After countless bear hugs, fist bumps, elbow grips, and pats-on-the-back, Elizabeth Bernstein realized that she is her office’s “touchee”—someone co-workers know will be receptive to physical demonstrations of support, she writes for the Wall Street Journal. That got her thinking: When is such touching OK, and when does it invade personal space, or constitute harassment?
From a legal standpoint, handshakes are the only 100% approved physical contact—everything else is dangerously open to interpretation. Nonetheless, touching is a fundamental aspect of personal communication—look how we’ve inserted it into Facebook and Twitter via the “nudge” and “poke”—and brings a dash of humanity to the office. “It shows that we’re not alone,” said one worker of back-scratches she gives and receives from colleagues. “And it’s like a 5-second vacation.”