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Hugs All Around or Get the Heck Off Me: Is Touching at Work Okay?

I was recently reading a recent Wall Street Journal blog post about the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of touching at work. The article discusses touching of the physical sort, from an arm graze to fist bumping.  And the question remains: When is it okay to touch co-workers — or is touching just simply over the top?

Some may recall the “Friends” episode featuring Chandler and his boss’s habit of touching at work. Chandler was extremely uncomfortable with this “habit,” while his boss (and fellow co-workers) didn’t see anything wrong with it:

Although “Friends” is a humorous look at the topic, it makes one wonder if many employees aren’t comfortable with touching at work, but simply put up with it lest facing alienation by co-workers or even superiors if they complain. With that said, the question of whether touching is deemed appropriate in the workplace likely depends on your particular workplace culture. For some environments, high-fives, hugs, and even shoulder massages are fair game. And again, this is assuming that every employee in the workplace is okay with these gestures. Some may not be — but may simply be pulling a Chandler. And what one employee deems inappropriate can lead to a lawsuit.

As the WSJ article’s writer mentions, however, “touch” is often encouraged in our online worlds, with concepts like Facebook “pokes” and Twitter “nudges.” We are encouraged to share articles and stories with our friends and colleagues or send virtual hugs, high-fives or greeting cards. Are we simply becoming a more touchy-feely society because there are accessible means to do so — and does that shift naturally extend to the workplace?

Many see a touch as a positive in our current economic environment; an arm squeeze, hug, or slap on the back is just another way for co-workers to show support for each other amid layoffs and economic strain and strife.  These same touch-supporters may also see a no-touch work rule as a sign of coldness or lifelessness at work. And as many people spend at least as much time at work as they do outside of work, spending that time in a friendly environment makes that pill a little easier to swallow.

But what exactly constitutes a friendly environment? What do you think — is touching okay or off-limits in the workplace?

Amy K. McDonnell

About Amy K. McDonnell

Originally hailing from Ohio, Amy is the editorial manager on the content services team and has been with both CareerBuilder and the city of Chicago for nearly a decade. She writes on a range of recruitment topics on The Hiring Site, striving to bring a dose of clarity and humor to sometimes complicated issues around employee attraction, engagement and retention. When she's not working, Amy spends as much time as possible reading, pretending to be a chef, writing short stories, eating Nutella out of the jar, waiting for CTA buses and trains, going to see her favorite bands live, and spending time with people who inspire and challenge her.

It depends on the context...I don't have an issue with high fives but coming up behind me and putting both hands around my face for ten seconds is crossing a line - especially during flu season.

Dan Hughes
Dan Hughes

The enviroment (worksite or not) is irrelevant. If you are friends, it should be ok. If just business acquaintences, it should be OK to show support or compassion in a time of grief or other crisis.

Dan Hughes
Dan Hughes

The enviroment (worksite or not) is irrelevant. If you are friends, it should be ok. If just business acquaintences, it should be OK to show support or compassion in a time of grief or other crisis.


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