Jobhop Jobhop's blog : How to Tell Your Employee They Have Body Odour
What is your biggest pet hate in terms of the personal appearance and hygiene issues of your colleagues?
Research from bathroom supply store showerstoyou.co.uk has found that 70% of office workers report body odour as the biggest personal hygiene and appearance issue they notice in the workplace. Bad breath (64%) and dirty or stained work clothes (61%) were the next most hated issues.
Yes, hygiene and body odour - as uncomfortable as they can be to address - really are things a manager (or anyone) needs to speak up about if they're becoming a problem. You should speak up because it may affect the way your employee is being perceived, and it will potentially affect the way your company is perceived too, if they're dealing with clients in person or even just with visitors to the office. You should also speak up if it's affecting their co-workers and relationships with them.
Like the majority of us, you may find it difficult to approach an individual with offensive body odour. Whether you care about hurting someone's feelings or you're just simply uncomfortable with bringing up this subject, body odour is a sensitive topic for a lot of people and it should be addressed delicately. The aim is not to embarrass anyone, but to highlight the issue and offer appropriate suggestions that will eliminate inappropriate personal hygiene.
Now, this is going to be an awkward conversation, there is no way around it.
But you must have plenty of awkward conversations as a manager, it's part of the job. Although this one is slightly more awkward than most because most of us have very little practice at this sort of thing - but it's got to be done.
Before the talk
Try to gather as much information regarding the problem as possible. Familiarise yourself with the circumstances surrounding any of the complaints made and also the employee's file for clues about the cause of the body odour. Schedule a closed-door meeting or sit down with the employee in question in a quiet and private space to avoid embarrassing them. You could ask to talk privately with the employee at the end of the day. The timing is important so that they don't need to sit at work feeling horrible self-conscious for hours after your chat.
Also, before you have this conversation, try and observe the issue yourself. This is not the sort of conversation you should be having based purely on someone else's word, considering it's not completely impossible that one of your staff just wants to cause problems for said employee. Also, I'm assuming this issue is one of not washing or laundering enough, but if it turns out to be more along the lines of cultural differences in food that can lead to different body smells, you may need to ask the complaining members of staff to be more tolerant.
You should also be prepared for the possibility that there is a medical reason for the odour. If they tell you that's the case, then at that point there is not much more that you should do, other than thanking them for telling you and reassuring them that you'll accommodate them now that you understand it's related to a medical condition.
What to say
When it's time to talk to the employee about his or her body odour issue, be honest, direct, and as kind as possible. Explain that he/she may not have realised but you've noticed their body odour. Don't by any means list the names of people who have complained about them because that's likely to embarrass them further. Note that you're saying 'I have noticed', not attributing it to the employee's complaints that you've heard. This is deliberate, in order to avoid any resulting awkwardness that he or she might otherwise feel towards their colleagues.
Likely, the employee will be embarrassed. But if they're resistant or aggressive, explain that all employees do need to come to work smelling fresh and clean due to the impact on the office. Close the meeting by asking them if there's anything you can do to make it easier for them to rectify this situation, such as something like more flexible bathroom breaks.
After the talk
Always follow up with this situation a couple of weeks later and determine whether the body odour situation has been resolved. If it turns out to be a medical issue, bear in mind that the employee can only do so much to fix it. Consider moving his or her work area or transferring them to another position if they're dealing with clients. If it turns out to be a matter of insubordination, such as smoking during breaks and coming back smelling very strongly, it's probably best to take disciplinary action. Be sure to document the problem, the meeting and steps you took to handle the problem in the employee's human resource file.
In an office, as an employee or manager, you shouldn't take any matters lightly. If a complaint comes to your attention, don't jump the gun. Instead, study and analyse the situation. As an employer, each individual working for you is important, hence it needed that you treat everyone equally and resolve all matters amicably without offending anyone. The issue of body odour is a delicate and complicated one which will need a lot of thought and consideration.
The above advice can help you to formulate a body odour solution in such a way that not only the matter gets resolved, all will be happy in the process. In hindsight, you will also have helped a person who needed some wise advice that is not only going to help them in the office now but will hopefully serve as a lesson for the future as well, not just in their professional life but their personal life too.
In: Kyria Bush Jobhop.co.uk
Kyria Bush Jobhop.co.uk