.

    Anyway, I would rather not be hugged at work!

  17. Liza
    Liza says:

    Human Contact. It just doesn’t happen often enough anymore.
    Think about it. Besides your kids, who do you touch?

    That is why hugging is awesome.

  18. elizabeth Barr
    elizabeth Barr says:

    I like the idea of workplace hugging much more than actually hugging my co-workers. It would be great if the workplace had a collegial atmosphere where everyone felt like they were encouraged to do their best work, in a fun-loving way, but to actually touch my co-workers? Or have them unexpectedly hug me? No thanks.

  19. old lady at work
    old lady at work says:

    Alcohol before work = very very bad idea. Don’t do it. Some companies will fire you for that. Plus it’s a bad habit. Organize your life better Penelope, if you have too much stress. Learn to deal instead of drink.

  20. RML
    RML says:

    I was introduced to the hip-hop hug nine years ago when I started dating a tattoo artist who would, at the end of his work day, stand around outside his place of employment waiting his turn to be hugged by his alpha male be-loyal-to-me-and-the-brotherhood-or-die pseudo biker boss. It was creepy then, but the more I recollect it, perhaps it was a little dangerous and slightly erotic. Now the drinking in the morning, unquestionably, I’m all for that.

  21. Vincent
    Vincent says:

    I concur with most on this post. Drinking before work is a bad idea. An even worse idea is to drink and then hop into your car for a drive. An even worse idea than that is to drink in the morning, get into your car, and then distract yourself from the road by getting on your cell phone to make calls.

    Can I assume I have totally misread you and missed the part where you were driven to work and you were making calls in the back seat?

    As for hugging, I’m not a hugger. It’s a trust issue. If I’ve just met you and reciprocate the hug, how do I know that you’re not going race to HR to claim sexual harassment? I will hug coworkers I have worked closely with for more than a year but never any newbies. Don’t like the risks.

    Please tell me I am wrong about the drinking, driving, getting on your cell phone thing.


    • Tanya
      Tanya says:

      She had 4 sips of wine which hardly calls for the attack on her driving after drinking. In my opinion the whole point of this article is to relax and be more personable. Maybe you need a hug!

  22. Anca
    Anca says:

    This post made me LOL, a lot. If I didn’t already love your blog, I would now associate it with all things happy. I’m all for more hugging in life.

  23. tamar
    tamar says:

    Amazing you. Always offering an interesting spin on outside stuff that has relevance in the workplace. Here, in Israel, there’s nothing weird, unusual, or new about straight men hugging each other. It’s lovely to watch. Jew, Muslim, probably followers of other faiths and nonbelievers, too. Does the practice here improve “mental and physical health,” as does the hug at work [in the USA], as you suggest? Seems not though, maybe things might be a lot worse around these parts absent those local ubiquitous hugs.

  24. Don B.
    Don B. says:

    I like the search for the black top comment from someone who knows they primarily only have black tops. The manager must have thought you had lost your mind with that comment.

  25. Jamie Varon
    Jamie Varon says:

    Penelope! This post is just wonderful. I’m a big fan of hugging. I think it heals most ailments.

    And, I love the people commenting on your blog warning you about developing a full-blown addiction to alcohol. Haha! People really will try to find any way to disagree with you. I’m kind of thinking this is one of your secret talents. Embrace it? For sure.

  26. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    Wow, hugging in the workplace. I work with 100+ computer guys. There are maybe 10 women, 3 of us attractive. I have guys conversing with their eyes glued to my chest now (and I’m 50, skinny, and show no flesh). I can just imagine what would happen with hugging! Haven’t you noticed how some guys get turned on by this, even tho they don’t mean to? Heck, these guys are so deprived if you rest your hand on their *arm* they think you’re really are that into them.

    So good for you but maybe the wine you had fogged up your viewfinder.

  27. jrandom42
    jrandom42 says:

    Be very careful on who you hug, when you hug, and where you hug. Unsolicited hugging can be and has been grounds for assault charges.

  28. Lynda
    Lynda says:

    This is so true! Now, I don’t hug people all the time at my day job, but my second job- absolutely! I waitress and by the time people are leaving from eating or drinking, I’m always hugging them good-bye. And you know what, they always come back. Hugging can make people feel so comfortable. And a comfortable atmosphere is exactly what I’m paid to create at my job.

  29. Holly Collins
    Holly Collins says:

    I don’t hug but I do become more personable and it’s always a great success…people like me more, they want to hang around with me, probably more promotable. Hey, on writing this, I’m sucking down a bit of wine, myself.

    I tend to have a wine at lunch with a friend, and, after, anything is possible; funny how that is, but if youre more uptight no one wants to hang around with you.

  30. Rachel - I Hate HR
    Rachel - I Hate HR says:

    I’m not one of your naysayers but I’m disappointed in your promotion of “just a sip to take the edge off.” I do HR for a non-profit that helps the chemically dependent. In our group homes we have “professionals” right along with your typical drug and alcohol abusers.

  31. Natalie
    Natalie says:

    OK – you don’t even have a corkscrew in your house, no heavy drinking warning signs there (so far!)

    Me – I have too many corkscrews so will refrain from drinking before work.

    Hugs – as long as it isn’t uncomfortable for either party, I say bring ’em on! The world will never go into Hug Surplus. (However, in the case of a few clients and colleagues I will never give up more than a handshake thankyouverymuch).

  32. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:

    My bosses always hug me when they see me. But we all work in different cities so I only see them 6 times a year or so. I’m definitely not a hugger. But I hug them. They started hugging me right from the time I was hired, which made me feel more a part of the team. But not being a hugger, I’d probably just be as happy with the fist pump.

