NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard wants to replace handshakes with back-pats — but should we just ditch awkward greetings altogether?

Is it a handshake? Is it a fist-bump? Is it a hand-only-hug? We just don't know.

We should stop shaking hands for the time being in order to help slow the spread of coronavirus, said NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard at a press conference yesterday, as the first person-to-person transmission of COVID-19 was confirmed in Australia.

It’s a suggestion that comes as many of us have grappled our entire careers with how to greet different professional acquaintances in different scenarios.

Is a handshake upon introduction always necessary?

When does it become a kiss on the cheek for those women in our network that we love and appreciate, and catch up with sporadically?

Do the rules differ during a networking event or dinner?

Should it ever be a hug, kiss or handshake for those we share an office with?

And what about those who don’t want to do any form of touching at all, no matter how professional and impersonal the handshake. Can we finally declare that it’s professionally acceptable to simply say ‘hello’?

This will be on the minds of at least some women this week, especially those attending the numerous International Women’s Day events that are occurring across Australia — including breakfasts and lunches that in some cases will see more than 1,000 attendees coming together to network and share a meal.

Handshaking, Hazzard said, is “not necessary at a time when we have a virus that appears to be reasonably active in its endeavours”.

He suggested we consider giving “each other a pat on the back for the time being”.

Another suggestion is that we just stop touching each other in a professional setting.

End the ‘do I, don’t I?’ awkwardness, avoid any potential discomfort and simply get on with the meeting, the networking, the conference or whatever, without feeling personally uncomfortable or risking somebody else feeling that way.

Kisses, cuddles, handshakes, pats on the back could be reserved for family and friends (and still potentially limited during this time).

(There is, of course, always the emerging foot dance?)

Some may call Hazzard’s “no handshaking” suggestion an overreaction that plays into the panic surrounding the global spread of the virus, although Hazzard did also note that he personally won’t be changing “anything about what I do on a day-to-day basis”.

But a little bit of panic — when it comes to personal hygiene — is not always such a bad idea.

Especially when it comes down to a type of contact that can easily be avoided, and one that leaves plenty of us baffled regarding the rules of what to do and when.

Health authorities are now suggesting it may be impossible to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Australia.

Regardless of how bad it gets, there will also be another flu season approaching. Then another. And another after that.

Considering how we greet each other in a professional setting will be one very useful approach we can all take to do our bit. It also means we can think a little less about the personal hygiene habits of others, and worry more about our own.

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

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