National Hug Your Boss Day

National Hug Your Boss Day

Jurgen Klopp is a fan, so is Barack Obama, whilst Ken Nwadike thinks they are so powerful that he created a worldwide campaign about them. We’re talking about hugs and other tactile behaviour like hand-shakes, back slaps and high fives.

During his time as president, Obama was well known for his hugs and would pull everyone from hurricane victims to his defence secretary in for a full on hug, whilst new player Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain received a bear hug in greeting from manager Jurgen Klopp recently.

And with National Hug Your Boss day coming up on the 15th September, it’s probably about time to have a talk about touch in the workplace.

Behind you and supporting you

When asked about why he hugs his players by This Is Anfield, Klopp said: “I’m really demanding to be honest, and I really want a lot of them. When you can really see how they fight, with the last drop of fuel in their machine … that’s the most easy thing to do.” For Klopp being demonstrative is a means of showing his appreciation for his players’ efforts, and showing understanding that they have given everything that they have. And it appears that his team do appreciate it with goalkeeper Simon Mignolet saying on “He’s hugged with all of the players and it gives you a good feeling because it means you know he is behind you and supporting you.”

There could be an argument that the unique setting of a sport based working environment like at Liverpool FC, with its inherent comradery and physicality makes touch more appropriate, but it seems that touch is becoming more prevalent in more formal work settings, and even societally. Take Time Magazine’s reports of Barack Obama handing out nine hugs to senior male colleagues in a single meeting. As Ken Nwadike said of The Free Hugs Project: “It showed people a simple embrace can make people feel better and lower racial stereotypes.”

National Hug Your Boss Day

National Hug Your Boss Day

Are managers who hug more supportive?

A 2013 article in the Journal of Managerial Issues on tactile interaction norms and positive workplace touch shows support that Klopp and Obama have the right idea about the benefits of touch. They cite research that managers who use it are seen as more sincere, effective, supportive and likeable. Indeed, that touch is a basic human need and can reduce anxiety, depression and enhance mood. The article also explains how touch can be used to reinforce or enhance a verbal message and improve interpersonal communication overall.

Of course, Klopp is German and Obama American, so is their level of comfort around touch related to their culture? An Infographic from UK based National Hug Your Boss day suggest that the UK isn’t one of the top 5 hugging countries with Brazil getting top spot, followed by Australia, Spain, Mexico and the USA. Yet, our own PM Teresa May came under fire in the UK for her ‘lack of humanity’ in response to the Grenfell Tower disaster in London, in contrast to Jeremy Corbyn who was on the ground meeting (and hugging) affected residents.

Touch may becoming more common

Touch may be becoming more common, but it also has its critics with schools around the world such as the Malcolm Arnold Academy in Northampton introducing ‘no touching’ policies with punishment doled out for hugging or holding hands. One survey from The Creative Group said that 70% of employees said that hugs were rarely or never appropriate at work and many workplaces have instigated policies that discourage or prohibit tactile behaviour in the office. A ruling in San Francisco said that hugging can create an abusive work environment if it is both unwelcome and pervasive.

The issue of tactility in the workplace is multi-nuanced, we have seen how it can work well for some leaders in some situations, like Klopp and Obama, and how the absence of touch can also be viewed negatively in some situations, as with May.  The authors of the 2013 article found that the participants in their study were able to take cues from the environment to establish appropriate behaviour (such as noting that hand-shakes are the norm) and that this will vary depending on both the prevailing culture and the individual. Some of us are just more comfortable with hugs, handshakes and back-slaps, and to some of us they are extremely awkward (think Teresa May holding hands with new president Donald Trump). The skill then, comes in judging the situation correctly, reading the body language of those around you and utilising touch appropriately and in a way that you and those around you and comfortable with.  

Introvert or Extrovert

Introvert or Extrovert

About the Author

Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London,, a multi-national private training company with offices in London, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across a wide range of sectors.

Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, United States, Middle East and Asia. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.