Three quarters of UK workers (76%) want the amount of physical contact they experience in the workplace reduced, while 42% would like an outright ban on some interactions.
A survey by Totaljobs showed that 27% of workers wanted to put a stop to workplace kisses, while 15% wish hugs were a thing of the past.
Respondents chose a firm handshake as their preferred workplace greeting, with two seconds or less of direct eye contact. Almost half (45%) of workers in their 40s and 50s prefer handshakes, but 41% of those in their 20s favour no physical contact when greeting colleagues and clients, with just 35% prefering handshakes.
Physical contact at work
Psychologist and body language specialist Jo Hemmings said that workplaces had become “confusing” in recent years. What seems like a simple “hello” is now a “minefield for both initiator and recipient”, she explained.
“The recent #MeToo movement has encouraged people to start speaking out – including in the workplace – and has led to a plethora of changes in how we engage with colleagues.
“It has empowered people – both male and female – to speak out about abuse or discomfort with less fear of repercussions.”
She added that, 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.
One quarter of respondents said they had avoided a colleague or client due to their choice of greeting and one in three (30%) workers said they experience an awkward greeting at work at least once a month.
Two-fifths (41%) of men who greet people differently based on gender do so for fear of making the other person feel uncomfortable; and 28% consciously change their greeting with women for fear of their interaction being perceived as sexual harassment.
It’s clear that boundaries need to be set in the workplace which promote a comfortable working environment and doesn’t impede on the working day” – Alexandra Sydney, Totaljobs
Half of women prefer no physical interaction when it comes to greeting colleagues of either sex – male (51%) and female (53%).
Alexandra Sydney, marketing director at Totaljobs, said: “With one in four people telling us that they avoid meeting a peer or a client due to the greeting alone, it’s clear that boundaries need to be set in the workplace which promote a comfortable working environment and doesn’t impede on the working day. It stands to reason that feeling comfortable at work is closely aligned to feeling happy.
“This is why more than two thirds of workers are calling for clearer guidelines on the amount of contact, and greetings used in the workplace. Having guidelines which facilitate open, honest conversations between workers about physical contact offers employers the chance to have their team focused on the job at hand – rather than whether they’re shaking hands at their next meeting.”
Two-thirds of those surveyed (68%) think workplaces should have clear guidelines on what is considered an appropriate greeting at work to avoid causing offence; 15% said they had received any sort of guidance from their employer in the past year.
The research was conducted last month by market research company Opinium among 2,002 workers aged 18-65.