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.

107 replies
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  1. Lane
    Lane says:

    For god sakes, people. Between the comments on alcohol and hugs and PT’s busy schedule, I am so seeing the puritanical roots of this country. Not content to follow the “moderation is key” rule of life, Americans had to create a swinging pendulum of rules to define us as “good” or “bad.” Sheesh. If we perhaps regained a sense of balance about things like sex and alcohol, perhaps the “abuse” would cease to be.

    Penelope – thanks for this post. Craving a hug right now.

  2. Jennifer Lynn
    Jennifer Lynn says:

    I love this! I’ve always been a hugger. I come from a land of huggers and cheek-kissers (Southern Cal). Since I’ve lived in NYC, I’ve noticed that New Yorkers are not fans of the hug, and I miss it.

    Also, sometimes a drink is just a drink.

  3. Dale
    Dale says:

    Physical contact often serves to remove some of the awkwardness (the social barrier) between persons, so that real contact can be made.
    As opposed to communicating with people on the internet, which removes the humanity from the interaction and enables some people to say and do things they wouldn’t in another social setting, making physical contact seems to remind people that the other party is also human. It makes people nicer in meetings, etc.

  4. Kristin T. (@kt_writes)
    Kristin T. (@kt_writes) says:

    I love this post! It made me laugh, it shakes up our understanding of how we relate to people we work with, and it generally encourages us to all take a deep breath and just CHILL a bit. There’s way too much uptightness in the world, and certainly in the workplace. (Then again, I’ve been a freelancer for six years, so I’m kinda out of touch. A bit of wine with lunch, some hugs during the work day, it’s all good.)

    Also, just a side note to all the people who are freaking out about the four sips of wine and the cell phone conversations in the car: I think you have a bigger problem with Penelope being OPEN about this, and writing about it on her blog, than you do with someone actually doing it. I’m really tired of the tendency in American society to be all “what I don’t know won’t hurt me” and “out of sight, out of mind” about everything. We essentially reward people who are good at hiding the socially unacceptable things they do. The kind of negative stuff that goes on every day behind closed doors and in secret is what we should really be worried about.

    • Jim C.
      Jim C. says:

      Good point. The hypocrisy Kristen points out is everywhere. “Mustn’t show people smoking in movies!” is one example. Another is the panic in publishing circles when people working in labs are depicted without safety glasses. We must pretend that doesn’t happen!

      However, the whole hugging business is also fraught with hypocrisy. I don’t want to hug some people. The one who slipped a knife between my ribs last week and the one who constantly spreads discord in the organization with gossip and rumors are not candidates for a hug.

  5. Meridith Levinson
    Meridith Levinson says:

    Hooray for hugs! I enjoy giving and receiving hugs, but I’ve always been careful about hugging at work. I generally don’t hug my co-workers, even though I wouldn’t mind hugging them, out of respect for their boundaries. The few co-workers I do hug are mainly women, and I hug them because I have more of a friendship with them and because I feel genuinely affectionate toward them (note that this is a platonic affection.)

    I recently saw some male co-workers whom I hadn’t seen in months (we all work in different parts of the country), whom I’ve known for several years and whom I admire, respect and like. When they saw me at our employer’s headquarters a few months ago, they “extended” hugs to me, and I was very glad to reciprocate. I thought it was so nice that they wanted to give me a hug. The hugs they gave me were “safe” arm-only hugs, where there’s no real body contact. In general I think those hugs are lame (I prefer the full-on embrace, but that’s really only appropriate for family and friends), but like I said, I think the half-hugs are safe for work, and I’ll take a half hug from people I like over no hug any day.

    I feel fortunate to work with so many people that I genuinely want to hug.

    Thanks for spreading the love, Penelope.

  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Hug research for men and women is written about by Dr. Manny Alvarez (,2933,249138,00.html) where he cites a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill study by psychologist Karen Grewen.
    A quote from the article –
    “There's an underlying scientific explanation for the seemingly magical qualities of a hug that these researchers uncovered. Each time we hug, we increase the level of oxytocin in the blood. This hormone is known as the bonding hormone because it triggers a "caring" response in both men and women. Oxytocin stimulates contractions of the uterus during labor and the release of milk during breast-feeding, so we literally learn to depend on it in the womb.
    As adults, that daily dose of oxytocin-laced hugging protects us from heart disease. And while it works for both sexes, women seem to be the greater benefactors as exhibited by the second phase of the study.”
    The actual study which was a bear to find and not referenced in most articles about this study including the article is a pdf file at .

