Touching at Work

Is touching at work more prevalent during the recession (pats on the back, hugs of encouragement, etc.)? In HR, is there ever a time when you would let down your guard and put your hand on an employee's shoulder? How do you deal with EE "touchers" who touch too much and "touchees" who complain? Today's Wall Street Journal has interesting article on the subject: "Touching You, Touching Me -- at Work." Here is a link. tk



  • 20 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • I had a former co-worker who was a masseuse and loved to rub all the female workers' shoulders and necks. It was creepy, mainly because he was creepy.

    Our CEO is a touchy feely guy, especially with women... I am the last person to think someone is being inappropriate with me, but there have been times that he went too far - like after saying how nice I look, don't pat me down like a prison guard.

    I'm not a proponent of random touching at work but it is sad that people have to be afraid of a lawsuit when they are merely being empathetic or sympathetic.
  • Personally, I am not a big toucher under most circumstances. Warm and friendly, yes, touchy-feely, no. Once or twice there has been an occasion where someone who was leaving hugged me, and I have one colleague who I only see about once a year who always hugs everybody when he sees them, but under ordinary circumstances I steer clear of physical contact with my co-workers, outside of shaking their hand when I first meet them.

    That said, I'm one of those "human-resources types" mentioned in the article and I do advise employees to keep their hands to themselves at work simply because it is easy for things to be misconstrued. So far we've never had any complaints about employees who touch too much and I don't think there's been an increase in touching during more difficult economic times. Usually workplace touching around here is limited to hugs of congratulations on the news of engagements or expected babies, or when someone experiences a death in the family, but even that sort of thing seems to be kept to a minimum.
  • I'm a toucher.

    Not that anyone here is probably surprised by that. I try to keep it under control, though.
  • I was raised to be a toucher, but I try hard to keep my hands to myself. Fortunately, I have been here a long time (20 years or so), and many of my co-workers have been here a long time too. They know me and don't freak out if I forget myself. I confess, I have worked harder at controlling it since I started doing HR.
  • Ok, this is an actual line from the article:

    “I work with myself and can only touch myself ... which has its pluses and minuses,” says Todd Adler, an equities trader in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

    Nice job Todd. I am sure that line went over well with the other equity traders you know.

    Ok, seriously. I am not a toucher but I think its ridiculous to completely ban touching entirely. People generally know the difference between a "good touch" and a "bad touch".

    Lets say a co-worker just found out that a good friend died. Another co-worker is consoling him and they briefly hug. Are you going to walk up and chide them for touching. Its ludicrous.
  • In my last job, a regional HR VP visiting my location ripped me a new one because a 20-something female employee walked into my office, gave me a hug, and said she missed me while I was on vacation. I believe the VP's words were along the lines of "do you have inappropriate physical contact with [B]all[/B] the young ladies here?"

    People who are that militant about touching are probably missing part of their humanity all around. Less than an hour later, that same VP reamed me again because the wife of an employee who was hospitalized with a stroke came in to thank me for helping her complete his insurance, FMLA, and disability forms. The VP told me she'd have to document the fact that I had obviously provided HIPAA-protected information to the wife.

    An hour after that, I was telling the VP and my district HR director to shove it.
  • Frank, Frank, Frank. What are we going to do with you?
  • The thought just occurred to me that perhaps Tony posted this article as a cry for help. Perhaps someone at MLS headquarters should go touch Tony? I am sure his job is very demanding. Perhaps he just needs a hug? Anyone? Hello?
  • Paul, thanks for your concern, but I'm hanging in there. Right now I'm looking out the window at a beautiful blue sky with scattered white drifting clouds. Temps starting out in the low 70s this morning. No hugs needed at the moment to get me through THIS day! tk
  • Considering that Tony brought us all chocolate cake yesterday, if he wants a hug, all he has to do is ask!
  • See. That's why these "no touching" policies are ridiculous. They ignore basic human nature. We spend 8-10 hours a day at our jobs. For some, thats more time then they spend with anyone else. Cakes, hugs, prayers, and tears are just part of our human experience. Banning all touching is the same hyper-reactive thinking that causes school administrators to suspend students who bring ibuprofen to school.
  • Um, Paul, it will be okay. Do you need a hug? :D
  • Did that come off a little emotional? I am not a hugger but maybe a little cake?
  • Tony even makes the icing himself. With fresh buttermilk.

