Does swimming with sharks sound more appealing to you than telling someone that they have bad body odour? A conversation about body odour will not be easy, but if you are prepared, it is more likely to run smoothly.
Who should talk to an employee about body odour?
A conversation about personal hygiene is very delicate. A person in a leadership role that the employee trusts is who should speak with them. This could be a team leader or direct supervisor.
Should HR talk to an employee about body odour?
An HR representative who is experienced in difficult conversations could be considered to conduct the conversation, however caution should be used when bringing HR into the situation as it may come across as too heavy handed in a sensitive situation. Use your discretion to choose someone who would make the employee feel the most comfortable in an awkward situation.
When to have the conversation?
Issues of body odour should be addressed quickly rather than ignored with the hope that things will resolve on their own. Allowing the situation to draw out will only cause more embarrassment for the employee or could tarnish customer relations.
If possible, have the conversation towards the end of the day which will avoid making the employee going back to their workstation feeling self-conscious for the rest of the day. Make sure to have the conversation discreetly and in private so as not to draw attention from other colleagues.
How Should I Talk to an Employee About Body Odour?
When deciding exactly what you want to say to the employee with the body odour problem, you will need to tailor the conversation to the person. You know them best and you know what approach they will be most receptive too. Here are some tips that can guide you:
- Do unto others. Consider, if the roles were reversed, how would you like to be approached and what would you want said?
- Acknowledge it will be an uncomfortable conversation.
- For example, “the feedback I have to share with you today is a bit uncomfortable”.
- Stick to the facts and don’t make judgmental statements.
- For example, you could say, “the cologne that you wear causes an allergic reaction for your colleagues who have a sensitivity to scent”. Or, "I have noticed that you have a strong body odour when you return from the gym after lunch". Avoid saying things such as “the cologne that you wear stinks”, or "you smell bad".
- Keep what you have to say short and to the point. Allow the employee time to talk and listen to what they have to say. Be understanding and prepared to work with them to address any concerns that they may raise.
- Consider referring to your company policies that address personal hygiene such as the company dress code. Typically, they include language about personal grooming.
- Focus the conversation on the solutions, not the issue.
- For example, “we can give you access to the shower in the warehouse if you would like to use it after your lunch hour workouts”.
- End on a positive note. Remind the employee that they are a valuable member of the team.
- Practice the conversation in advance with a representative from the HR department or another management team member. The more you do something the more comfortable you will become with it.
Body odours can be caused by a variety of factors including medical conditions, cultural or religious beliefs, mental illness or other personal problems. Employers need to be considerate of these factors and provide accommodations as necessary.
The conversation will be hard but ultimately you are helping the employee. The employee may be upset or defensive, however having the conversation will stop the situation from escalating and can prevent future embarrassment for the employee.
If you and your management team would value support on how to deal with employee issues like this and the many other that come up in your work week, reach out to talk to us about our partnership programs. Our HR Business Partner programs start at 5 hours a month and provide support in all facets of recruitment, employee relations, performance management, disability management and much more. Contact us today and let’s see if Essential HR’s partnership program is right for you!