  7. KD
    KD says:

    LOVE the description of your morning. That happens in my house every time I venture to the office instead of working at home – black shirt catastrophe, screaming and all. Have started giving my nanny more ownership for packing school stuff and co-ordinating housekeeping, etc.

    I haven’t tried alcohol yet, but I like that idea! My friends say Lexapro does the trick.

    I don’t hug or half hug exactly, but I definitely do the arm touch.

  8. KMT
    KMT says:

    This post could not have been more timely. We had layoffs at my company last Monday, the first I’ve ever experienced in my career. While I wasn’t let go, I was deeply affected by watching my coworkers get escorted out of our shared office. At lunch that day, I kept touching my remaining coworkers on the shoulders, to the point where we commented and “laughed” at my need for human contact. Had hugs been acceptable, I would have been in a much better place. It’s an essential part of life, and we spend so much time in the office – I think it’s a great idea.

  9. Hayli @ Rise Smart
    Hayli @ Rise Smart says:

    How about a splash of Bailey’s in the morning coffee? Good, bad or ugly? On the hugging, I’m a hugger, but I’m in the south and it’s really a big southern thing. Though in the workplace, I’ve only seen women hugging. Anyway, thanks for another thought-provoking, discussion-stirring post!

  10. Mary Lotto Ross
    Mary Lotto Ross says:

    I am a new subscriber to your blog and I must say, I love your style! The circuitous, stream-of-consciousness path that leads us to your message is a delight, confirming my belief that the journey often transcends the destination.

    Btw, ALL my tops are black.

    Hugs all around,

  11. MLR
    MLR says:

    I am a new subscriber to your blog and I must say, I love your style! The circuitous, stream-of-consciousness path that leads us to your message is a delight, confirming my belief that the journey often transcends the destination.

    Btw, ALL my tops are black.

    Hugs all around,

  12. Jason
    Jason says:

    I am not a drinker, but I do enjoy a good energy drink in the morning. It may be very mental, but it works. I just feel like I am ready to carpe diem!

    I have been a long advocate of hugging. I am a 23yr old white, heterosexual, attractive male who is comfortable hugging another guy. I hug most of my guy friends I have known longer than 3months, and I do the half-hand shake/hug with guys I just met. I usually high five a girl the first time I meet her, then hugs after that. I think side hugs are silly and for distant cousins you wish you did not have to claim as family. The only awkward part of a hug is arms up or down or which arm up and which arm down? There is a great blog somewhere explaining each hug and what it means and it makes you laugh, because it’s so true! But as a general rule one up and one down but both stay high and you grab tightly, but not too tight. Girls often think you are doing this to feel their chest, which is fine,because that makes the hug better for you (because you are) and for them (because they like the fact someone enjoys them).
    The kissing on the cheek, that crosses my line and makes me feel uncomfy.
    So, I am with Penelope, go and give someone a hug! It may be awkward, but laugh through the awkwardness!

  13. SaraH
    SaraH says:

    Penelope, I just love this. The way you put people in touch with all that information – is what makes me subscribe.

    Hugs and wine in the morning indeed!


  14. Eric
    Eric says:

    Oh my! My yoga teacher and therapist are huggers and I love it! It is so welcoming to be hugged when greeting someone. I would love to see more of it in everyday life.

    You are ahead of the curve, fabulous writer and a true genius.


  15. Editormum
    Editormum says:

    Sorry, but this whole public hugging thing makes me profoundly uncomfortable. Now, don’t get me wrong. I hug my close friends, and I hug all over my family. But I do not hug people whom I barely know.

    As I told a new friend, “I don’t hug you unless I feel safe with you. I don’t hug you if I don’t like you. I don’t hug people I don’t know. When you get a hug from me, it MEANS something.”

    I DEFINITELY do not want to see hugging in my office. I would feel very uncomfortable hugging any of my bosses … and I am sure they would be ten times more so. And I have other coworkers whom I would not want to hug for various reasons. Some of them I just don’t like, and the thought of them touching me is nauseating.

    Another consideration is there are people with allergies for whom close contact with others is hazardous. I have a coworker whose perfume has caused my throat to swell shut on more than one occasion — when she just walked by my desk. I have another who has a house full of pets. The one time I covered her desk and sat in her chair, I had an allergic reaction that sent me to the ER. I like and trust these two people, but I do not hug them.

