February 1, 1998 in Nation/World

Health Care Firm Embraces Hugs Friendly Embrace Helps Boost Morale Of Employees, Nursing Home Residents

Mitch Weiss Associated Press
 

Nice job on that earnings report, Jones! Mind if I hug you?

Hugging has become corporate policy at Health Care & Retirement Corp. The health care company endorses a friendly embrace as a way to boost the morale of its 20,000 employees and residents of its 129 nursing homes.

“You feel good when you give someone a hug. I know I do,” says Brandi Theisen, a secretary who has hugged and been hugged. “You know, you walk into a room and greet people. You hug and say hello. It’s like greeting old friends. It’s warm and friendly.”

Could this sort of corporate group hug leave the hugger and the company open to sexual harassment complaints?

The company says there’s one important rule: The hugger must get the hug-ee’s permission before the embrace can begin.

“What we’re trying to do is create what I call a caring culture, a caring company,” says Harley King, the HCR customer service director who brought hugging into the front office. “You can’t force anybody to hug.”

He started a program called “Circle of Care” in 1988 to create an office atmosphere that would make workers not only want to come to work but to do a good job.

All workers - executives included - take an 11-hour training session on how to compliment others when they do a good job, how to be kind and considerate to employees and patients who may be having a bad day, and, of course, how to hug properly.

There are several kinds of hug, says psychologist Greg Risberg, who conducts the seminars for HCR. They range from sympathetic embrace to a celebratory “Gee, you did a great job!” hug.

But, he counsels, not all hugs are good.

“I don’t encourage people to find the person they find most attractive and go up to her and give her a hug,” he says with a chuckle.

So far, the company says, no one who’s been hugged under the HCR corporate umbrella has complained.

That proves the need for such a program, King says.

“The average human being needs eight to 10 hugs a day - four at a minimum,” he says.

“There’s so much negativism in the world today. There’s so much bad things going on. We’re trying to create an environment in which it’s OK to care, it’s OK to give of yourself and be open.”

It’s OK to a point, says William Senhauser, a lawyer for the Toledo-based Equal Justice Foundation, which handles sexual harassment cases.

“As long as the person has the right to say no to a hug, I don’t see anything wrong with the policy,” he says.

Come on, big guy, give me a good hug.


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