At some time in our professional lives, especially during the warmer months, most of us would have worked with a colleague who smells.  The problem may be body odour, bad breath or dirty clothing and you are likely not to be the only person who has noticed but there is an expectation that you will tackle the problem…so what do you do?

If you ignore the problem and hope it will go away, it is likely that the problem will continue which may lead to hostility towards the problem employee and frustration by management’s lack of willingness to address the issues.   In addition, many hours of productivity will be lost as staff gossip about the problem and you stress about how to tackle it.  Dropping hints by leaving a deodorant on their desk is unlikely to work and may create further problems.

If you are faced with this situation, you will need to observe the following:

1. Take action – arrange to talk to the employee in private without delay.

2. Use open and honest communication – plain language should be used to explain the problem such as; “I would like to discuss a sensitive subject with you to see if we can agree a resolution to it.  I have observed that you have quite a strong body odour and I feel that this is something that needs to be addressed”.

3. Reassure and be supportive – explain that the aim of the discussion is to ensure that the problem can be resolved.  Allow them time to give an explanation of the reasons for the problem.

4. Agree Actions – These may include; visiting their GP to highlight the problem or undertaking to shower more frequently or experimenting with different types of deodorants.  Such actions should be presented in a supportive way, highlighting the importance such as ensuring that an acceptable working environment is maintained for all office workers.

5. Review progress It’s important to agree a time and date to review, perhaps in 2 weeks or a months’ time to ensure that the issue has been resolved.

If nothing else, they will thank and respect you for an honest and forthright approach.

By Bruce Ramshaw

Principal Consultant

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