The Business of Shaking Hands: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

Hand shaking is common to conducting business. Many people take pride in their grip which is meant to convey warmth, strength, and mutual respect. However, from a health perspective, this practice must now be viewed with caution. Almost 25% of the people do not wash their hands after using the toilet.

The October 8, 2007 issue of American Medical news (page 33) cites research, which reveals a large discrepancy between what people say they do and what they actually do after using a public bathroom.

According to a study commissioned jointly by the American Society for Microbiology, and the Soap and Detergent Association, 92% of the people claimed that they always wash hands after using a public restroom. However, observations in public places such as train stations and sports stadiums showed that, in fact, only 77% of the people washed their hands after using the restroom.

The study further reports that significantly more women (88%) than men (66%) wash their hands after using a public restroom. “Very clearly, guys need to step up to the sink,” said Brian Sansoni, Vice President of Communication for the Soap Association (October 8, 2007 American Medical News, p.33).

When you extend your hand to shake someone else’s, you will never hear the other person retreat and say, “Sorry, but I did not wash my hands after going to the toilet today.” Instead you are likely to get a strong, firm, and an enthusiastic handshake with a big smile possibly covering up an unpleasant truth.

It would appear that the good old handshake, which is meant to create trust between people, is potentially unhealthy unless both parties follow common sense and good personal hygiene. Perhaps the Chinese had it right all along in their custom of simply bowing their heads politely to other people instead of shaking their hands.

My brother and some Indian friends have suggested to me that a similar analysis is possible of the Indian greeting of “Namaste”. However, I am not sure about that. The Indian culture is different than the Chinese culture in some fundamental ways. Indians love to hold hands. I know that Indians love to hug. We even have a hugging saint named Ammachi. She spends a lot of time actively hugging people. See the link below.

India’s Hugging Saint

Anyway, back to the original topic.

Washing hands with soap and use of alcohol based rubs to sanitize hands have proven to be effective techniques in health care settings in reducing infection rates. Similarly, it is clear that carrying a hand sanitizer is a must for every business professional whose job involves shaking many hands everyday.

Of course, it may be politically incorrect for you to take out the sanitizer immediately after shaking someone’s hands. However, a relatively discrete application of the sanitizer a few minutes later would seem to be be acceptable. If someone notices it and asks, one can always say, “my hands are very dry. I always carry this lotion with me. Would you like try it?”

Another option would be to simply stop shaking hands. When someone offers their hand, you could say with warmth and sincerity, “I would much rather hug you.” Obviously, this is not the norm among business professionals today. But every custom must start somewhere with a brave person.

If hugging replaced handshaking, It could lead to a better world and possibly more harmony and global peace. Imagine, if all the world leaders, when they met, had to hug each other tightly for at least two minutes. Would things be better with long hugs? It’s hard to say but certainly worth a try.

Tips for Career and Stress Management in the Workplace: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

In my view, stress and career management are central to the lives of most people. Given below are some tips that make sense to me. Take them with good humor and make up some of your own.

1. Make friends with your Boss. Research shows that bosses can be a major source of workplace stress. According to Professor Hochwater and his doctoral students, who conducted a study on bad bosses, “Employees stuck in an abusive relationship experienced more exhaustion, job tension, nervousness, depressed mood and mistrust.”

2. Laughing can break up an otherwise negative mental state. Humor plays a big role in our seeing things in perspective. Keep a book of good jokes handy at the workplace and flip through it now and then. Make friends with funny co-workers. They are all around you. When things get difficult, go talk to them and ask them to make you laugh. You will be surprised at the comedic talent available in the workplace. From personal experience, after my most uncontrollable laughs, I have felt much better and rejuvenated afterwards.

3. Assess your skills and abilities in terms of long term goals. Enhance these further through education and training, particularly if your company is willing to pay for it. Many organizations these days pay for their employees getting an advanced degree like an MBA. Higher level of training and education will allow you take charge of your career and make you more marketable. People experience more anxiety and stress when they feel things are not in their control and that they have limited options.

4. Be alert to opportunities around you both within and outside the workplace and take advantage of them. Bite only as much as you can chew and do not say yes to too many workplace projects. It will scatter your energy and leave you exhausted. However, success in fewer and even smaller projects will give you confidence as well as an enhanced professional reputation among your co-workers.

5. Take one or two 10 minutes walks during the workday. I find short walks, or even climbing up and down the stairs several times during the day to be very useful for me. Lunch is a good time for walking. You can walk outside in the fresh air and then come back and eat a light, balanced, and nutritious lunch. I wish I could take my own advice more often! When I can though, I find that walking and deep yogic breathing can do wonders for creativity, energy level, and the general elevation of mood.

6. I find that drinking enough plain water during the workday is very helpful to me. If I drink too much tea or coffee as substitutes for water, it creates physiological symptoms of stress such as sweaty palms, increased heart rate, and just more nervous energy than I need. Students who drink too much tea and coffee before their classes risk the increased possibility of having to take a bathroom break when critical topics are being discussed.

7. Calm and center yourself through meditation and/or prayer several times a day. This is particularly helpful before important presentations and meetings. People listen better, speak more clearly, and in general communicate much more effectively when they are relaxed. If you do not have your own office and feel strange about closing your eyes publicly and just sitting quietly, then go to the bathroom, close the door, and sit there for a few minutes.

What Should Organizations Do?

Organizations should consider incorporating meditation training in their employee wellness programs. Employees who meditate regularly experience greater job satisfaction, improved job performance, are more alert and active, self confident, less irritable, more cooperative with others, and enjoy a greater level of accomplishment.

Organizations also need to be sensitive to the fact that personal problems (divorce, illness in the family, death of a loved one, or other trauma) can temporarily influence the workplace behavior of otherwise good employees. Giving leaves of absence or personals days off with pay to manage such situations can help to reduce the employee stress level.

My Personal Belief

In my view, relaxation and meditation training can be particularly helpful in coping with difficult life or workplace issues. It has been documented in a variety of research settings that meditation and prayer can lead to significant decreases in psychological distress, health complaints, insomnia, and smoking. There is a lot of good information available on stress management in the research literature as well as in popular magazines, and of course on the Internet. Like everything else, one has to be an intelligent consumer of knowledge and use common sense.

Strive and thrive! Do well, and be the best that you can be and leave the rest to the higher power.

Good luck!