Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
Commentary
7/29/2014
12:56 PM
David Wagner
David Wagner
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

Doing Business Without Handshakes

Handshakes make us feel comfortable in business settings -- and spread germs that make us sick. Perhaps it's time for a new custom.

Consider this an early warning for the flu season: Stop shaking hands! In a little more than two months, your co-workers will be facing a germy gauntlet of doorknobs, subway poles, bathroom stalls, and even family members. If you want to help your colleagues stay healthy, spend the next eight weeks eliminating handshakes and hugs, learn to limit the high fives, and try your best to switch to all fist bumps.

Why am I sharing these tips now? Well, partially to give you time to break habits, but mostly because a new study says that you spread 20 times more germs by handshake than by fist bump. You need to make changes not only with your team, but also in the way that you do business, because the handshake is surprisingly valuable.

The study, conducted at the Institute of Biological, Environmental, and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University in Wales, asked volunteers to wear rubber gloves dunked in a solution of e coli. The volunteers then gave each other a handshake, a high five, or a fist bump. The fist bump was found to be 20 times more hygienic than the handshake and 10 times more hygienic than a high five.

The study didn't test this handshake, but I'm guessing it was 100 times worse than all the others.

All kidding aside, there are two competing sides to this issue. One estimate places the cost of sick workers to the US economy at $576 billion. Thirty-nine percent of that figure applies to workers who are sick but still show up and are less productive. Doing anything you can to keep your team healthy can save your company money and improve productivity while keeping key folks at their desks.

[Keep your team healthy and become an office hero. Read How To Be An Office Hero: 3 Myths, Busted.]

On the other hand, the handshake is a valuable business tool. There's a reason we greet colleagues and partners with handshakes and conclude business deals with them. The handshake is hardwired into our brains. Shaking someone's hand doesn't just make you trust someone more (it has actually been known to lower perception of risk in aggressive business deals); it literally triggers happy feelings in your brain.

A study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience studied the value of the handshake in a business setting by showing people animated clips of mock business meetings. Handshakes were included in some of those clips, but not in others. The researchers used a functional MRI, among other equipment, to measure how participants' brains responded to the transactions. When a clip involved a handshake, areas of the brain associated with finding people competent and trustworthy were stimulated.

All people conduct an approach/avoid assessment when seeing a new situation. The study found that a handshake triggered the approach response more often, and a lack of handshake triggered the avoid response. Most intriguingly, watching two people shake hands triggered the same part of the brain that's triggered when a person is being physically touched. This feeling is associated with comfort.

In other words, the handshake is a major part of business success. We have no idea if a fist bump carries the same value. Perhaps it's just simple human touch of any kind that does it. Perhaps the closer contact of the handshake provides that feeling of trust.

Business is better with handshakes, but is it some subset of $576 billion better? If we all agreed on the new norm of the fist bump, would it even itself out?

There's no ready answer to any of these questions, which is why I'm giving you the rest of the summer to think about it. One thought might be to eliminate handshakes on your team but keep them for customers. But trust within your team is important, too. Another thought is simply to keep a polite distance and not initiate any contact. Let's face it; you aren't going to greet new business contacts with a fist bump. They'll think you're crazy.

What do you think? Shake hands and face/spread an onslaught of germs? Avoid contact? Fist bump? Wave? What would you do?

In its ninth year, Interop New York (Sept. 29 to Oct. 3) is the premier event for the Northeast IT market. Strongly represented vertical industries include financial services, government, and education. Join more than 5,000 attendees to learn about IT leadership, cloud, collaboration, infrastructure, mobility, risk management and security, and SDN, as well as explore 125 exhibitors' offerings. Register with Discount Code MPIWK to save $200 off Total Access & Conference Passes.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
<<   <   Page 4 / 4
tzubair
0%
100%
tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 2:35:01 AM
Re: or...
"I suggest just washing your hands. That way, you can maintain social customs without conveying illness."

@Thomas: Or how about having a wearable technology on your hand that automatically sanitizes the hand after every handshake? This may be particularly useful when you're in a conference or an exhibition.
Bhori
100%
0%
Bhori,
User Rank: Ninja
7/29/2014 | 7:26:48 PM
Re: Is This From the Onion or the Daily Currant?
It is a fact that one in five people do **not** wash their hands. 


@asksqn: Then we desperately need some technology that may detect and expose those one in five. They are risky for others health. Or something that doesn't let someone out of rest rooms without washing hands for 20 seconds :)
Gary_EL
100%
0%
Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
7/29/2014 | 7:23:12 PM
Come on now!
I think that we, as a society, spend way too much time worrying about this sort of thing. Maybe that's the reason why so many children come down with food allergies and autoimmune diseases. In a hospital setting or around people with autoimmune conditions - that's one thing. But, otherwise healthy adults not shaking hands? - I don't think so. If you want to improve people's general health, why not try something novel: sleep 8 hours a day, exercise, and stop overeating.
asksqn
100%
0%
asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
7/29/2014 | 5:57:28 PM
Is This From the Onion or the Daily Currant?
I really hope this article was a joke.  You know what really helps to prevent the spread of germs?  A public service announcement that advocates washing of hands with hot/soapy water for at least twenty seconds after **each** time one uses the restroom.  It is a fact that one in five people do **not** wash their hands.  Also, an assiduous usage of hand sanitizers also works really well.  
H@mmy
100%
0%
H@mmy,
User Rank: Moderator
7/29/2014 | 5:53:22 PM
Re: or...
Mutual trust and respect is created by shaking hands, that plays important role in business society. Not shaking hands is not a good idea. 
Bhori
100%
0%
Bhori,
User Rank: Ninja
7/29/2014 | 3:22:48 PM
Re: or...
@ David: I would suggest saving $576 billion by speding few dollars on hand sanitzers and ofcourse washing hands before everytime we eat. Risking trust doesn't sound a good idea. Also, in my part of the world we don't shake hand with opposite gender, so almost 25% of the risk is already reduced :)

 
anon5606509966
0%
100%
anon5606509966,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/29/2014 | 2:33:07 PM
Re: or...
Wow.  Someone certainly has plenty of time on their (unwashed) hands. 
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/29/2014 | 1:15:56 PM
Re: or...
@Tom- Sure, and actually I should have mentioned that. Thanks for bringing that up. But I wrote under the assumption that there are times when you just can't either because there is no where around to do it, time, forgetfulness, etc.
Thomas Claburn
0%
100%
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
7/29/2014 | 1:12:19 PM
or...
I suggest just washing your hands. That way, you can maintain social customs without conveying illness.
<<   <   Page 4 / 4
Transformative CIOs Organize for Success
Transformative CIOs Organize for Success
Trying to meet today’s business technology needs with yesterday’s IT organizational structure is like driving a Model T at the Indy 500. Time for a reset.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Must Reads Oct. 21, 2014
InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of digital strategy. Learn why you should learn to embrace DevOps, how to avoid roadblocks for digital projects, what the five steps to API management are, and more.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
A roundup of the top stories and community news at InformationWeek.com.
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.