Employers may be considering banning handshakes

Employers may be considering banning handshakes

The last few years have seen a huge shift towards female empowerment and equality in the workplace. Scrutiny which was long overdue has highlighted gender pay gaps, sexual harassment and the institutional objectification of women.

In 2017, the news that millionaire movie producer Harvey Weinstein had abused his position of power in the worst ways possible created something of a domino effect - with women in different industries speaking out about their experiences. This, of course, was the #MeToo campaign - a global phenomenon the effects of which are still being seen today.

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Earlier this month, long-standing British insurance market Lloyd’s of London finally banned drinking and drug-taking which was said to be rife among its 40,000 pass-holders. Last month, Bloomberg revealed a catalogue of sexual and verbal misconduct claims at Lloyd’s which the insurance giant hopes can be curtailed with firmer ground rules.

However, what many consider to be the knock-on effect of the #MeToo campaign is potentially having negative consequences, even for women. Employers are now said to be considering an outright ban on physical contact, including handshakes.

“Some employers may put a complete ban on physical contact,” Kate Palmer from HR consultancy Peninsula, told the Metro. “Whether that’s going too far or not is a question I would pose, because it’s contextual. Does shaking someone’s hand go too far?”

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Though this seems drastic, clearer rules would avoid confusion over what is and what is not appropriate. Ex-Vice President Joe Biden, for instance, has been accused by multiple women of inappropriate touching but explained that he never believed his actions crossed a line.

“In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort,” Biden said via a statement. “And not once - never - did I believe I acted inappropriately.” He added: "But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will.”

However, the indiscretions of those who aren’t in the public eye are far more likely to go unchallenged. For this reason, it’s thought that an unequivocal, hard-and-fast rule regarding physical contact in the workplace could benefit all employees. “[Employers] may just say ‘no contact at all’ because there’s no grey area,” Palmer explains. “It makes it simple, but it takes away affection which in some ways is a sad thing.”

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This news comes after a survey found that three out of four people want a complete ban on physical contact in the workplace. Of the 2,000 adults surveyed by job search site Totaljobs, roughly one quarter stated that they had avoided a professional acquaintance due to the way the individual greeted people. Two-fifths of people said they had found greetings awkward and one third said their wellbeing had been affected by awkward greetings, such as kisses or hugs.

“Whether it’s an unwanted hug, or a mistimed kiss on the cheek, our research suggests that workplace greetings have the potential to stray beyond awkward and could have a real impact on job satisfaction and productivity,” stated Alexandra Sydney, marketing director at Totaljobs. “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.”

“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,” she added.

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Many would argue that these are the necessary steps to be taken off the back of paradigm-shifting revelations regarding women’s position in modern society. “Every day, women and girls around the world face violence and discrimination,” states equality charity Equality Now. “Sexual exploitation, harmful cultural practices and systemic inequalities violate their human rights and prevent them from reaching their potential.”

“This kind of inequality is bad for everyone, not just for women: research shows that where women and girls are treated unfairly, there is more societal conflict and less economic stability,” Equality Now explains. “A country’s laws set the tone for how it treats its people, and how its people treat each other. When women and girls have fewer rights than men and boys, violence and discrimination are legitimised and ignored."

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The charity adds: “That’s why we use a unique combination of legal advocacy, regional partnership-building and community mobilisation to encourage governments to adopt, improve and enforce laws that protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world.”

In a world where the most powerful man has frequently been misogynistic, including his assertion that he can simply “grab” women “by the pussy”, even more must be done to ensure that we are moving in the right direction.