Nervous about going back to the office? You’re not alone. A new study from Premier Inn has revealed that 68% of individuals surveyed are feeling uncomfortable about the prospect of having to greet others in business settings when they head back into their workplaces.
Historically, greetings have always come with an element of awkwardness. They make for excellent stories of that time your manager accidentally brushed your lips while you both went in for a kiss on the same side, or that time you went for a handshake while your new client went for a hug. Painful though the stories can be, handshakes have been around for thousands of years. Dating back to the 5th century B.C, they would indicate that neither individual was carrying a weapon and were seen as a symbol of peace. As the years progressed, the handshake became known as a generally fool proof and polite way to greet others in business settings; until Covid-19 entered the picture, and everything changed.
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As we begin to return to normal, some people have turned back to old practices without second thought. But for many, a disease spread by close contact has thrown all the old rules out of the window, and they’re not interested in a return to commonplace greetings. 72% of the survey respondents revealed that they no longer want to shake hands when greeting others and over half of working professionals stated that they’re concerned about personal space invasion when they go back to the office. Furthermore, the research showed that just under a third (32%) of workers aren’t confident in the guidelines surrounding how they should greet fellow co-workers upon their return.
As we exit the throes of the pandemic, vaccines are rolled out and offices all over the globe look to re-open, the landscape of both workplaces and business greetings is set to be a hot topic of conversation. Not only do managers and HR departments have to navigate the new normal of flexi-policies that allow a hybrid form of both office and remote working, but workspaces need to be safe and employees need to be protected. For many of these employees, the first hurdle will be how to greet people after 18+ months of Zoom calls and Slack channels. 54% of those surveyed confessed that they’ve made blunders in the past when meeting others in a work environment, and 68% admitted that they actually feel more awkward than ever before about the prospect of meeting others in person. Luckily, for anyone who previously found greetings awkward and those concerned about hygiene with Covid-19 still a threat, skin to skin contact is generally no longer accepted within the boundaries of greetings, with social distancing rules now allowing us to justify greeting each other at an arm’s length.
The study also demonstrated changing attitudes towards variations of traditional greetings in the face of Covid-19, with our perspectives on personal space and germs shifting. Unconventional lower contact methods like fist bumps and elbow taps have seen the biggest rise in popularity, increasing by 9% and 8%, respectively. While the historic favourites, hugs and handshakes, have seen the biggest decrease - with hugs decreasing in popularity by 4% and handshakes down by an enormous 18%. Interestingly, nodding and waving, the most common methods of previously used no-contact greetings, only increased by 6% each; suggesting that people are keen to establish new methods of greetings, rather than deal with any ambiguity surrounding older versions.
Why Can Physical Contact Make Us So Uncomfortable?
Premier Inn looked to a body language expert, to analyse how workers can move forward in a post-pandemic world, upon their return to the office. Allan Pease, a specialist in human communications, revealed “The reason people have reported an awkwardness, even before the pandemic started, when greeting people face to face in the workplace is because our most preferred gesture is handshaking, which is actually a highly nuanced greeting. Handshakes can cause social discomfort in up to three different ways:
- Invading personal space
- Physical touch
- Hand squeezing - which can be used to indicate a level of aggressiveness or weakness
As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, we may find people are even more apprehensive about handshaking due to the spread of germs, and we may see professionals rejecting the concept completely. However, changing our body gestures, especially something as established as the handshake, (which has been around since Roman times) isn’t something that comes naturally. There will be a conflict in people as they greet each other face to face once again, weighing up the old way of doing things versus protecting their personal space.”
A New Way To Say Hello
The research illustrates that the road ahead looks to be fraught with difficulty for workers who are both concerned by colleagues occupying their personal space, and uncertain as to the guidelines surrounding their options for greeting each other at work. Premier Inn enlisted Allan’s help in suggesting a new greeting called the Heart-Hello, which alleviates concerns about greetings by offering an option that is both friendly and comforting, and allows those participating to maintain a safe distance and avoid physical contact that increases the possibility of germ transmission.
How Should You Do It?
- Place your hand over your heart
- Smile and lean forward slightly
Note: you should still smile when wearing masks, as it will be obvious in your eyes and in the rest of your face - others will know when you are and aren’t smiling, even with your mouth covered.
- Maintain eye contact with the other individual throughout
Smiling in this posture will help convey that you’re non-threatening, as will leaning slightly forward, and maintaining eye contact, which will help you connect with the person you’re greeting without appearing submissive. Allan Pease states that “The Heart-Hello gesture perfectly substitutes for the traditional handshake and can bond you to others instantly, possibly even more effectively than a handshake. It’s sincere, warm and germ-free. You will not be perceived as being weak or submissive and it allows you to still read the other person’s body language. It will give you the confidence you need in meeting new people and will remove the fear, uncertainty and awkwardness most people currently feel.”
Tamara Strauss, Global Customer Director for Premier Inn said: “We have enlisted Allan’s expertise to reassure workers that it’s perfectly fine if you want to be more cautious when greeting people in the workplace. As well as new greetings like fist bumps and elbow taps, his Heart-Hello is a brilliant alternative suggestion that is definitely something we will share with our teams and that we hope helps people to rest easy and feel more comfortable whilst navigating this tricky time.
We are excited to be welcoming back more guests who are travelling again for work into our hotels and we completely understand there may be some apprehension. Our teams are well known for their warm welcomes, and with our new enhanced Premier Inn CleanProtect safety measures this is now often behind a screen or mask, so we can empathise with the uncertainty of navigating these new ways of greeting people and have taken extra care to make sure all our guests feel safe and welcome. ”
Read more on Premier Inn’s report here.
The online survey was conducted by Censuswide and questioned over 1,000 working professionals aged 16+ from the UK and Germany. It sought to compare our preferred business greetings pre- and post-pandemic and all fieldwork took place in May 2021.