I recall the sleazy photo editor who yanked me onto his lap more than once to discuss details of photo assignments I’d submitted. Or the other newspaper colleague—a religion editor, no less—who out of the blue one day asked if I was wearing a bra. Numerous forms of sexual harassment come to mind as I ponder a career that spanned more than 50 years.
Yet, at this watershed moment in history—when inappropriate workplace behavior has finally reached its comeuppance—I’m baffled by something I hadn’t anticipated before I became a retiree.
I’m not sure everyone who retires gets to experience this. The curmudgeons, nitpickers, killjoys, whiners, and grumps? Probably not.
Here’s the thing, though. Once you truly retire, you’re out of the loop when it comes to troublesome power plays. The dynamics change and you become an old friend to many of your former co-workers.
Still, I was more than a little surprised when I walked into my old office a month or two after retirement and a young fellow I had worked with reached out and gave me a bear hug. I was pleased, although caught off guard. As we chatted, a female co-worker who heard my voice came over and gave me a second hug. I went to catch up with another man in the office and he jumped up from behind his desk to, yep, share yet another hug.
Conversation was suddenly harder to follow because I was thrown off by all the happy hugs.
I certainly didn’t expect handshakes or those absurd “virtual hugs” where we’d hug only the air between us at considerable distance so nothing could be interpreted as a form of misconduct. These were my lunch pals and cronies who had been part of the rich workplace community I had.
The next time I visited, I figured I was better prepared. Then along came the vice president with a big smile, his arms outstretched. We shared a full happy hug. That one, although welcome, bowled me over. I’d not fathomed hugging the top gun.
Hugs do have their own etiquette. (Check out wikihow.com/hug if you don’t believe me.) The ones I experienced were all genuine, great-to-see-you happy hugs, much like those you’d exchange with an old friend. No awkward backstories or frontal delusions.
As the hugs continued each time I dropped by (except for the time I warned people off when I had a nasty cold), I asked myself why. Duh! I don’t work there anymore. Our connections were authentic, warm, and welcome. When you’re still working together, it’s tough to express that without being unprofessional.
I was struck by another aspect, though. By necessity, workplaces today are guarded, bordering on sterile sometimes. Empathy and heart can be tougher to express among untouchables. Employees justifiably fear somebody might get the wrong impression.
So here’s what I propose to modern-day retirees. Throw on some soft and cuddly duds, head over to your old office, and share some happy hugs with folks. Chat ’em up and show genuine support for what they do.
Sure, some people retire and never look back. You might be among them. For me, those first few hugs I experienced signaled a new role I could play among those I grew to respect. I return to that office community maybe once a month now. By the time I leave, I’m grinning like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, glad to have retired when I did, yet pleased to share happy hugs and laughs with old friends.
Annie Culver developed a knack for unearthing oddball characters and improbable events as a staff writer for various newspapers. In the early 1990s, she went to work for websites where she wrote sassy essays aimed at women. In recent years, she morphed into a writer for several universities in the Northwest. She retired in 2016, yet still enjoys freelancing.