Professionals Wave Goodbye to Handshakes in Post-Covid World

A new piece of research from Premier Inn has delved into how workers are feeling about returning to the workplace, and discovered that there is plenty of concern even around the first hurdle – how to greet people face to face again.

For many, the pandemic is a great excuse to help us say goodbye to those awkward professional greeting fails, no more embarrassing encounters when someone goes in for a double cheek kiss instead of one! 

However, whilst cheek kissing can now justifiably be avoided with social distancing, there is some trepidation about how we say hello in the workplace. Just under a third of workers admitted that they are unsure of the guidelines around greeting people in the workplace, and over half of professionals say that they are worried that their business associates will get too close during face-to-face greetings.

The survey questioned over 1,000 professional working adults in the UK and Germany, comparing our preferred business greetings pre- and post-pandemic. With Covid-19 giving most of us a new perspective on how we view personal space and the spread of germs, the research proved that there has been a shift in which professional greetings we now prefer.

Here the list of preferred greetings based on percentage increase: 

  1. Fist bump +9% increase in popularity
  2. Elbow tap +8% increase 
  3. Wave +6% increase
  4. Nod +6% increase
  5. Hug -4% decrease
  6. Handshake -18% decrease

The study from Premier Inn has revealed that handshaking has dropped significantly in popularity, whilst the fist bump and elbow tap have risen by 17%. Surprisingly, both the fist bump and elbow tap have risen in popularity over more traditional contact-free greetings, with the nod and wave increasing by just 6%.

Over half of professionals admitted they had made a greeting faux pas in the past, and whilst workers won’t be missing that sense of doubt over mixed greeting signals or having to choose between one cheek or two, in a post-pandemic world face-to-face greetings are still causing uncertainty. 68% of professionals now feel even more awkward about face-to-face greetings, having to navigate an already potentially socially uncomfortable situation with the added pressure of wanting to stay safe from contagious germs.

As such, Premier Inn has enlisted the help of a body language expert, Allan Pease, who specialises in human communications, to shed light on how we can navigate business greetings in a post-pandemic world. He explains why face-to-face greetings in the workplace have become so fraught:

“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

With the report showing so many workers being worried about associates invading their personal space, and also a high number being unsure of recommended guidelines, Allan has suggested a new greeting that is both safe and professional, the Heart-Hello. He explains:

“Variations on this type of greeting have appeared everywhere throughout history, thanks to it being very simple and achieving several things – it makes the other person feel welcome and accepted, it maintains physical distancing and it’s disease-free. It also allows you to read the other person’s body language signals, which is difficult in an up-close handshake.

To use this greeting gesture, do the following:

1. Place your hand over your heart
2. Smile (with your teeth visible*) and lean forward slightly
3. Maintain eye contact with the person you’re greeting

*If wearing a mask, still smile widely as it will show in your eyes and other face signals. The lean forward and eye contact part of the gesture is more important if wearing a mask.

Smiling with your teeth displayed conveys non-aggression and is intuitively understood by the brain’s Limbic System as non-threatening. Leaning slightly forward avoids you being perceived as dominant or aggressive. Maintaining eye contact allows you to remain connected to someone while not appearing to be submissive.

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: 

Sophia Anderson

Sophia Anderson is a blogger and a freelance writer. She is passionate about covering topics on money, business, careers, self-improvement, motivation and others. She believes in the driving force of positive attitude and constant development.