  33. Karl Staib - Work Happy Now
    Karl Staib - Work Happy Now says:

    I’m all about hugging, but not so much at work. I have this one woman that loves to hug and she makes it uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the purring sounds she makes when she does it. Hmmmmm?

    I guess I’m ok with hugging if we ask first. Don’t just go in for a hug expecting the other person to great you with open arms.

  34. Jim C.
    Jim C. says:

    Hugs in the workplace? I sincerely hope not. Let’s keep things on a professional level. (Of course, if your workplace is a day-care facility, then hugs belong — as long as you are a woman. Men run the risk of being accused of child molesting any time they hug someone else’s kids.)

    You suggest we shouldn’t get uptight about “outdated sexual harrassment hoop-la?” I have seen careeers ruined because of such hoop-la. Not everyone is as laid back as you’d like to think.

    Also, some of us aren’t impressed by the phony “love ya, baby” crap that emanates from Hollywood and other locales on the East and West coasts.

    • Don
      Don says:

      A man who even has a job at a day care is automatically suspected. Less than ten percent of elementary school teachers are men, and those few know that any touching beyond a high five is done at their peril.

  35. jenx67
    jenx67 says:

    hugs are so phony – especially in the workplace.

    why didn’t the house manager do a better job of scheduling activities in the house? she offered you that drink to deflect from her incompetence. A-ha! I’ve caught her.


    You should totally go see Paul Blart Mall Cop. Then you’ll want to date Kevin James, and maybe he isn’t married and you can tweet about him.

  36. Isis
    Isis says:

    Bring back the hugs! I’ve just moved from Australia where I felt it was much more hug friendly. It definitely improved work days. I think it was because people were less scared about sexual harrassment law suits.

  37. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:


    Reading the comments make me laugh. It is our stereotypical impression, this side of the pond, that the American society is quite puritanical and generally worried about litigation. (If people are going to cuss at me for saying this aloud, please come over and cuss all 60M or so of us. Thanks.) The combination means any hugging at work is ripe for a harassment lawsuit. So yours is a bold post.

    But aren’t there any other social expressions of warmth and humanity over there?

    Even in England, my stiff-upper-lip British clients, who have known me a while, give me a kiss on the cheeks when I go to see them. In the continent, it is common to give colleagues 1, 2, 3 or more (if you are in France) kisses on the cheeks, the number depending on the country you are in.

    The trick with ‘known for a while’ is that warmth is not an instant thing. It develops over time and it helps if you genuinely like a person you work with, because then all these expressions come easy. Like that ‘I like doing business with you’ hug you had.

    So the advice may be better reworded as ‘try to like people you work with; the hugs and kisses will come easier later, without lawsuits in their wake’. ;-)

  38. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    Oh, and about drinking alcohol:

    I thought I had seen it all when I saw away-rugby fans drinking at 11am once in Edinburgh. Until I went to catch an early flight a few days late, and saw some locals drinking Tennant’s Lager at 5am, at the airport.

    Besides, many Europeans drink wine at lunch. Although once on a holiday in New York, when I ordered some wine at lunch, you could hear the collective sharp intake of breath, the waiter’s included. (See note above about our stereotypical impressions.)

  39. That Mike
    That Mike says:

    I myself would like to see practice in the workplace of mutual bows and curtsies.

    It is respectful of the individual and respectful of their personal space.

    Where appropriate, hand-kissing may be added.

    When the relationship is not peer-to-peer, genuflecting is an honored tradition I should like to see restored.

  40. sophie
    sophie says:

    Aren’t you paying your house manager some extremely high salary? Like, more than many Midwesterners earn on average? Plus a cleaning woman?

    So why is your household in such chaos? And why ants?

    I live in the Midwest and get ants once in a while. It’s usually because I’ve left food sitting around. Or my four kids did. A few small boxes of Grants Kills Ants in secure places takes care of them in a couple days.

    Who wants all the chemicals of an exterminator? You’re living in Madison, after all, the most earth-conscious city in America. Think healthy. Think green.

    PS. Booze in the morning – even in Wisconsin – is not a good thing. Shame on your house manager for suggesting it.

  41. Betsy
    Betsy says:

    Outstanding! Seriously, I always feel fantastic when clients great me with a hug. It makes me feel that I am a partner with them, not simply a vendor. Love the mental picture you provided with the morning routine. Could’ve been my house!

  42. Laura
    Laura says:

    Amazing synchronicity – I just blogged this morning about the need to be more caring and kind with the people we work with. I’m a hugger – work with displaced workers – after a coaching session, it seems the intimacy demands a hug! Nearly everyone is so grateful. Had a friend who worked for the state, who also helped displaced workers. She was told NO HUGGING ALLOWED, and it was a real loss for her not to be able to extend that basic comfort.
    I’m a big fan of Leo Buscalgia, the “Love” guru – after each of his speeches, the whole audience lined up to receive his special hugs.

  43. Vicki
    Vicki says:

    I echo the comments about hugging being much more appropriate abroad. When I interned at a bank in Israel, everyone hugged all the time, and I realized how rigid and stiff I was as an American. I agree with hugging in the workplace, but I don’t think America is ready for it, what with our highly litigious and sensitive culture.

  44. John Feier
    John Feier says:

    It’s good to know that we have people in the workplace who are not afraid of their human need for physical contact. Leo Buscaglia, while I haven’t read much of his work, seemed to have written extensively on the need for hugs.

    It ssems as if this is like another example of how people have tried to separate themselves from nature–and in this case, human nature.

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