If you work a 9-5 job, you’ll likely spend a minimum of 1680 hours at work each year with your colleagues (and that’s not including those gruelling overtime hours). With some research suggesting that it takes around 200 hours to become good friends with someone, it makes sense that most colleagues eventually become close. This can make it very easy for the boundaries of professionalism to smudge.

While a hug or a pat on the shoulder might be appropriate behaviour with one colleague, it could cause great offence to another. When it comes to touching at work, it’s very easy to cross a boundary.

The way in which colleagues physically interact with each other is likely to differ from industry to industry and even from organisation to organisation.

Recent research surveying 400 US advertising and marketing managers, showed that 65% said it was somewhat or very common for colleagues to embrace each other, and 23% said it’s very common to hug their clients or other business contacts.

Generally speaking, unless you’re sure it’s going to be OK to hug someone, stick with a handshake. It’s a universally accepted and globally understood gesture of goodwill and friendship.

So can employees touch each other at work? Yes, but within reason.

I don’t think we need to live in a world in which no one touches anyone else. There are ways we can be respectful and figure out the different levels [that people are comfortable with].

There are many important benefits to come from human-to-human physical contact. It’s a great way to express empathy, curb loneliness and build connections between people. Touch has always been an important part of being human but workplaces have changed that status quo – and for good reason.

Before the #MeToo Movement took off, it was more common for people to turn a blind eye to inappropriate forms of touching in the workplace and for those experiencing it not to report it. But since high-profile perpetrators have been publicly outed, tolerance is wearing thin.

The movement has been so powerful that even seemingly innocent forms of touch have come under the spotlight. People have started to think twice before they act, and while some feel they’re walking on eggshells most agree this is a very good thing.

A no-touching policy should be a given, with exceptions possibly made for people who’ve specifically decided they’re okay receiving friendly hug or shoulder squeeze.

It’s important to consider the difference power dynamics can make. You might be happy to receive a hug from your co-worker but if the CEO of your company came towards you with outstretched arms that’s a different story.

In the case of Talevsi v Chalmers, Mr Talevsi was dismissed for constantly touching a female colleague’s hair and shoulders. The woman, who was below him in seniority, said that while she didn’t feel his advances were sexual, it still made her feel uncomfortable.

The rules around touching are always circumstantial. I hugged one of my colleagues today; it’s her birthday. We’re both of a similar age, we’re both women and there’s no difference in our level of power in our office. But when in doubt, don’t hug it out.

For further support & advice contact EAP Assist