    But if he were to ever give out the recipe, I'm afraid the issue would go from one of "workplace touching" to "workplace violence."

    He'd tell us, but ...
  • then he'd have to kill you?

    Is it worth the 3 hour trip from Memphis to get a slice of cake? Since I am not a co-worker I could even give him a hug. O:)
  • Please don't get in the car just yet. I'm having some technical issues -- trying to get the cake to cook evenly in our new model cake pan, which of course is in the shape of an HR Hero shield. tk

    p.s. Holly, how did we end up talking about chocolate cake?

    :back to topic:
  • [quote=Paul in Cannon Beach;716659]See. That's why these "no touching" policies are ridiculous. They ignore basic human nature. We spend 8-10 hours a day at our jobs. For some, thats more time then they spend with anyone else. Cakes, hugs, prayers, and tears are just part of our human experience. Banning all touching is the same hyper-reactive thinking that causes school administrators to suspend students who bring ibuprofen to school.[/quote]

    With the possibility of getting shunned, I will have to agree with PICB. (you don't know how bad it hurts to say that). Our society has become so litigious that we are afraid to be ourselves and to react with empathy and/or sympathy, and to be consoling when necessary. We do not live in sterile environments. Humans thrive on "touch". If we would treat each other with respect these types of policies would not be necessary.

    OK, I'm down off the soapbox now.
  • Over the years, and particularly as an HR Director, I've experienced everything from employees who have practically crawling into my office in tears to those who have stormed into the room in a tirade. I've learned that, for the most part, they just want someone to hear them. Sometimes, they need affirmation that they are not invisible and that someone somewhere actually cares about what's going on in their world.

    I'm not a touchy-feely kind of person and try to keep a wide personal space around me, but there are just times when I've been in a situation that warranted giving a hug to someone who was distraught at work or a literal pat on the back to an employee who had reached an achievement of some kind. Or, even a touch on the arm to the bully who been knocked down by an even bigger bully.

    There is really no way to keep emotions out of the workplace and, frankly, the people I've encountered that never showed an emotion were a bit scary to me. Emotions are part of our genetic makeup and if repressed too much eventually explode. For example - road rage, going postal, etc.

    Joann, I agree with you that we've become too much of a litigious society. I sat in a room yesterday afternoon in the middle of a real estate deal gone bad. The folks who were to buy my house had backed out and didn't show up for closing. The folks whose house I was to buy were threatening to sue them and me and my realtor, etc. It got ugly. Fortunately, we were at my attorney's office and she wisked me out of the middle of it, gave me a hug, and sent me home. I'm sure it will all work out because he doesn't have grounds to sue anyone, but he did seem to enjoy blustering about making the threats. But, the point is that my attorney didn't hesitate to give me a hug. She is a decent human being and I appreciate her all the more for it. Looking back, it was kind of funny though. There we were, this tiny, tiny lawyer giving me, a big ole girl, a hug then going back in there to straighten out the 6'3" bully. Gotta admire her.

    So, I say going around hugging on everybody you meet is not a good thing, but showing compassion in a moment when someone is obviously in distress or in celebration is definitely a good move.

    Just my two cents.


    P.S. It's no accident that these cute little guys - :) - are called emoticons!
  • KSR, if you're still up for making the three-hour road trip from Memphis, I wanted to let you know that chocolate cake will be served tomorrow (8-7-09). Celeste is heading up the company's August outreach effort, raising funds to help kids buy needed school supplies (yes, Celeste is an :angel:), and I'm making my usual chocolate sheet cake w/chocolate icing for the bake sale. All other Forumites welcome, too! If you bring your own cake or other delicious concoction* to donate to the cause, I'll try to wrangle you a piece of chocolate cake for free. tk

    *Not jambalaya
  • Man, if only I had seen this yesterday!! :cry: Good luck with the fundraising. =D>
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