Let’s (not?) shake on it

Professional interviewers and interviewees do it all the time: shaking hands has become such an integral part of the interview process and many other business interactions, to the point that hundreds of people have written advice on the right way to shake hands and spouted the impact of a weak (or god forbid absent) handshake on your career.

We were surprised when we read that some employers might soon be implementing a handshake ban! Fortunately, there’s no evidence to suggest that this will come to fruition, but the survey they stemmed from did get us talking about the impact something like this might have on recruitment.

It’s hard to imagine an adequate substitute for a hand shake in the job-seeking process, but according to the Total Jobs survey, half of female UK workers and 41% of young workers would prefer no physical interaction when it comes to greeting colleagues of either sex, 76% want a reduction in physical contact in the workplace and 42% want a total ban on some forms of physical touch e.g. hugs or kisses. The irony that recruitment is being accused of losing its human touch, is not lost on us.

We get that hugs and kisses are more intimate and only appropriate in certain situations; everyone has their personal boundaries, but can the symbolic handshake ever really be considered ‘inappropriate’?

The fact employers are being encouraged to introduce or monitor guidance on physical conduct at work is one of the positive things to have come out of the #MeToo movement. Of course, no employee should have to suffer inappropriate or unwanted physical contact, but it’s a sad state of affairs that Total Jobs found 41% of male respondents who say they greet people differently based on gender do so because they’re worried about making the other person feel uncomfortable. And that 28% who consciously change their greeting with women do so for fear of their interaction being perceived as sexual harassment.

Hands up who hasn’t gone in for a handshake and experienced an unexpected hug, headbutt or embarrassing kiss on the mouth? Often these are just awkward, unintended situations which we can laugh off, but Totaljobs reported that 33% of workers ‘well-being’ has been impacted after an awkward greeting.

If the fear of becoming embroiled in an embarrassing greeting ‘clash’ is affecting employees in the way the survey suggests, imagine what an outright ban on all physical contact might do given how predisposed we are to shake hands?

You could argue that handshakes do constitute an intimate form of physical touch in that they go some way in telling interviewers about a person, such as whether they are confident, outgoing and so on – but so does physical appearance, body language and tone. And in our experience, with verbal communication making up just 7% of total communication, a handshake is usually a harmless yet useful way of making a good first impression and establishing a connection – which in turn helps both employers and candidates decide if the cultural fit is right.

Thankfully the survey did find that, overall, handshakes are still the nation’s preferred form of physical greeting – and we won’t be advising a ban on them any time soon.

What do you think? Let us know or get in touch