    And, of course, as others have mentioned, there is always some hysterical fool who will start screaming harrassment over a simple, kind gesture like a hug or pat on the back. These people are dangerous for other reasons.

    Be careful advocating random, universal hugging. It sounds like a good idea, but it could create serious problems for some people.

    • Alexia
      Alexia says:

      Amen to that! I am so tired of quasi-strangers constantly crossing my boundaries just so they can get “their hug”. Unfortunately, there are some at work who would hug me if they saw me hugging my friends because they cannot respect other people’s boundaries. I give hugs to those I trust, know and like and these people are not willing to develop any type of relationship with me, they just want to touch me because they feel like it. Thankfully most people understand and either develop said relationship or do not touch me.

      There are a few people I wouldn’t hug either:

      1) Quasi-strangers – and a lot of colleagues fall in that category.
      2) People who I know, but dislike. If I would barely give them the time of day, I certainly will not give them a hug.

      Hugging has a different social meaning in North American culture than it does in others. It is seen as something much more significant than a handshake to many people. I don’t consider it puritanical, just different.

      Besides, No Hugging is a symptom of a general alienation, not a cause, and it won’t be a cure to it either.

  16. The Mike
    The Mike says:

    Let me know where I should send a corkscrew.

    Hate to think this can only happen when the exterminator stops by.

    Until it arrives, invest in some Franzia or twist-top bottles.

  17. Woolz17
    Woolz17 says:

    Like other previous posts, I don’t think that hugging belongs in the workplace. I think there are certain situations where hugging is warranted (achievements, deaths, etc) but I just had to set some boundaries with a co-worker who would hug me 1) without asking my permission, he could sneak up behind me and put his arms around me; 2) only hug certain women in the office not everyone. I asked other women in the office if it made them uncomfortable and they said that it did, but since he is ‘the boss’ they didn’t feel it was their place to tell him No and set boundaries.

    Hugging might do well in some offices, in my experience, not in mine.

  18. Ashtacular
    Ashtacular says:

    Granted, most of your readers seem quite supportive of you, and you obviously rope ’em in with refreshingly vulnerable relatability….BUT! I totally crack up when I read the responses of your starchy, clenched up, panties in a wad, where did they lose their fun selves? readers. Poor them, that they can’t seem to relax for a second about a silly little sip of wine, or an accidental hug after said sip. They know who you are and keep reading :). Guess they’re living vicariously through you, and have an outlet on your blog to be outwardly jealous and backed up about it…..

  19. The Modern Gal
    The Modern Gal says:

    Ha! I love this. I love that even the exterminator participated.

    I’m pretty liberal with my hugging, but only if I feel that the would-be recipient is open to that sort of thing. I would never hug on the first meeting.

  20. Mike
    Mike says:

    I have never read such horrible advice in my life. Perhaps this blog is now entirely for women or a parody of itself.

    Women can get away with hugging other women at work. In the vast majority of work place environments and for the vast majority of men, attempting to hug a female co-worker amounts to pissing your career down the toilet. And in this economy! April fools is far too early.

  21. Mike
    Mike says:

    — PS. Few will admit it and even less will blog it, but an occasional sip before work is a pretty good idea within the context of decent self-knowledge and self control, and one’s character on the sauce ;) I stand firm that “more hugs” at work is socially and legally miserable advice.

  22. Ben
    Ben says:

    This is a hilarious observation. As an African American male professional with urban roots, I can absolutely say for certain that Obama done brought brotha luv to the White House. The handshake-that-morphs-into-a-hug, aka the man-hug, is a staple of African American greetings. It’s the professional take on the pound-that-morphs-into-a-hug. It’s been around since at least when I was in high school (1991), but its funny to see it making its way into more stodgy circles. I guess the equivalent would be how those of Italian descent hug and pat on the back (or at least they do in the movies…now you see how myths and biases are perpetuated). It’s really a show of mutual respect and “good to see you” affection, and you don’t usually do it with strangers. Strangers just get a pound. Or, in more stodgy cirles, a handshake.

  23. Aleka
    Aleka says:

    I read somewhere that people in European countries are happier than people in the U.S. Makes sense, becuase those people do tend to be more “touchy feely.” So hug on people, if we all started our days with hugs maybe we would be a less cynical society.

