Looming deadlines, mountains of paperwork and schedules crammed with stressful meetings can make even the best employee break a sweat. Understandable. But what do you do in situations where your employee is chronically… well, smelly?
Talking to your employee about such a personal issue will arguably be one of the most awkward and dreaded conversations of your entire management career, but you’ll need to find a tactful way to approach this delicate conversation with your odor challenged employee. Yes, it feels like this type of conversation is crossing the line and is likely to cause a lot of embarrassment for both you and the employee in question. But ignoring this issue can create a myriad of other workplace issues by fueling the office gossip mill and reduced productivity. In the worst case scenario, it exposes the offender to workplace bullying. How do you address such a delicate issue?
Face it head on
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It will never be more tempting than to beat around the bush, but it’s best to just rip the Band-Aid off with a statement such as, “I’d like to speak with you about an issue that you may not be aware of…”
Keep the conversation job-focused
Excessive body odor is an intensely personal issue, but the conversation should be focused on the work environment and productivity. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, excessive body odor can cause work delays, low morale and disgruntled employees. Be careful not to phrase your words in a way that makes your employee feel ganged up on. Inform your employee of how the issue is affecting the work environment. If they deal with clients, remind them that the issue is negatively affecting the company’s image and bottom lime. Refer to any applicable portions of your employment policies or employee dress code.
Stay solution oriented
The goal of this conversation is to correct the issue rather than to humiliate the employee. Succinctly describe the problem, then spend the rest of the conversation focusing on solutions. No one over the age of ten is going to respond well to being told to use deodorant and soap, so, rather than suggesting solutions, ask the employee what they think they can do to address the situation. At this point, the employee is likely to offer reasons for the situation, such as medical conditions, lack of money to spend on hygiene products or lack of time for washing clothes. Remember that if an employee raises a medical issue as the reason for their body odor problem, it’s important to involve your human resources expert or speak to an employment lawyer. Your employee may have a disability and you’ll want to be sure to follow any legal protocol required in these types of situations.
Dealing with employee hygiene issues is just like dealing with any other personnel issue. It all comes down to identifying the problem, working through a solution and following up; keeping in mind that you should treat your employee with dignity and respect when having the conversation. And of course, you’ll want to spritz a little air freshener after it’s over.
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