A trainee in a London law firm posted an interesting item on Rollonfriday.com last week.
Apparently an associate in his law firm has a personal hygiene problem, and (unusually) was aware of it. He was also aware that staff and partners at the firm were on to him. So, he sat down and wrote a two-page letter to them, apologizing for his predicament which, he claimed, was down to a stress-induced condition. He was happy to report, however, that bad smell notwithstanding, he was still a winner with the ladies. He also closed his missive by pointing out that he did bathe every morning, and regularly changed his shirt, underpants and socks!
A personal hygiene problem in the office, of course, is one of those things that staff generally tend not to talk about (at least not to the offender who stinks). And managers, too, are happy to steer well clear of the issue, often feeling unable to broach the subject until forced to do so by complaining subordinates. And even then, managers are often unprepared to deal with what is a very delicate situation. So, here are a few 'dos' and 'don'ts':
DO try to confront the issue head on. DON'T try to be too subtle - managers should do more than just get their PA to go out and buy antiperspirant or air-fresher, and simply stick it on the offending staffer's desk when he or she goes off to lunch.
DO call in the smelly staffer into a private office for the discussion, but DON'T close the door (the stink will be overpowering).
DO try to have some empathy with the individual concerned. But DON'T try to make him or her feel better by saying things like: 'It could be worse - you could have halitosis and a flatulence problem too!'.
DO try to be supportive and give the staffer time to take in what he or she is being told (your employee is probably unaware that they stink. Many staff with personal hygiene problems believe that staff give them a wide berth simply because they are unpopular). DON'T insist that the staffer immediately goes home for a quick (or not-so-quick) wash. A bath, after all, is not always the right answer.
Managers are reminded that not all personal hygiene problems are the result of lazy staff not washing. Body odour can be a legitimate medical issue. The occasional wash, however, won't do any harm.
Please note that this list is provided as a general guide only, and managers will need to use their own discretion in any given situation. A good manager will be able to handle these issues in a diplomatic and sensitive manner, ensuring that all come out smelling of roses.