Is it time to wave goodbye to handshakes at the workplace?

With safe distancing and heightened consciousness around physical contact since the pandemic, many are turning to new forms of greetings that are less invasive.

When was the last time you shook someone’s hand at a meeting, whether to introduce yourself, or simply as a greeting?

Chances are, it was before COVID-19 struck. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have constantly been reminded to keep a safe distance between one another, and as a result, we have all become so conscious of how much physical contact we have when interacting with someone. To add to that, a majority of us have also been taking on more virtual meetings, and less in-person ones.

With all these in place, according to a study conducted by Premier Inn in May this year, involving employees in the UK and Germany, 68% surveyed said they now feel awkward about business greetings following the pandemic, with over half worried about personal space invasion. In fact, more than seven in 10 (72%) no longer want to shake hands as a form of greeting.

That said, while many are happy to do away with the handshake, it has brought new forms of greetings in its place – for instance, the fist bump has seen a 9% increase in popularity since the start of the pandemic, followed by the elbow tap (+8%), wave (+6%), and nod (+6%).

On the other hand, the hug and handshake saw a decrease in popularity, at -4% and -18% respectively.

While this survey was conducted in the UK and Germany, we believe the data will still resonate to an extent with our readers across Asia.

Overall, with 32% of respondents saying that they are not sure of clear guidelines on greeting people in the workplace, it is clear that a new long-term greeting solution is needed, the study noted. In line with that, Premier Inn sought inputs from human communications expert Allan Pease what his thoughts were on a new way to say hello at work.

His suggestion? The ‘heart-hello’.

‘Variations on this type of greeting have appeared everywhere throughout history, thanks to it being very simple and achieving several things – it makes the other person feel welcome and accepted, it maintains physical distancing and it’s disease-free. It also allows you to read the other person’s body language signals, which is difficult in an up-close handshake.

To use this greeting gesture, do the following:

1. Place your hand over your heart
2. Smile (with your teeth visible*) and lean forward slightly
3. Maintain eye contact with the person you’re greeting

*If wearing a mask, still smile widely as it will show in your eyes and other face signals. The lean forward and eye contact part of the gesture is more important if wearing a mask.

Smiling with your teeth displayed conveys non-aggression and is intuitively understood by the brain’s limbic system as non-threatening. Leaning slightly forward avoids you being perceived as dominant or aggressive. Maintaining eye-contact allows you to remain connected to someone while not appearing to be submissive.

‘The heart-hello gesture perfectly substitutes for the traditional handshake and can bond you to others instantly, possibly even more effectively than a handshake – it’s sincere, warm and germ-free. You will not be perceived as being weak or submissive and it allows you to still read the other person’s body language. It will give you the confidence you need in meeting new people and will remove the fear, uncertainty and awkwardness most people currently feel.’

Image / 123RF