People exchanging digital hugs and kisses is nothing new, particularly in the age of Twitter and texting. But the “xoxo” sign-off once reserved for friends or family you would actually hug and kiss is now appearing in work emails. A recent article for The Atlantic explores the distinctly female trend, asking whether X’s and O’s are feminizing the workplace or undermining women’s professionalism.
On the one hand, workplace etiquette for women is already complicated enough. We have to worry about everything from our heels and hemlines to how we give commands and feedback. Why bother with worrying about when to reciprocate an interoffice xo or what happens if you xo a male colleague, to say nothing of your boss? At best, misplaced xo’s may end in a humorous misunderstanding. At worst, they can cause discomfort or the belief that you are trying to kindle an office romance. More important, as the Atlantic article asks, “Why, after all the strides we’ve made to be taken seriously at work, must we end our e‑mails with the digital equivalent of a pink Gelly Roll pen?”
Yet power players like Arianna Huffington, Wendy Williams and Diane Sawyer all xo. Norah Ephron‘s effusive xo-ing matched her effusive personality. In You Just Don’t Understand, sociolinguist Deborah Tannen points out that for men, conversation is about negotiating status, while for women, conversation is about negotiating closeness and intimacy. If communication is how women bond, a preference for ending emails to female colleagues with a more intimate “xoxo” instead of a relatively icy “regards” makes a lot of sense. Perhaps xo-ing isn’t unprofessional, then, but part of a new type of professionalism being created by women who finally have offices of their own?
While there are valid points for and against hugs and kisses in the office, professionalism is mission critical to young women climbing career ladders. Frankly, it’s just not worth risking. Yes, context matters a lot; finance norms are not the same as fashion norms, and hugs and kisses to a close female colleague or peer are very different than hugs and kisses to your older male boss. If you must xo, whether you would actually hug and kiss the recipient is probably a good litmus test. But there is never anything wrong with “best,” “thanks” or “regards.”
Do you “xo” your coworkers? Do they “xo” you? Or do you think that digital hugs and kisses at work are equally as inappropriate as real ones? Tell us in the comments.
Kirsten Murray holds a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics in Gender, Development and Globalization. She managed a daily research publication for a large hedge fund in the New York area but has since traded in her city slicker status for life on an Indiana farm, where she is pursuing her goal of being a writer. You can follow her rural mishaps and adventures on her blog, www.dupontdiaries.com.
What an adorable point of controversy! I exclusively work freelance from home, so no office politics, but ALL of my work communication is via email. When I started, I would have said 'Absolutely not!' to email X's and O's, opting for stringent professionalism. But after a few months alone at home and a few bubbly, smiley-face-ridden emails from colleagues, I realized that it's just a lot more pleasant to communicate that way. If you're the kind of professional woman who hugs co-workers in greeting IRL, by all means include it in your emails. Let your personality show in that most common communication! Plus, your digital embrace might just bring a smile to a co-worker's crappy day!