The Not So Sweet Smell of Success?

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Striped Skunk - Mephitis mephitisHave you ever found yourself sat next to a colleague with a less than enthusiastic approach to personal hygiene? It’s one of the most awkward and challenging issues that can arise in the workplace and one that has had managers and HR practitioners treading on eggshells for years. Rectifying the issue may seem simple at first but, if handled incorrectly, can result in the employee in question feeling embarrassed, insulted or even victimised. However, ignoring the problem may mean that those around them become uncomfortable and demotivated, resulting in poor morale and reduced levels of productivity. Anonymously filling the employee’s pockets with potpourri or planting deodorant in their locker, whilst both seemingly viable solutions, aren’t ones that we would recommend… so how best can we deal with such a potentially emotive situation?

Time it right – Hold a meeting with the employee at the end of their shift. Discussing the issue first thing in the morning will mean that the employee spends the entire day feeling self-conscious without the opportunity to go home, shower and change.

Be discreet – Call the employee away from their workstation with minimal fuss. Chances are that their co-workers initiated the complaint so will know exactly what is happening if you march in and summon them to the boardroom, spraying room freshener in their wake.

Empathise – The employee will already be anxious at being called in to discuss a difficult topic so adopt a soft approach. Be mindful that different cultures have varying norms and standards when it comes to personal appearance and hygiene. Explain that you understand the issue is a difficult one to discuss and highlight the reasons why it needs to be addressed. Where possible, link the feedback to a business issue and set a timescale within which you expect improvements to be made.

Personal hygiene in the workplace is never an easy subject to approach but, in this case, prevention is infinitely better than cure. If you have experienced the problem of poor hygiene in the workplace it may be that employees are not aware of the standards expected of them. Introduce a policy on personal appearance and hygiene that provides employees with clear guidelines to adhere to. This will ensure that future occurrences of a similar nature are minimised. You know it makes scents.

David is a Human Resources Consultant at Let’s Talk People.

David has been providing HR & employment law advice to business owners and company directors for 8 years. He is a qualified member of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.


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