To hug or not to hug. You can be sure that in the days of the male dominated work force that was not an item on the personnel manager’s agenda. A firm handshake — emphasize firm — was what opened and finished a meeting and what closed a deal. If you see a hug on the HBO television series “Mad Men,” you can be sure that the action about to follow is personal, not business.

But today’s diverse workforce may sometimes feel the need to bestow a friendly hug on a coworker or business client with whom a close business relationship has developed. In November of 2013 two marketing mavens even attempted to launch a “Business HUG Day,” with the initials standing for Hear, Understand, and Give back — all key components of a nurturing workplace that many companies are trying to become.

The HUG proponents argued that “your customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

There is also a National Hugging Day, which was started in 1986 by a Michigan psychologist working with juvenile delinquents. It was scheduled for January 21 of this year.

While National HUG Day or National Hugging Day have not gained much traction, many professionals still ponder the question — to hug or not to hug — when greeting or bidding farewell to colleagues. And new research from a California-based staffing firm, the Creative Group, suggests that hugging among coworkers is gradually becoming more popular. More than half (54 percent) of advertising and marketing executives surveyed said this practice is at least somewhat common in the United States, up from 30 percent five years ago.

While the research shows that hugging at work is on the rise, it’s a different story when it comes to meeting clients. More than three-quarters (77 percent) of respondents said business hugs are rarely, if ever, appropriate in this context, up one point from 2011.

“Business hugs may be more prevalent today, but they might not be welcomed by everyone,” says Diane Domeyer, executive director of the Creative Group. “When greeting colleagues, consider the environment and tune into body language. Even if you’re a natural hugger, it’s best to offer a handshake when you sense a hug may make someone uncomfortable.”

Advertising and marketing executives were asked, “In general, how common is it for you to greet the following individuals with a hug instead of a handshake in the United States?” Their responses:

In the most recent poll only 10 percent chose “very common” — if the other person is a co-worker you know well or it has been a while since you have seen him or her.” Five years ago only 7 percent chose that response. But 44 percent chose “somewhat common,” compared to 23 percent five years.

Hugging in the workplace is much less acceptable when interacting with clients or business contacts. Only 5 percent of the respondents felt it was very common and 17 percent identified it as somewhat common. And 77 percent indicated that hugging a client or business client was either rarely appropriate or never appropriate. Five years ago 76 percent of those surveyed felt similarly.

The Creative Group offers three tips for greeting business contacts with grace:

Master the handshake. A firm handshake is a safe bet as it’s a standard greeting in many parts of the world — and one that isn’t apt to offend.

Go in the right order. If you are meeting with a group of people, exchange pleasantries with new contacts before those you already know. Also, make a point to introduce junior-ranking employees to senior-level staff.

Avert awkwardness. Not a fan of business hugs? Protect your personal space by extending your hand early when approaching colleagues to signal your preference.

The survey was developed by the Creative Group and conducted by an independent research firm. It included responses from more than 400 U.S. advertising and marketing executives.

The Creative Group, based in Menlo Park, California, specializes in placing a range of highly skilled interactive, design, marketing, advertising and public relations professionals with a variety of firms on a project, contract-to-hire and full-time basis. More information, including online job-hunting services, candidate portfolios and TCG’s blog, can be found at www.creativegroup.com.

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