  24. Aleka
    Aleka says:

    P.S. Some of these comments are hilarious! She didn’t say hug everyone, she simply suggested bringing the hug back from the dead. Obviously, if you feel uncomfortable hugging someone then don’t do it. Come on people can’t anyone read body language anymore. You can tell if a person would be open to a hug or not (for the most part anyways). And another thing, did you not read the last paragraph? She didn’t say “you should drink in the morning.” If you have no self-control that’s your problem, don’t knock her blog because of it! Jeez!

  25. Jessie
    Jessie says:

    a. this story was funny
    b. The comments poo-poo-ing the drinking but suggesting one or more addictive benzodiazepines as a substitute for the naughty naughty booze are even funnier.

    People need to relax… Even the basics in life can be bad for you/develope into a habbit that can ruin your life… sex… food… excersize…

    The key is… all things in moderation. That and learning to f*ckin relax…

  26. Maria
    Maria says:

    EXTERMINATOR?? If you have to get the bunny out of the house, it’s nasty stuff, and it’ll stick around. try something natural instead.

  27. Liz
    Liz says:

    This is the first time I’ve gotten on your blog and the first article I read. I am soo with you on the hugging front. I’ve done Hispanic Marketing and worked with lots of Latinos – we hug (and kiss each other for that matter) when we greet each other and believe it or not, we’ve actually done so inside the halls of huge corporate america. Others look in awe and at times with a tiny bit of jealousy so we hug them too. It’s a cultural thing for the Latino crowd and it was nice for me to be able to do it again once I was working with others like me and it actually caught on.

  28. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Dude, my whole company is built on the hug. (a former Fortune 500 company, no less) Also, an industry leader.

    I have a button that says “Licensed to HUG” and anyone that has been through the program and is cool with a hug will hug you.

    There is a whole section dedicated to proper hugging. Then we hug everyone in the class. Odd at first, but very comforting by the end of it all.

  29. Steve Wisbey
    Steve Wisbey says:

    I love hugs and cheek kisses. I give hugs and cheek kisses to lots of people…and oft even after determining that a CEO or sponsor or government minister,etc may think a hug innapropriate I weigh up the pros and cons…and then i’ll probably still hug anyway!! I was fortunate enough to win a new fandangled nokia pda thingy at a recent business networking function and proceeded to run through the throngs of business card weilding relationship referral disciples screaming ( a la Price Is Right) and hugged the City Councillor and CEO presenting the award. They were mortified at first by the Hugging Steve, but as the hug lingered and the love filled the room, and the applause enveloped the stage, we all realised we were part of a special hugging moment. I wouldn’t have performed such an openly unabashed enthusiastic hug in public if i hadn’t worked my way up from practise on staff and friends. These practise hugs have helped me be more confident and really hug with gay abandon. ( not the sexually charged gay ababandon, the old fashioned use of the phrase gay abandon)
    I work with people with disabilities and when you see the love and tolerance and acceptance they show me with a hug and the human communication this allows to someone that is non verbal you can’t not be swept up in hug mania. Long live huggers!

  30. Seth
    Seth says:

    I am against hugs in the workplace.
    It’s too often a sexual harrassment suit waiting
    to happen. It’s a way for some guys to feel a breast
    without being very obvious. Duh! The same guys that would never dream
    of hugging a male coworker (that’s creepy and could look gay, right?) have no problem hugging the office hottie. Even with the side hug, you often accidentally get more contact than you want.

    I’m not against hugs with folks I care about but have received more
    unsolicited hugs from people I barely know at work than I care to mention.
    They are so phony anyway and I wish that trend would die out.

  31. Renee
    Renee says:

    I love this post and am glad you included it in your best of 2009!
    At my Christmas party a week ago, the corporate attorney leaned in to hug me when I said hello, so I hugged him back. I don’t work with him and only see him twice a year, but it seemed rude not to.
    Now I’m thinking he was drinking a lot before I arrived or he must have really needed one, oh well!

  32. D
    D says:

    OMG – this was the most hilarious post of yours I have read. I was LOL throughout the entire article! Thank you, Penelope!

  33. malaika
    malaika says:

    googled your opinion on hugging!

    I’m at a new touchy-feely office, and I am super touchy-feely, but also the youngest woman there and kept wondering if it’s okay to hug everyone, especially the men. but now i realise the answer is, just go for it!

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