Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Can't touch this: 76% of workers want physical contact banned in the workplace

Workers have spoken. When it comes to workplace interactions, we are a nation uncomfortable with up close contact - from hugs to extended eye contact - and we certainly don’t want to be negotiating the minefield of ‘one cheek kiss or two’.

  • 38% of workers find greetings awkward in the workplace
  • A quarter (25%) have avoided a colleague or client due to their choice of greeting
  • Over a quarter (27%) want an end to a cheek or air kiss greeting in the workplace
  • 33% of workers ‘wellbeing’ has been impacted after an awkward greeting
  • 68% of UK workers call for clear workplace guidance on appropriate greetings

Workers have spoken. When it comes to workplace interactions, we are a nation uncomfortable with up close contact - from hugs to extended eye contact - and we certainly don’t want to be negotiating the minefield of ‘one cheek kiss or two’.

In fact, research by leading jobs board Totaljobs found that three quarters of us (76%) want physical contact reduced, whilst 42% go further and call for an outright ban on some interactions, from the workplace kiss (27%) to wishing hugs were a thing of the past (15%).

Cringeworthy clashes

The research reveals one in three (30%) workers experience an awkward greeting at work at least once a month, with those in their 20s enduring the most.

One in five surveyed (22%) have had a ‘greeting clash’ in the workplace with the most embarrassing of those including:

  • A quarter have been trapped in an unwanted hug (25%)
  • One in five (19%) have been on the receiving end of an unexpected kiss
  • One in seven (15%) have received an unwanted chest touch, after one has opted for a handshake, the other a hug
  • One in eight (13%) have had an accidental kiss on the mouth thanks to ill-timed air kisses
  • Another one in eight (12%) have had an accidental headbutt

In fact, some are so concerned with how they are interacted with in the workplace that a quarter (25%) actively avoid awkward colleagues or clients.

Psychologist and leading body language expert, Jo Hemmings shares advice on embarrassing encounters at work:

“Interactions in the workplace have become a confusing and difficult terrain in recent years. Navigating what ostensibly seems like a simple ‘hello,’ is now a minefield for both initiator and recipient so no wonder two thirds of us want clear guidelines on interactions at work from awkward hugs to accident nose bumps”.

“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”.

“It’s clearly a highly complex, embarrassing, even humiliating subject and we all have an opinion on what is right and what is wrong. So, in an age where workers worry they may be called out by HR following a consensual hug with a colleague or a supportive hand on the shoulder, it is important for companies to step up and offer much-needed guidance for staff around the rules of engagement in the workplace.”

Rules of engagement

The nations’ preferred choice of workplace greeting is a firm handshake – with two seconds or less of direct eye contact to leave us truly in our comfort zone. Interestingly, whilst nearly half (45%) of workers in their 40s and 50s prefer handshakes, only 35% of those in their 20s favour them with two-fifths (41%) preferring no physical contact when greeting colleagues or clients.

Whilst hugs are universally unpopular across ages, 18% of workers in their 20s claim to prefer a hug as their workplace greeting of choice, in contrast to only 5% of workers in their 40s and 50s. Kisses are also deemed a total no-no with over a quarter (27%) of those surveyed wanting them banned.

Alexandra Sydney, Marketing Director at Totaljobs, said:

“Whether it’s an unwanted hug, or a mistimed kiss on the cheek, our research suggests that workplace greetings have the potential to stray beyond awkward and could have a real impact on job satisfaction and productivity.

“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.

“This is why more than two thirds of workers are calling for clearer guidelines on the amount of contact, and greetings used in the workplace. Having guidelines which facilitate open, honest conversations between workers about physical contact offers employers the chance to have their team focused on the job at hand – rather than whether they’re shaking hands at their next meeting.”

Preferred greetings

Two-fifths (41%) of men who greet people differently based on gender do so for fear of making the other person feel uncomfortable. An uncomfortable quarter (28%) who consciously change their greeting with women do so for fear of their interaction being perceived as sexual harassment.

Half of women prefer no physical interaction when it comes to greeting colleagues of either sex – male (51%) and female (53%).

British workers call for clear workplace guidelines

Despite having concerns over workplace behaviours, workers are unsure what is expected of them when interacting with clients and colleagues. Two-thirds (68%) think workplaces should have clear guidelines on what is considered an appropriate greeting at work to avoid causing offence. Shockingly, only one in seven (15%) have received any sort of guidance from their employer in the last year.

These situations shouldn’t be taken lightly, with a third (33%) claiming that their wellbeing has been affected following an awkward greeting. 15% said that replaying awkward or uncomfortable interactions in their head has negatively impacted their productivity, losing up to as much as a valuable hour of the working day.

Psychologist Jo Hemmings has worked with Totaljobs to put together some tips on dealing with the work minefield which can be found at:


Research conducted via Opinium to 2,002 adults aged 18-65 between 19-25th March 2019.

*About Totaljobs

Formed in 1999, Totaljobs is one of UK’s leading job boards, attracting 20 million visits and over 4.3 million applications from qualified jobseekers every month. Over 300,000 jobseekers visit our platform every day, with over 270,000 jobs to choose from at any given time.

In May 2018, Totaljobs partnered with Jobsite to become the UK’s largest hiring platform offering employers the opportunity to advertise vacancies across both platforms from one system, and access to almost half of the UK working population.

Totaljobs and Jobsite are part of the StepStone Group, one of the world’s leading e-recruitment businesses. With a head office in London and offices in Birmingham, Havant, Cardiff, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham and Glasgow, StepStone in the UK comprises Totaljobs and Jobsite plus nine additional job boards. These include:, CatererGlobal, CWJobs, Milkround, CityJobs, RetailChoice, CareerStructure, JustEngineers and emedcareers. Together these brands provide access to over 18 million searchable candidate profiles.

Visit the Totaljobs website: