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Why banning workplace touch is a very bad idea!

Political correctness or women’s rights gone too far? Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to live in a time where women’s voices are heard. Where sexual violence has a voice. BUT, banning touch in the workplace? How can we protect women, advance women and at the same time suppress our humanity? Touch has been a fundamental and defining part of the human condition. We are social creatures who live and perform best when we are in (healthy) relationships with others. There are forests of researching on the importance of touch on emotional health and wellbeing – and rather than repeating that here, I ask you to think about all the types of relationships you have (partner, parent, family, friend) and question if they would survive without any touch? Our workplace relationships are no different and in fact are more important than ever. The ability to influence, persuade, lead is fundamental to our success. With an increasing amount of time spent behind a device, our face to face time has to count. After-all, you only get 1 chance at a first (and lasting) impression. Breaking it down, a first impression is a blink and you miss it cocktail of mostly nonverbal communication assaulting all of your senses. Your smell (grooming), your sight (body language, expression, dress, grooming, eye contact etc), oral and yes, your sense of touch too. “The handshake is one of the very first ways in which we develop impressions of other individuals (Shipps & Freeman, 2003). It is also an integral part of face-to-face networking in many cultures.” This is of course one of the appropriate and non-sexual forms of touch we rely on in the workplace. Recently a survey conducted by TotalJobs in the UK found 76% of employees want clearer guidelines or a reduction in workplace touch. However, this has been reported as 76% of employees want to ban touch altogether. ( and 10daily). Quoting a UK HR Consultant (Kate Palmer from Peninsula) who suggested in the wake of the #metoo movement handshakes and other forms of workplace touch may be banned altogether to avoid potential sexual harassment complaints. However, the research actually states:

  • 38% of workers find greetings awkward in the workplace

  • A quarter (25%) have avoided a colleague or client due to their choice of greeting

  • Over a quarter (27%) want an end to a cheek or air kiss greeting in the workplace

Has anyone stopped to ask why people feel awkward? Sure, our inner feelings are a good barometer and uncomfortable is an important signal. When was the last time you consciously thought about how to make a first impression? Spent time breaking down workplace touch? Used strategies to overcome uncomfortable feelings? (no, I’m not suggesting accepting any inappropriate touch or behaviour). Maybe it's time we got on the same page about what inappropriate touch is, invested in our ability to ‘own’ others’ first impressions of us. Let’s go further – work on our nonverbal communication skills in an age where a) they can easily get lost behind devices and b) they will make us stand out from the crowd now more than ever. Let’s take the hard road - sharpening our social skills rather than banning a form of communication altogether. Give it up? Not on your politically incorrect life!

Happy touch time this networking season:)



“Touch has a memory.” ― John Keats

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