Business Etiquette and the fate of the handshake

Business Etiquette and the Fate of the Handshake

As a result of the ravaging effects of the COVD-19 pandemic and considering the anecdotal projections by U.S medical experts suggesting that social distancing may extend till 2022, the ubiquitous handshake is under a serious threat of extinction.

Except for a few countries where handshaking is regarded as culturally offensive, the handshake in business settings is historically an indication of the amicable completion of a business transaction or agreement.

Rarely would you attend a business etiquette training without the facilitator taking participants through the techniques of a good handshake. This, we have learnt repeatedly, would help to make a strong first impression and coupled with other desirable etiquette practices and excellent negotiation skills would ensure the deal is sealed.

Will the handshake, a globally accepted mode of greeting simply disappear in the face of the current pandemic? Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker opined in a recent CNN interview that, “it is safe to say that the handshake may be doomed if the current contagion continues.”

Furthermore one of the world’s leading experts on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci made bold to suggest that “we may never shake hands again” which pre-supposes that other acceptable modes of greeting and concluding transactions which do not involve skin to skin contact may eventually replace the handshake.

Time, of course, will tell but human beings have short memories. We all recall the sudden national rise to super hygiene practices that trailed the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria. Hand sanitizers surfaced overnight in offices and many public areas and the ubiquitous handshake was quickly replaced by the elbow touching Ebola handshake.  

These practices did not stand the test of time as they quickly disappeared post-Ebola.  Five years later, we have joined the world to revamp the same hygiene practices and mode of greeting that was predominantly peculiar at the time to the African countries ravaged by the Ebola virus.

One could argue that, had the Ebola and other recent viruses impacted the world as COVID-19 has done, perhaps the hygiene and social distancing practices that have rendered the handshake unwelcome may have stood the test of time.

The Spanish flu in 1918 is the only other virus that could be akin to COVID-19 in terms of its impact on the entire world, albeit with far greater quantitative impact than CoVID-19. One can only wonder if the handshake would still exist today, had medical experts at the time ventured to recommend its abolishment as part of the measures to curb the spread of that pandemic.

What implications does all this have for HR practitioners and business etiquette practices?

 I foresee significant cultural transitions occurring in the near future in the manner in which businesses will be conducted and in our human interactions in general.

Apart from the obvious increase in the reliance on digital technology as a means of business communication, we may begin to see in the Western world, the adoption of Asian cultural greetings  – clasped hands or bowed heads, but without the subservient implications that sometimes underlie their styles of greeting.

Social distancing will become buzz words in our business and social etiquette dictionary as these will become the expected norm for proper human interactions.

This is the time to revamp training curricula in line with the current global realities and in line with what has become the new norm.

Bola Adeniyi-Taiwo

Understanding Generation Z- the new entrants to the workplace.

Generation Z refers to young people who were born between roughly 1996 and 2010.- those who typically were born into a technologically advanced world that is simply unable to do without the internet.

As recruiters and perhaps potential employers of labour, it is important to understand the characteristics that define these new set of job seekers so as to be able to manage their expectations and help them to succeed in life.

Characteristics of Gen Z

  1. They are technologically advanced from an early age and learn to use smart phones very early in life.
  2. They develop a strong ability to communicate electronically via mobile apps and online platforms even before they start school.
  3. They have an incredible ability to search out information on the internet and absorb copious amounts of information.
  4. They are strong multi-taskers, able to handle diverse tasks and projects at the same time
  5. Their attention span is very low unfortunately and they are ready to move on to the next activity within short time periods
  6. They tend to be more independent and autonomous than millennials (the Generation before them) and many of them are eager to start their own businesses much earlier in life.

Motivating Gen Z

A good understanding of the above traits will go a long way in placing Gen Zers in the workplace. Monotonous or routine jobs would be a turn off for these high paced set of employees. Tasks that enhance their innate creative abilities and promote an entrepreneurial spirit would be very desirable and would stimulate increased productivity and performance.  

Long gone are the days of long service in companies. The new generation, not unlike the Millennials are not looking forward to long service company awards. They are highly mobile and enjoy the here and now. Jobs that enable them to be involved in projects and where possible allow them to travel and work remotely would be best suited for this cohort.

 Fluid workplace arrangements with less rigid structures, policies and practices may very soon become the order of the day in even the most conservative of corporate organisations.

TOUTISM – an unwelcome industry and a generational scourge?

Driving through the streets of Lagos one cannot help but notice a growing number of able-bodied youth and young adults loitering or wandering aimlessly at all hours of the day and night, seeking those to whom they can render some service or the other.

A tout can be described as an illegal salesman or someone who attempts to sell something by a direct or persistent approach.

The word ‘toutism’ does not exist in any English dictionary but I have coined the word to describe what has long become an industry in Nigeria, where the homeless and disadvantaged youth have found what they deem to be a potential career in the absence of parental or third-party assistance.

Many of these young people grow up on the streets of Lagos, having escaped from broken or abusive homes, mingling with like-minded youth who initiate them and teach them how to survive on the streets.

Sleeping under trailers, in front of shop premises, along the perimeter of church fences or simply finding shelter under a pile of rubble or planks, these young people wake up early in the morning; just as we all do, to seek their daily wages.

A few of them with some modicum of dignity and self-worth would make extra effort to look presentable by seeking places to bathe and keep their few clothes clean.  Even in abject poverty, you would see them make the effort to keep their shirts buttoned up, and their countenance pleasant and friendly.

With their meager earnings gained from street begging, some would buy some inconsequential items  (like tissue packs) to peddle to commuters in traffic. Some would attempt to render some service such as parking assistance or service guides to the unsuspecting public. Others would simply lean on cars in traffic recanting some pitiable tale or the other, with the expectation that they would receive their daily ‘wages’.

This unwelcome persistent invasion into the space of the commuters is what I describe as toutism- a bane in our Nigerian society where the rich or well to do are constantly harassed to part with some of their wealth to support the livelihood of the severely disadvantaged on our streets.

The dearth of properly structured public or privately funded social assistance programs is evident in our society. The number of young adults hitting the streets on a daily basis as a result of job losses, parental abandonment or lack of job or trade opportunity is simply overwhelming. 

Amongst these groups are potential leaders of Nigeria- bright, highly intelligent and trainable looking for the assistance of any kind to forge ahead and secure their future.

Toutism should not be an acceptable career. It certainly should not be an industry, if more public, private as well as not for profit organizations would invest in destroying this bane by committing resources to reunite these children and young adults with family members and then assisting with their educational development so that they can be self-sustaining through a chosen career or trade.

 We should all commit to making a difference by joining one of these organizations to destroy toutism in our society.