Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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7/29/2014
12:56 PM
David Wagner
David Wagner
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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?

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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
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Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 12:37:34 PM
Re: or...
H@mmy,

It seems you have'nt quite met the One-Man Show Organizations where everything works exclusively at the Whims and Fancies of the founder-CEO.

Trust me in those companies Professionalism usually tends to go out of the window at the first Sign of Trouble.

They need tons and Tons of Training if you ask me[And Employees who work there need Tons and Tons of Courage&Fortitude to boot].

Regards

Ashish.
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 12:29:40 PM
Re: This is REALLY hard to do
Chris,

That was most considerate of you -Why not just Hang a Board over your neck-Explaining the issue?

LOL!!! Just Kidding!

I don't know if you are following the Latest International News but it seems Ebola and the Plague are both back with the bang today.

The solution for both these issues is the same;Non-Contact and Isolation.

I am surprised that such News does'nt find more Coverage in MSM in America today.

Regards

Ashish.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
7/30/2014 | 10:14:47 AM
This is REALLY hard to do
I've had a cold for two weeks. Last Friday I was at an all-day editorial conference, and I made it a point not to shake anyone's hand -- "I have a cold, so I'll spare you the handshake" I said about 50 times. It felt awkward, and there was a temptation every time on my end to just shake hands. 

But I will say -- 90% of the time, the response I got from peopel was identical: "Thank you." They said it out loud that they appreciated it. So while awkward on my end, everyone appreciated it.  
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 7:51:03 AM
Re: Doing Business Without Handshakes
Ha, this reminds me of something funny. One year at Penny Arcade Expo in Boston, attendees were advised not to use handshakes (precisely because there was a flu going around). Instead, they were offered an alternative for how to greet others. Obviously, this was intended partially as a joke, but surprisingly, most people followed the "rule". The folks running the convention made a point to say afterwards that (at least among their staff) there was a noticeably reducded amount of post-convention sickness. Not to read too much into an isolated incident (I'll say that I didn't get sick either), but hey, I guess there's some merit to this idea!

As for everyone poo-pooing Dave's fist bump idea, I hear you, but I think you're sort of missing the point. Of course we should wash our hands often (I don't remember Dave saying we shouldn't), but there are considerations other than just that. The study scientifically proved that handshaking is less sanitary than other forms of physical contact (presumably this applies even if you do wash your hands). It's a fact (according to this study). Obviously, we're all still going to use handshakes (at least sometimes) regardless. I think the point was just to raise an interesting question about an age-old custom and ask 'would we get rid of it if there was a good enough reason to?'. Apparently we wouldn't.
H@mmy
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H@mmy,
User Rank: Moderator
7/30/2014 | 7:36:14 AM
Re: or...
I disagree over here. Running business is not a one's men show. You may not discriminate your workers. it is their efforts that makes your business flourish. So you can not avoid them as well and if you do that then are going to be less productive.
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 7:14:38 AM
Re: or...
@David a nice article. It really brings something which most of us do not consider important. What I will start doing now is to watch every little thing from a different persoective abd try to find the hind side of every aspect. I believe shaking hand is definitely a confident boster and feels that to avaoid the buisbess loss it better to keep it to those whom you definitely want to do buisness with. For rest of your office workers it should restrict to greetings only.  :)
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 7:10:27 AM
Re: Is This From the Onion or the Daily Currant?
@tzubair nice. I am thinking what will happen if you got your count wrong or your first is actually the fifth one.    :)
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 7:08:23 AM
Re: Is This From the Onion or the Daily Currant?
@Asksqn I believe that it is not how one can made people to wash hands or make them understand its consiquences. I believe it should be made second nature to the people. I feel that its difficult to wash hands afetr every 10 to 15 min as you will be doing something on average. Either you need to be available in the vaccinity of washroom all the time or carry one along   :)
zaious
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zaious,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 2:43:48 AM
Bumpy Ride Ahead
Then, there is going to be a lot of fist bumps. It is really amusing to imagine tow CEO's from two companies fist bumping each other -it would be so cool. Meeting a new group and fist bumping all would be a nice experience. I hope everyone bumps me gently and our knuckles stay in the right place. 
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 2:42:21 AM
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: This fact, coupled with the other facts about handshakes that David mentioned, makes me even more freaked out about handshakes. The next time I'm in a large gathering and have plenty of people coming to me to meet, the only thing I'll be thinking is which one of these is the "fifth" one!

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Transformative CIOs Organize for Success
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