Time to bring touch back to the office

The latest issue of Canadian Business has an article about touching in the workplace featuring yours truly. They cite NBA teams as one example:

A study last year linked touch to team performance in the NBA. After examining every hug, high–five and shoulder bump delivered by professional basketball players during the 2008–2009 season, the researchers found a correlation between high levels of physical contact and game success. The findings, which controlled for such factors as skill level and league ranking, were significant enough to garner a call from Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets (who holds an MBA).

And then they bring in the big guns :-)

Encouraging employees to touch each would seem to be an obvious HR minefield, at least at first glance. But Alexander Kjerulf, a Danish workplace consultant, hopes the Berkeley study will convince more managers to loosen up. Kjerulf helps clients, ranging from IBM to Ikea, to create happier office environments, which in turn can lead to lower absenteeism and turnover, and improved productivity. He points out that the No. 1 source for happiness at work is not related to the job per se. Research shows employees are most content when they have good relationships with their bosses and co–workers. And Kjerulf insists the best relationships come from being natural. “We are pack animals,” he adds, “and not touching each other is not natural.”

Read the whole article here.

I wrote about this previously, and one commenter contributed this story:

I once worked for a bank in Germany (well these are two locations in which you would not normally expect “personal affection” ;-)).

The team was large, about 40 people worked in one open space office. It surprised me a lot that every morning, whoever arrived, walked through the whole office and greeted everybody with a handshake and some personal words. It did not matter if the team members came, the bosses from higher up or anybody from another department. It was known everywhere that here you greet everybody personally.

For the first week, I found that very strange and a bit intimidating. Also, it cost a lot of time all in all. Yet afterwards, I really enjoyed it. It gave everybody the chance to get to know the colleagues a bit better, to hear what they are off to or to realize that somebody is not in or just returned from a trip or vacation. There was no need to e-mail weekly lists on who is out when. We just knew it.

Btw, when I moved on to another job, I sort of missed it.

Simple – effective – makes a difference.

Your take

What’s the attitude to touching in your workplace? What would you like it to be? What does a hand shake, high-five or even a hug in the workplace do for you?

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10 thoughts on “Time to bring touch back to the office”

  1. Great post. I work in the spa industry so I write a lot about the power of touch:
    The Healing Power of Touch | http://www.organicspamagazine.com/articles/the-healing-power-of-touch/
    Miracle Healing Through Touch | The Psychology of Wellbeing

    Your post reminds me of when I went to work at a spa resort in Mexico. My first day of work I was shocked to see the Director of HR walking through the cafeteria hugging and kissing (on the cheek) all of the female employees. In Mexico, not only is this a normal greeting, but the employees would be hurt if you didn’t greet them this way.

    Unfortunately, there are always examples where touch is used inappropriately, but I agree with you on the importance of touch for establishing relationships even in (or especially in) the workplace.

  2. Ugh. No. Sorry. This would not make me happy at work. Not one bit. Some of us out there are quite protective of our personal space and would certainly not want some corporate sponsored touching to make us “feel good”. This is purely a cultural norm. OK in sports teams and in some countries where physical contact is common.

    Has anyone noticed the apparent correllation between cultures where personal contact is common and acceptable and having lots of land area and countries where personal contact is rare and not the norm and those being tiny, overcrowded islands? Perhaps there are good social reasons for the apparent differences? No prizes for guessing which of these situations I live in. :-)

    Sorry if I sound cynical, but research into this area hopefully should have considered the prevailing cultural and societal norms in order to determine whether this would be a boon or bane to productivity.

  3. I’m not big on touching either! I have a colleague who is – he is ready to go rubbing shoulders, hugging, even kissing! And no, there is nothing sexual in that – actually, he’s trying to literally “kiss up” to everyone at work, so that we are less critical of the fact, that he never gets any work done, and is totally inefficient at work, and gets his money for nothing… Sorry for this splash of negativity, but that’s the touchy example that I have before me every day…

  4. Hi Alex. LOVED this post.
    I just started a new job two days ago and yesterday, one of my cool, hip bosses walked past me while I was running around working and touched my back to say “good job.” It almost moved me to tears it felt so good. It was so warm and meaningful.

    Touch has a huge place in the workplace. Thank you so much for writing about it. Amen!!

  5. Oh well, as long as does not come down to the feeling of sexually harassed or anything that should be good. A tap at the back or a simple smile will do i guess. Not really in need of “special” touchy experience. Besides, a lot of people might find it irritating at some point.

  6. Hi Alex,
    I have been back to work for 6 months after my second maternity leave and after having a rough morning with my kids I get alot of encouragement and strength from my co-workers… They are mostly working moms also and a hug, a touch or warm words of encouragement allows me to refocus on work and put the chaotic morning behind me…
    Thanks for this post… there is alot of merit in the power of touch.

  7. Like most things in life, where’s the “happy medium”? I work in an office maze where I rarely see most of my “co-workers” and you’re lucky to get a helloandgoodbyeseeyoutomorrow, let alone a conversation or more from most of them. Under constant pressure to produce more and more, and the computer at lunch taking the place of having lunch with a friend, the workplace seems very cold & dull indeed.

    As you said, most of the *happiness* in work comes from happy relationships with the boss and coworkers, and that doesn’t happen without some chatting about things other than work…. for most of us, the work itself is pretty tedious. And in the modern day era of sexual harrassment suits, touch isn’t even anywhere in the ballpark of work.

    I’d like to see a happy medium, for as they say you spend at least 25% (or more!) of your time at work, and that’s the truth, as Edithann once famously remarked….

  8. When I was a martial arts instructor, part of the training we had was in making students feel welcome. There was a “3 times contact” rule we followed that worked well. This included appropriate physical contact (such as a hand shake or a high five), eye contact, and using the student’s name when addressing them. No matter how many students were in a class, we made a point of using some combination of these types of contact at least 3 times for each student during class. This was great for making them feel connected without making them feel uncomfortable. The same thing could be done in the workplace with a little training. It’s important for people to recognize if someone is uncomfortable with touch or a lot of direct eye contact so they can back off and respect their space. But it’s not difficult as long as people are committed to being respectful.

    Daisy McCarty

  9. I’m very much sat on the fence with this one. I would enjoy being greeted with a handshake every morning, or getting a pat on the back once in a while, but there would have to be limits, as peoples personal space may become invaded, which would make them uncomfortable and possibly reduce their productivity.

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