U.K. employers may consider banning handshakes in workplace: HR expert
Published Thursday, April 25, 2019 2:01PM EDT
It may seem harmless enough, but handshakes in the workplace could become a thing of the past under new physical contact rules being considered in the U.K., according to one human resources expert.
Kate Palmer, an associate director of advisory at the HR consultancy firm Peninsula, said employers in the U.K. may enact a complete ban on physical contact in order to avoid expensive sexual harassment suits.
“Does shaking someone’s hand go too far?” she told the U.K. Metro newspaper. “They may just say ‘no contact at all’ because there’s no grey area. It makes it simple, but it takes away affection, which in some ways is a sad thing,” she told the U.K. Metro newspaper.
The prospect of a no touching rule in workplaces follows a recent survey by the U.K. jobs board TotalJobs that found three in four workers want physical contact banned at work.
The survey questioned 2,000 employees between the ages of 18 and 65 in the U.K. in March about their attitude towards physical interaction in the workplace. They found that 65 per cent of workers wanted clear guidance from their employers about what’s appropriate in terms of greetings.
Jo Hemmings, a psychologist and body language expert, said some employees are finding it increasingly difficult to know how to greet their coworkers.
“Navigating what ostensibly seems like a simple ‘hello,’ is now a minefield for both initiator and recipient so no wonder two thirds of us want clear guidelines on interactions at work from awkward hugs to accident nose bumps,” she said in a press release for the survey.
Hemmings cited the #MeToo movement as contributing to a changing climate in workplaces. She said the movement encouraged people to speak out about abuse or discomfort they experienced at work. As a result, the psychologist said some workers may be unclear about what is appropriate.
“In an age where workers worry they may be called out by HR following a consensual hug with a colleague or a supportive hand on the shoulder, it is important for companies to step up and offer much-needed guidance for staff around the rules of engagement in the workplace,” she said.
Ryan Wozniak, the vice president of operations and legal at Peninsula Canada, said every workplace is different and employers should give their workers guidance on the subject.
“Every workplace has its own culture and I guess you could say its own personality and people communicate in very interesting ways,” he told CTV News Channel on Thursday.
Although handshakes aren’t frowned upon at his own workplace, Wozniak said he could see how some employees may have concerns about personal hygiene when it comes to touching other people’s hands.
“Perhaps if there was fear of a communicable disease spreading throughout an office,” he suggested. “People may be concerned about people not washing their hands frequently enough after they use the restroom.”
Palmer said employees should be aware of their behaviour any time they’re with coworkers, even if it’s not in the workplace.
“The workplace does extend outside the office,” Palmer said. “The classic example is the Christmas night out. We get a lot of queries about how to control staff behaviour at events."