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Personal hygiene at work

Personal hygiene at work

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Does anyone have any experience of dealing with complaints from staff about a colleague whose body odour is overwhelming? I have been asked to advise an HR manager on ways of approaching this problem.
Kevin Friery

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By imontgomery
06th Sep 2002 10:51

I have had to deal with this issue on a couple of occasions and can recommend that the only approach is a direct one! It's embarassing, but much easier to take the direct route than have the staff member come to you with a complaint of exclusion from work activities because no-one wants to work too closely with the smell. You may want to be prepare what you are going to say in advance, also if they are doing a manual job which you may want to consider what facilties you have for staff to freshen up.

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By joannebolland
05th Sep 2002 17:01

I have dealt with this problem in the past. The employee concerned had some sort of medical condition that made them smell of fish that has gone off (this was brought on by eating diary produce). The employee was unaware of the problem and I didn't know it was a medical condition until I saw something about it on breakfast tv. Obviously this is a very sensitive issue and embarrassing for the employee. I dealt with it by taking the employee somewhere quiet and telling them that I thought they were suffering from (can't remember what it was called). I softened the blow by telling them that the only reason I was aware of the condition was the fact that my sister had the same thing. (My sister wasn't too happy!) but it made it easier for the employee. I wouldn't let the employee know that others have mentioned this to you as they will be really embarrassed. I would state that you've just noticed ie. pick a day when the smell is really bad. Don't make a joke of it, you've got to tell them straight so they understand exactly what you're saying. It could be a medical condition and offer help.

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By Ian Hale
05th Sep 2002 17:23

As a production manager and again as a HR manager, I have had occasion to talk to the same person about personal hygiene. I discussed the situation with our occupational health department and another colleague, that had already had cause to counsel this individual. The approach taken was to talk to him privately about his work and then explain that it had been brought to my attention, that his personal hygiene standards were unacceptable to the companies expectation. I explained that he was not being fair to his colleagues and that he was affecting the productivity within the department. I discussed with him his personal circumstances, what facilities he had at home, whether or not he showered/bathed regularly, change of clothing, if he used anti-perspirant deodorant and eventually gained a commitment from him that he would address the problem immediately. There was an immediate improvement which lasted for some weeks but he needed to be reminded from time to time that he was again slipping into his old ways. I won't go into any more personal detail but I don't believe he was aware that he was causing any offence and he was very grateful that I had broached the subject in a sensitive and constructive way. I don't think that this individual will ever be cured of his problem but these situations need to be treated sensitively. A major factor in dealing with this is the character of the person, how well you know them and gauging how they will react. Can you tell your best friend that they have BO??

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By davidcotton
05th Sep 2002 17:37

I had to deal with someone who constantly smelled fishy, a condition he said was related to an exclusion diet he was on to track down the source of some allergies he was suffering. Nobody could bear to be in the same room as him.

I quietly took him on one side and made him aware of the problem others were suffering and asked him gently whether he was aware of the problem. He said he was, but that he had an allergy to most soaps and deoderants. I suggested using hypoallergenic soap and deoderant - he appeared not to be aware of the existing of such things. He improved dramatically for a short time and then lapsed back into smelling awful again. I took him on one side again - the second time was much easier, because I had only to tell him that the problem seemed to have reappeared. His main problem was lack of attention to personal hygiene, despite all other protestations. Once he got into the habit of regular washing in the right places, there was a notable improvement. You do have my sympathy on this one - it's embarassing for all concerned, but I would just tackle the problem head on.

Best of luck.

Regards

David

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By dalrymples
05th Sep 2002 17:48

Never an easy one this. Wherever possible it is useful to get a respected supervisor, Manager either past or current on side and ask them to have a quiet word. This isn't a cop out, just that people would generally like to hear such thigns from someone they have a rapport with rather than HR. HR's involvment has often caused more distress to the individual concerned as it can imply that one or many colleagues were so unhappy with the problem that they felt the need to contact HR.

In reality, the problems can be caused be diet (possibly linked to ethnicity), medical, disorder or simply poor hygiene.

Where my approach above is not possible, I have always found it useful to find another reason to speak to the individual, be it a pay query, a query related to personal details held on file etc etc, the point being that at the end of that 'engineered' conversation and as a passing, low key observation the point of body odour can be raised. It sounds a bit poor but the following has worked for me in the past 'By the way, before anyone else notices, I thought I should mention that your body odour is a little overpowering'.

This way the employee feels that you are the only person who has noticed, and that they may have let their normally high standards slip.

One word of warning, be prepared for this to open up a reem of issues including sudden destitution, health problems and even loss of confidence.

Good luck

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By User deleted
05th Sep 2002 20:53

Nasty problem and one that, as previously said, requires careful handling. Some years ago I had to speak to one of our younger members of staff who everyone avoided becuase of this. A lovely person who just, to be blunt, stank.

I was given the job of discussing it and I too, as those below indicated, was to the point. I said his body odour was off putting and was the only source of comment in any way adverse about him. It transpired that he did shower,use anti-perspirant but did not change his clothes.

His problem was that as he had only started work recently with the company he had only a couple of work shirts and work type socks and these were not changed daily as a result. He was unaware of the problem but although embarrased was able to discuss it.

I applied for a small release of cash for him for work clothes and the problem never appeared again.

Poor personal hygeine can be as a result of depression and other illnesses and is a difficult subject to approach. In some ways I was lucky in that I could assist with a resolution.I guess it should always be approached as a problem that has a solution and you will work towards assisting them with it.

I do agree that it should be dealt with in line management rather than HR as that could be difficult and for what its worth I don't see it as a role suitable for HR.

Line managers working everyday with a person have a better chance of dealing with the effect of this and monitoring the improvement.

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By User deleted
09th Sep 2002 09:23

In my experience this is one of the most difficult issues to deal with! You have to be straightforward and VERY clear in what you say to the person. They need to hear very clearly that they have an issue that needs to be addressed. So certainly you need to plan what you are going to say and deliver it plainly! Also in my experience it has come as a complete surprise to the person involved and whilst they are embarressed they are also greatful!
Good luck.
Sarah

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By gollygumdrops
20th Jul 2006 10:59

I've had to deal with this a few times, and agree that the only way is to meet, in private, preferably at the end of the day or just before lunch, and be sensitive but direct and firm. Do try not to appear embarrassed, and keep it brief. This gives the person a chance to nip out and get fresh socks, deodorant, toothpaste or whatever.

Supermarkets and high street discounters can kit people out in perfectly good work clothes really cheaply, and that can be a real relief and confidence booster.

Think ahead a little as there's often a little outpouring of what's going wrong - I've encountered 'just got a job and have no money', and, 'wife threw me out, living in the car' situations.


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