Over 75% of workers want all physical contact banned from their office

Twenty-five percent of the 2,002 professionals queried in the recent study, lamented being the prisoner of an unwanted greeting hug at work.

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A new survey published by TotalJobs unpacks the most uncomfortable aspects of co-worker interaction. “Interactions in the workplace has become a confusing and difficult terrain in recent years,psychologist Jo Hemmings remarked on the new report. According to the survey, two-thirds of professionals want clear guidelines regarding physical contact in the workplace to avoid awkward and potentially inappropriate exchanges.  Twenty-five percent of the 2,002 professionals queried in the recent study, lamented being the prisoner of an unwanted greeting hug at work, 19% said that they were the recipient of a surprise kiss on the cheek, and a shocking 15% said that they received a “chest touch” even though they signaled either a handshake or a hug.


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All participants were between the ages of 18 and 65, highlighting the evolution of expectations for professional conduct in the workplace. “The recent #MeToo movement has encouraged people to start speaking out – including in the workplace – and has led to a plethora of changes in how we engage with colleagues. It has empowered people – both male and female – to speak out about abuse or discomfort with less fear of repercussions,” says Hemmings

“Look, but don’t touch”

Seventy-six percent of workers want physical contact banned in their offices, full stop. One in four respondents claimed that the anxiety associated with an unpleasant greeting motivates them to avoid meeting with peers altogether, which in turn makes them less productive. Forty-one percent of male surveyees said that they frequently adjusted their greetings methods to accommodate the comfortability of their colleagues, while 28% of male respondents reported doing so explicitly based on the fear that their greeting will be misconceived as a sexual advance by their female coworkers. About 50% of the women questioned said that gender didn’t play a role in their desire not to be touched, as this demographic stated that physical contact of any kind from anyone was unwarranted.

Despite these definitive requests, by and large, workers seemed to be in the dark about what is and isn’t appropriate workplace behavior. Only one and seven respondents said that they received any sort of guidelines from their employers on the subject. Some of the anxiety is due to legitimate harassment concerns, as is the case with the 13% that received an unexpected kiss on the mouth, thanks to poor timing. Some workers, simply want to avoid unnecessary faux pas, many of which “replay in their heads” over and over, causing them to lose valuable work hours. One in eight respondents had to power through their day after receiving an accidental headbutt.

Thirty-three percent believe that frequent breaches of physical boundaries are having a direct and adverse impact on their well being, and 15% estimate they lose about an hour of productivity a day because of it. Alexandra Sydney, Marketing Director at Totaljobs, adds, “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. It stands to reason that feeling comfortable at work is closely aligned to feeling happy.”


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.