News and advice on business etiquette — January/February 2015

How to handle professional handshakes when you have the flu. Plus, Facebook launches an office version of its social networking site.


Q: Is there a polite way to decline a handshake during flu season?

A: In a word: no. While you can do your best to avoid holding on to escalator rails and subway poles, it’s a much trickier job to sidestep handshakes when meeting clients and colleagues. It goes without saying, but "if you are sneezing, coughing or think you are sick, you might say when meeting someone, ‘I better not shake your hand; I may be contagious,’" says Louise Fox, an etiquette expert in Toronto.

If you aren’t the infected party, here’s a good rule of thumb: shake anyway and carry plenty of hand sanitizer. "It can be construed as rude to turn down a handshake. You are indicating to others that you think they’re germy, unclean or haven’t washed their hands," Fox says. The truth is, not extending your hand isn’t likely to prevent you from getting the flu, but it will be seen as offensive. "The flu is spread by droplets made when people with the virus cough, sneeze or talk that can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby," she says. "Less often, you might get it by touching your mouth with the hand that touched a surface or object that has the virus on it," meaning the odds of getting sick from handling doorknobs, using a colleague’s stapler or shaking hands are on par.

— Lisa van de Geyn


Facebook for firms

Mark Zuckerberg 

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook

Apparently dissatisfied with its 1.35 billion monthly users, Facebook is reportedly developing an office version of its social media site. According to the Financial Times, Facebook at Work will allow users to chat with colleagues, connect with professional contacts and collaborate on documents — competing directly with similar offerings from Google, Microsoft and LinkedIn. Of course, Facebook would need buy-in from office administrators, who may have privacy concerns about sharing company information through the site, as well as business professionals, who might not want to join yet another online network. The new site would (thankfully) keep users’ personal and work profiles separate. No word on whether or not they’ll rename the "poke" function.

— Tamar Satov


CFO role keeps growing

No longer simply an ace accountant and business strategist, today’s CFO is also taking responsibility in areas such as human resources and information technology. More than eight in 10 CFOs polled by Robert Half Management Resources say their roles have expanded outside of accounting and finance in the past three years, with HR (21%) and IT (19%) the most common areas. Other roles cited were operations (18%), marketing (17%) and sales or business development (10%). "Companies are looking to their financial leaders to partner with departments throughout the organization to help enhance efficiencies, grow revenue and contain costs," says Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half.

— TS