Your Office Coach: Hug in the hallway brings consequences

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Marie G. McIntyre

Posted: Sunday, October 6, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 3:21 pm, Wed May 21, 2014.

Q: I was recently written up for inappropriate touching even though I did absolutely nothing wrong. When I was walking down the hall, a co-worker came toward me with open arms and said “Hi, darling!” Since she obviously wanted a hug, I hugged her.

My manager witnessed this interaction and subsequently gave me a written warning in the presence of our human resources representative. But nothing happened to my co-worker. If hugging is considered improper, then I think both of us should have been warned.

Now I have a statement in my personnel file that makes me look like a pervert. Although I understand that touching can be a problem, I still don’t see why it’s wrong to reciprocate when someone asks for a hug. What do you think?

A: Something is definitely amiss here, but it’s hard to know precisely what. Under normal circumstances, a brief, mutually welcome hug between friendly colleagues would not warrant disciplinary action. And even if your company has an exceptionally strict policy, both parties would logically be expected to receive the same penalty.

On the other hand, your account does raise a few questions, the most obvious being why your gregarious colleague failed to come to your defense. Had she simply informed the HR manager that she initiated this contact, there would have been no reason to single you out for punishment.

Also, because a written warning for a hallway hug does seem rather extreme, I have to wonder whether you may have had previous offenses. Unless the transgression is unusually serious, a written reprimand would typically be preceded by one or more verbal warnings.

Nevertheless, if these events transpired exactly as you describe, you should take steps to remedy the situation. Ask your hugging partner to explain the circumstances to a higher-level HR manager and request that your warning be rescinded. If you have no prior history, her testimony should be sufficient to restore your good name.

Q: Some of my direct reports feel that I take too much credit for their work and don’t give them enough exposure to upper management. As head of the department, I do have to make frequent project reports to the executive team, but I always mention my staff’s contributions. How can I convince them that I’m not trying to hide their accomplishments?

A: Since the staff presumably doesn’t hear your executive updates, a good first step might be to simply tell them about the credit-sharing comments. But if they are doing outstanding work, then perhaps you should look for additional opportunities to increase their visibility.

For example, do you ever invite key staff members to accompany you to executive meetings? Do you occasionally allow direct reports to make project presentations themselves? In written summaries, do you highlight specific employee accomplishments? When sending complimentary emails, do you copy your superiors?

You might also ask the staff for their input and implement any reasonable ideas. To retain talented people, managers must always be willing to share the spotlight.

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