Religious at Work: Handshaking, Tapping and Hugging

Religious at Work is a series about my experience balancing a religious lifestyle with the demands of a full-time job in a secular environment.

religious at workHandshaking, tapping and hugging. That’s what I’m talking about today.

It didn’t come as a surprise to me that handshaking is the norm in the business world. I expected it and was prepared for it. I even used to practice with my dad. He insisted that a good handshake emits confidence.

Now I’m not here to debate whether or not women should shake hands in the workplace. That is for you to decide for yourself.

What did come as a surprise to me was that certain men will tap me on the shoulder. It’s not done in an inappropriate way and it’s done very infrequently, but every time they do it I give a little jump and it gives me a heebeejeebee sorta feeling.

Yes, that’s a real feeling.

Honestly, it’s just something that I completely did not expect.  It’s like the time on New Year’s Eve when my male boss went around wishing everyone a happy new year with a hug.

Luckily I’m not a super touchy feely person to begin with and my boss saw the freaked out look I made as he came by my desk. I guess some people get all weird by the holidays.

I think that growing up in a frum environment made me extra sensitive to this.  In frum circles any type of touch between males and females is considered inappropriate.  Since it’s something that is so not done in my social life, it makes me feel uncomfortable when it is done to me at work.

As I was entering the work force I thought that I would be able to avoid all touch that would make me feel uncomfortable, but I’ve learned very quickly that there are always unexpected things that are bound to happen.

I realized that the important thing is that I’m able to recognize things that make me uncomfortable, even if they are within the parameters of being appropriate.  I feel confident enough that if a male co-worker was  tapping me on the shoulders too often I would probably say something to him about it.  I don’t think I’d turn it into a religious thing, just maybe point out that there are other ways to get my attention.  Not everything has to be about religion… sometimes it can be about personal preference.

I’m lucky that I’ve never been in an environment where people acted completely inappropriately.  I guess that’s what HR is for though… one of the benefits to working in a large company.

How do you deal with handshaking in your work environment?  Have you ever been in a situation that made you feel completely uncomfortable?

Until next time,
Shaindy

  • Yiska

    When I came into a work environment or any other situation where I expected handshake requests, I said confidently and firmly with a smile and a friendly tone, “Nice to meet you! I don’t shake hands with men, *totally* not personal, it’s a religious thing.” And then if there was something else immediately available to talk about to prevent an awkward silence or making them feel they had to respond right away, I brought the conversation around to that. The point was that the non-handshake was a small detail for them rather than something that stuck out as the main content of the exchange. I tried to make it so that they left the encounter thinking, “Oh, she was nice. Note to self, try to remember no handshakes!” rather than “That new girl…she didn’t shake my hand…this is gonna be super awkward.” Some people were intrigued and asked me what religion, and once in a social setting someone told me how much he respected and admired it. I have been in other situations where I was told that wearing skirts and keeping other mitzvos was “beautiful.”

    In one instance where after 6 months, a male boss once forgot the no-touch rule and put his hand lightly on my shoulder for a picture that was being taken, my coworkers saw it and said, “George!! You’re not supposed to touch her!!”

    I do know that it can be really hard, and I must say that I never worked in such an environment for years at a time as you are. But I also feel it’s important to say that we have to be confident and proud in our role as Jews in the world, and stand up for what we believe in – our Torah! Yes, it makes us less able to “blend in” and be one of the crowd, but in Bilaam’s curse-turned blessing, the pasuk says that Hashem put these words in his mouth: “Hen Am Levadad Yishkon.” We ARE different and we will always be different…and I learned firsthand that it’s something to be proud of. If we take this attitude and radiate pride, confidence, and our natural royalty as bearers of the Torah, we will make a kiddush Hashem and bring honor to Hashem, the Torah, and ourselves. B’Hatzlacha with all these challenges – you’re a very special woman!

    • Beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

  • This comes up for me often, but not as often as in a working environment. When a man holds his hand out to shake, I usually try to make it light so as not to embarrass them or make them feel uncomfortable. It definitely has to do with growing up religious…that is what I’m used to. I won’t even mention what is now considered appropriate, used to be highly not appropriate in “those days” lol!

    • Times have definitely changed! Maybe it was easier years ago when the general population had better morals?

  • This comes up for me often, but not as often as in a working environment. When a man holds his hand out to shake, I usually try to make it light so as not to embarrass them or make them feel uncomfortable. It definitely has to do with growing up religious…that is what I’m used to. I won’t even mention what is now considered appropriate, used to be highly not appropriate in “those days” lol!