Touch in the workplace has long been the topic of much tension, with sexual harassment being a trigger point for legal action and civic concern. This has left many managers feeling that they cannot use touch for fear of causing harm or damaging their relationships with staff. This article aims to lay out the value of using physical touch in the workplace and how when used appropriately it can positively impact company outcomes, improve work relationships and increase employee well-being.
Touch is a basic human need. From the time we are born, touch provides necessary sensory input for our physical, emotional, psychological and social development. This is a known fact; however as we get older, touch becomes a sensitive issue, and our touch anxiety grows. “If I touch them, what will happen if they get the wrong idea, and could I damage this relationship?” is the question playing in the back of our minds. While our need for touch remains fundamental to our sense of connection and support of others, we become more hesitant, which is in turn compounded by the context of the professional environment.
As the world becomes more digital and virtual, many of us are becoming “touch deprived”, and despite our adult touch anxiety, we still have a fundamental need for physical contact. Touch forms part of how we communicate, bond and socialise non-verbally with others. The less often we touch, the less connected we feel which impacts many areas of our health. Within the workplace setting there are many unseen impacts of reduced touch, and hopefully through this article you will feel a greater sense of self-efficacy in using and receiving this powerful communication tool.
Let’s have a look at the nine benefits of physical touch and how they translate into positive workplace outcomes.
The nine reasons why you should be using more touch at work
- It increases oxytocin
Oxytocin is known as our “cuddle hormone”, though don’t let this put you off. Oxytocin is the hormone associated with human bonding, and when released it can help us develop a sense of safety and trust in one another. Trust is a cultural value of paramount importance in organisations, as it boosts our creativity, innovation, perceived purpose in the organisation’s vision, and in turn leads to greater commitment to the organisation’s objectives for the long-term. So this “soft” hormone has some powerful benefits.
- Touch counteracts stress
In this world filled with change and uncertainty, stress is a constant; however physical touch can be part of the antidote as research shows that physical touch releases large amounts of dopamine – “our happy hormone”. Dopamine is not only associated with feelings of happiness and well-being, but also plays a major role in increasing feelings of relaxation, and we all know that we are more productive, participatory and pleasant when we are relaxed. Dopamine counters stress and in turn the many modern-day diseases we suffer from as a result.
- It boosts our immunity
The more touch we receive, the better our immune system is able to perform. This becomes especially relevant when we think of the time and costs incurred from absenteeism. So, the more we touch, the more productive we are and the better able we are to perform our roles without needing to take sick leave.
- Work needs to satisfy people’s needs
We are living in a new age where people are not only looking for their pay cheque, but also for a sense of purpose and meaning in their job. It is therefore essential that companies provide this in order to retain their staff. As physical touch is one of our fundamental human needs, providing more appropriate touch in the workplace can help to satisfy this need while boosting staff retention.
- Touch boosts effective interpersonal communication
Touch serves many functions in the workplace from validation (a tap on the back), to interaction management (tapping a shoulder to get attention), persuasion (holding someone’s arm to direct them where we want to go) and celebration (high fives). All of these appropriate uses of touch in the workplace enable healthy non-verbal communication in the office environment, and when missing can influence the effectiveness of our interactions by creating confusion, increasing mistrust and reducing feelings of appreciation.
- It increases perceived managerial social effectiveness
Touch is related to self-esteem. The higher our feelings of confidence, the more we are able to use touch effectively. In the workplace this can be an area of much deliberation because if touch is used ineffectively it can damage relationships. It is therefore very important for managers to be aware of the needs of their individual staff so that they can meet them appropriately. When this is performed effectively, staff will perceive their manager as being socially effective and hold them in higher esteem. And considering that management is one of the top five reasons why people leave their jobs, this is a valuable method to retain staff.
- Effective touch is a sign of an authentic leader
We have all heard of the term “authentic leadership” and we have covered this topic in many of our blogs. An authentic leader is one who is totally themselves at work. They show integrity in their actions which means that they hold nothing back from their staff. Touch is a non-verbal indicator of authenticity as although it is unspoken, we are all able to perceive when someone is being ingenuine when we come into physical contact with them. The use of touch is therefore a powerful first step for any manager who wants to become more authentic in their leadership position.
- Touch boosts likeability
We tend to like people who show that they like us. Touch is a primary non-verbal way of showing care and appreciation and therefore plays a valuable role in increasing how much one is liked in their office environment. This is useful for anybody however for managers in particular, the use of touch can boost managerial likeability. So if you are looking for a way to win over your new team, this could be just the simple solution you are looking for.
- Touch increases role performance
Research has shown that the amount of touch a supervisor offers their staff impacts their perception of feeling supported, not only by said supervisor but by the organisation as a whole. This has a profound benefit on organisational outcomes because when staff feel they are fully supported by their company, their performance is boosted and they are more likely to perform organisational citizenship behaviours (volunteering for tasks and supporting co-workers).
As you can see from the reasons above, touch plays a powerful role in mediating our workplace relationships and reaching organisational outcomes. From boosting role performance to reducing absenteeism, there are a lot of reasons for using more touch in the workplace. Now before you head off to stroke your co-workers, please be aware. People have different touch profiles and will respond differently to touch. In order to achieve all the benefits that touch has to offer your company, it is therefore necessary to be mindful of each individual and manage your use accordingly. Touch is the oldest and strongest of our human senses; use it wisely and effectively and your organisation is sure to see massive benefits.