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Must We Kiss on the Job?

Vivia Chen

September 20, 2013

Smooch_by_coward_lion_FotoliaMaybe I'm not that cuddly. Or maybe I know flu season is about to come on, and I instinctively want to protect myself. For whatever reason, I feel there's way too much kissing and hugging on the job.

Not that I'm totally against affection between colleagues. If you haven't seen someone in a while or your officemate just won America's Next Top Model contest—by all means do the hug thing.

I'm talking about situations where a handshake should suffice. But have you noticed that business folks are now behaving like a bevy of homecoming queen contestants when they see each other? So much smooching! You certainly see that when female professionals interact with each other, but increasingly, everyone seems to jumping into the act.

It's not just my imagination. Psychologist Peggy Drexler has observed the same thing. She writes that "America has become a hugging culture" in The Wall Street Journal:

We remain a "medium touch" culture—more physically demonstrative than Japan, where a bow is the all-purpose hello and goodbye, but less demonstrative than Latin or Eastern European cultures, where hugs are robust and can include a kiss on both cheeks. But we do seem to be hugging more.

We are hugging more but what's the point? Some might attribute this to the feminization of the workplace and how we're getting more collaborative. But I don't buy it.

In fact, I'd say it's unnatural for people to express so much love, especially when they might not even like each other.

Apparently I'm not alone in feeling that all of this promotes hypocrisy. "I find it completely annoying," says a senior counsel at a Fortune 500 company about some of the women she works with. "Women who have never supported me in my career try to hug me as a way of saying, 'I really am not a bitch.' Instead of hugging me, promote me and give me the title I deserve." Ironically, she adds, "the people who were my biggest supporters never hugged me."

Indeed, some people feel there's a coercive element to these displays of affection—especially if it's being promoted by the boss. "I think there is way too much kissing and hugging at work, for both men and women," says a male lawyer at a major company. "If leaders kiss, and I’ve seen men and women start this trend, or hug—and men often do the man hug [shaking hands while hugging], then the subordinates will feel obligated to do so.  That is where the problem lies—people may feel forced to kiss and hug when they are uncomfortable doing so." 

His rule of thumb: "Hug and kiss your family and friends; shake hands or bow at work."

What do you think? Is all this PDA (that means "public display of affection," in case you forgot) at work promoting collegiality? Or are you tired of the whole show?


Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email chief blogger Vivia Chen at [email protected] 

Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist


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I joke about this all the time with my friends and colleagues - we do "fist-bumps" instead of all this huggy-kissy stuff, just to show how ridiculous things have gotten.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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