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 2 / 4   >   >>
glenbren
50%
50%
glenbren,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/31/2014 | 1:25:57 AM
Re: Sacrifice...
"Mutual trust and respect is created by shaking hands"

I never realized how important a handshake was! I've never been a fan of shaking hands, even before I knew it could kill me. I always found it kind of a fake and unnatural thing to do, that you're then judged on. How about a good nod, why wouldn't that work?
Susan_Nunziata
50%
50%
Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/30/2014 | 7:57:45 PM
Re: Sacrifice...
@DM Romano: You are once again the voice of reason here. We have survived this long with the hand-shaking ritual, I suppose it will take more than a few pesky germs transferred during a handshake to bring about the end times. 
Susan_Nunziata
50%
50%
Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/30/2014 | 7:55:58 PM
Re: Is This From the Onion or the Daily Currant?
@asksqn: Gross, but true. Maybe we should all start carrying those CSU UV lights that detect bodily fluids and subject each person we meet to a blast of light before we shake hands. Or, even better, use those swab things that they use at the airport security to detect any traces of suspicious chemicals on one's hands. If we can do that, surely we can have a swab that detects viruses.

Might ruin the warm-and-fuzzies of the typical business meeting, though, if we ask people to swab first, shake later.
nomii
50%
50%
nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 5:22:06 PM
Re: or...
@H@mmy you  must have misunderstood my post. I am not asking to be discriminative but developing a culture which might be both beneficial as well as productive. I just gave you an example. In no way I want to disriminate between your worker which will definitely make you less productive. Do you think without handshakes the company will not flourish. I really have my doubts and thinks that it is very much possible.
PedroGonzales
50%
50%
PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 4:07:11 PM
Re: This is REALLY hard to do
that is a really gross story david.  I guess we should become more like the Japanese and bow our heads before we meet someone. Whatever happen to politelly warning someone, one has a cold before rejecting their handshake.
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/30/2014 | 3:23:19 PM
Re: Doing Business Without Handshakes
@zerox203- Thanks for the support. Yes, that was my point. 

I admit that I've written about more important things, but the social nroms around business matter. 

At any rate, I love your story. I can totally imagine an entire conference vibing, at least for a day or two, on a special secret "handshake." There is real value in that kind of exclusiveness. Maybe a team air shake for all the times your team forgets to wash its hands would be valuable not only for keeping healthy but building teamwork.
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/30/2014 | 3:19:30 PM
Re: This is REALLY hard to do
@Chris- Ha! I've had that situation, too. I had to meet an extreme VIP (can't share who it is). I mean this was the biggest meeting of my life at that point. I had a cold. So I spent the day before guzzling all sorts of medicine and vitamins trying to get better. And then the morning of the meeting I swallowed a whole medicine cabinet of things so I didn't cough on the VIP and used so much hand sanitizer that I probably rubbed off my fingerprints.

The funniest part? The VIP came into the room, shook my hand and promptly coughed all over me and the room. She coughed for an hour into her hand and then she reached out and shook my hand again at the end of the meeting. 

*That* is why you can't just count on handwashing to save the day. :)
D.M. Romano
50%
50%
D.M. Romano,
User Rank: Moderator
7/30/2014 | 1:33:59 PM
Sacrifice...
I honestly see no reason to eliminate the normal forms of greetings given the customs and norms of a given culture. Germs? Unless we're on the cusp of an Ebola outbreak or a zombie apocalypse, it just seems silly and in some sense crude to think otherwise. Utilize technology when necessary to speed up business and bring down cost, but never sacrifice relationships. 
SachinEE
50%
50%
SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 1:02:44 PM
Re: come on now
There are easier ways through which germs can be transferred from one person to the other. Shaking hands in a business environment is very important in fact, it is more than just a hand shake but it is also an important symbol. What you can do is to carry a hand disinfectant with you. I mean that is why they were designed in the first place.
Ashu001
50%
50%
Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 12:45:24 PM
Re: Is This From the Onion or the Daily Currant?
Zubair,

I could'nt start Laughing when I read your post here.

My Recommendation?

Always carry a Hand Sanitizer with you for use because it can help kill majority of common Germs you are afflicted with in these situations.

Can't really avoid Bugs can we today?

 
<<   <   Page 2 / 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 Tech Digest - September 17, 2014
It doesn't matter whether your e-commerce D-Day is Black Friday, tax day, or some random Thursday when a post goes viral. Your websites need to be ready.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
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.