The column was written by Camile Wright Miller and is entitled, "Boss should address problem of body odor." (link) I thought Ms. Miller would take the Oprah approach and caution supervisors to not bruise the fragile psyche of the offending worker, but instead she is rather straightforward in the manner in which she advises her readers to deal with such a problem. First the problem:
Q: We have a dilemma in our office that we don't know how to handle. A new employee has body odor. Not just 'deodorant gone wrong' odor. We're talking 'not bathing/not washing clothes' odor.There are a number of ways to deal with this kind of issue, for those bosses who actually are willing to confront such a problem (many would rather die). Few of those ways are as effective as just being straight up with the employee.
We don't want to offend her or hurt her feelings. We're in a very small office. We don't have a human resources department to handle this. Any suggestions on how to let her know?
Ms. Miller first touches on what doesn't work:
Well, hints don't work. Those who are the focus of hints are usually unaware they're the problem. They don't even try to read the subtle messages.Then she lays out the only real means by which to solve the problem:
For the same reason, broad messages don't work.
The manager/owner invites the offender into a conversation. The opener is, "Your work has been good. You're learning the job nicely. I have a concern, though. You're probably unaware you have a noticeable body odor. It may be a lack of showering daily or washing your clothes after each wearing. It may be a medical problem. I'm not sure. Is there something I can do to help you address the problem so others are more comfortable being near you?"If nothing else is said, the words, "you have a noticeable body odor" have to be stated.
The fact that the person involved here is female necessarily changes the approach one must take but her answer is dead on. The employee smells. She is offending her co-workers. She must bathe more often. You must get that message to her in as clear and concise a way as possible.
I've been involved in this kind of one-on-one with employees a few times in my life. Conversations with a subordinate about personal hygiene are not pleasant. But they come with the territory. You have an obligation to your employees to make the work environment free of foul odors - just as you have an obligation to tell an employee to turn off the radio blasting foul music - rap comes to mind.
To Camile Wright Miller a message: You go, girl. I couldn't agree with you more.