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To Shake or not to Shake – Are Handshakes Dead?

I was having drinks with a friend when I bumped into an old colleague. Something interesting happened after I made introductions. My friend – a consummate professional – reached out to offer her hand, but instead of shaking it, my former colleague put up both his hands. It looked like he was being held up in a robbery, except he smiled apologetically. In the end, they exchanged a fist bump.

In April 2020, at the start of the global pandemic, a well-known US Infection Disease expert said he didn’t think people “should ever shake hands again.” Handshakes have been a critical part of social interactions for so long that it doesn’t seem possible they would ever die. But, observing this exchange years later made me wonder – was that expert right, and does this signal the end of handshakes?

Is it time for a change?

There’s a belief that you can tell a lot about a person by how they shake your hand. In the recruitment world, a handshake can make or break careers. A strong or limp handshake can create long-lasting impressions that impact hiring decisions.

We know that close contact increases the transmission of disease and germs support. Just as we have seen a dramatic shift toward hybrid workplaces, there could be an opportunity to rethink this age-old social custom. Some benefits of removing handshakes from your interview process include:

  • Shifting the focus on the candidate’s skills, experience, and how they would add to the company culture, rather than being fixated on the impression their handshaking abilities mcay create.
  • Removing a sense of obligation or awkwardness for those who prefer not to shake hands.
  • Protecting individuals with underlying health conditions.
  • Decreasing the risk of your workforce getting sick.

Alternative to shaking hands

The fist bump is an alternative to the handshake, as highlighted in the earlier tale. However, it seems to be more suited to more informal settings. The elbow bump, wave, nod, and namaste gesture (with palms clasped together) have all been touted as potential replacements. However, if you are considering scrapping the handshake, I would recommend taking a leaf out of the medical profession playbook. Next time you visit the doctors, you will notice that they greet you with a hello and smile, then gesture or ask you to take a seat before getting on with the appointment. This approach strikes a good balance between being friendly and professional.

Sticking with tradition

There’s no doubt that shaking hands will be a habit that will be hard for many to shake – pun intended! But on a serious note, the act of shaking hands has the potential to create an instant personal connection that will be hard to replicate.

If you continue to shake hands:

  • Review these handy tips for more information about hand-shaking etiquette.
  • Be prepared that others may not want to.
  • It’s also important to remember to adapt your processes to minimise risk. For example, ensure hand sanitising stations are available for those entering and leaving interviews. 

How do you feel about handshakes? Have you updated your workplace practices? We know some employers have chosen to conduct all their interviews via video conference. This process reflects their hybrid work practices and is their way of protecting the health and safety of their staff. Get in touch via and share what you’re doing. We’d love to hear from you!

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