#11 ASK KATARINA: My employee has a strong body odour, what should I do?

#11 ASK KATARINA: My employee has a strong body odour, what should I do?

''Hello Katarina, I work as a manager and one of my employees has a very strong body odour. Others have started noticing too and rumours have started circulating. How should I address this issue without hurting anyone’s feelings?''
C. G.

Dear C. G.,
thank you for your question!

I fully understand if you find this situation uncomfortable and difficult to address as other people’s feelings might get affected. However, by remaining silent, the problem wouldn’t get solved or could even get worse if people start talking behind their colleague’s back. That’s why it is essential to address this issue as soon as possible, but do it tactfully and respectfully. I suggest the following process: 

1. Have a Private Conversation: Find a time when you can speak with your employee privately, away from others not to add insult into injury. Approach the conversation with sensitivity. You might say something like: "I hope you don't mind me mentioning this, but I've noticed a strong odour lately, and I thought you might want to know."

2. Don’t Jump Into Conclusions: A strong odour is not always a sign of bad hygiene. It can be a result of medical issues or high levels of stress. Instead of criticising, offer your support. You could say something like: "Is everything okay? Is there anything I can do to help?"
Keep in mind that your colleague might feel embarrassed or defensive. Be empathetic and understanding of their reaction.

3. Maintain Confidentiality: Always keep the conversation confidential and respect your employee's privacy. Avoid gossiping or discussing the issue with others in the workplace.

4. Be Sensitive to Cultural Norms and Medical Conditions: A company’s policy should have a set of rules that recognise different religious or cultural beliefs, as well as medical conditions and disabilities. If the odour is caused by one of these, we should show empathy and help by reorganising the workplace differently to respect everyone’s needs. 

I know that addressing personal hygiene issues with an employee can be uncomfortable, but it's essential for maintaining a professional and respectful work environment. Approach the situation with empathy and understanding, and focus on finding a solution together.

I hope my answer will help you to get one step closer to the solution.

Yours sincerely,


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