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How to Talk to Employees about Body Odor: 20 Polite Ways


Clear communication is important in all relationships, more so between an employee and employer.

There are some topics that are so delicate that if an employer breaches any of it in a careless manner, things will sour for worse. It can mar the reputation of the company.

Today, with social media and the internet, such things spread like wild fire and can bring a bad name to the company.

Hence it is important to initiate careful steps and words while communicating to an employee about such topics and personal matters such as body odour at work.

talking to employee body odorHow to Approach an Employee About Hygiene Issues?

When you are working in a company, maintaining an executive and professional look is very important. You are mainly judged by the way you behave, your looks, the way you dress etc.

According to Joseph H. Harris, an employment law attorney with White Harris in New York City “A dress code typically requests that employees exercise good judgment regarding their appearance and hygiene“.

The above statement says that lack of hygiene is an important thing that becomes an issue at the workplace, especially when it is from the employee side.

As an unhygienic environment makes it difficult to work, similarly an employee who is not hygienic and has a bad body odour is tough to work with. The best solution to solve this problem is to let the employee know about it. But when talking about such issues, it is very important to handle the conversation carefully with the person, as this is a very sensitive issue.

Focus on these things while addressing the issue of body odour with the employee

How to Talk to Someone About Body Odour?

  • Have a policy that specifically addresses about hygiene.
  • Do not jump to conclusions, but also don’t take the situation lightly.
  • Talk to the person in private.
  • Understand the cultural norms and medical conditions, if any.

While handling issues like these, there arises a feeling of embarrassment for both the employee and yourself. Also if not dealt with it properly, it can ruin your relationship with that employee as well.

So it is very important for you to choose a way that will help you to maintain a positive working relationship with that particular employee.

Follow these 6 steps to deal with body odour complaint at work

1. Prepare a comfortable environment to talk about it
2. Assure your relationship with the Colleague is strong as earlier
3. Provide better choices to your Colleague
4. Tackle the issue respectfully
5. Convince the employee that you are with them always
6. Never make the issue public

How NOT to Approach the Issue?

Activities like these can make the issue even worse and can also hurt the individual. So you need to handle the problem carefully as it a sensitive issue.

  • Do NOT ‘Be The Messenger’ (passing a message from somebody else)
  • Do NOT Leave ‘Hints’.(like leaving deodorant or body sprays near the person’s desk.)

Employee Body Odor in Office – Ways to Handle it:

Here are few tips on how to tell an employee they smell bad and also discuss with them about body odour remedies and cures.

1. Prepare for the talk:

It is important to prepare for the talk because one can get offended if you tell him or her that they have body odour. Take the matter seriously and gather information about the offensive orders in the workplace.

Did anyone else complain about it? Study about the person, his background, work and lifestyle. Give a thought to the reason. Body odour is a medical issue, treat it just like that.

2. Try to gauge the urgency or seriousness of the issue:

Study about the situation first. Either it can be a genuine case or it might be that some co-workers are just being overly sensitive about a meagre issue.

You should, if possible, spend some time with the person to see for yourself if there is a body odor.

3. It is a sensitive issue:

If the person is reeking of a bad odor, even then don’t jump into action. Please understand that this is a sensitive issue and handle the situation accordingly.

Think and act kindly. Think about the next plan of action and take each step with care and caution.

4. Try to find the reason:

There can be many body odour causes. It can be a medical issue or it can be a case of a strong deodorant or a cheap deo for that matter. It can even be a case of poor hygiene issues with the employee.

Also, there are some foods that cause body odour which are consumed by employees, this can also be causes of body odour. Consider all these factors carefully and then only broach the topic with the concerned person.

5. Converse only in private:

If you are wondering about like how to talk to someone about body odour? It is better to have a one-to-one talk. Involve the HR personnel only if it is necessary. Note down the conversation.

Assure the person concerned that it is an informal meeting and that the details of the meeting will be strictly confidential and no one else will know about it. This will give confidence to the employee and he will not find the discussion offending.

6. Look before you speak:

Sometimes, a suitable word can resolve the matter while a harsh one can complicate things. Hence, think about the words you are going to use.

Some words like ‘repulsive’ are too strong a word and they should be avoided.

7. Be soft in approach:

It is how you broach the topic that is important when you receive the body order complaint at work. You can start the conversation by saying that you have noticed that the person has a strong body odour. It is better to say that you noticed it rather than saying someone else complained about it.

You can even console the person by saying that it is a small matter and we both should try to find a solution. You can make the matter more humane by saying that you too had faced the body odour problem earlier and also share how you resolved the issue.

8. Tell them why you had to talk about it:

You should tell them that the reason why you chose to talk to the person is that this issue was affecting matters in business, clients and customers.

You should also tell him that if the issue is not resolved soon enough, it can have a negative impact on his career as well. Just take care that you put this point in a sympathetic manner.

9. It is not a big deal:

This is one point that needs to be reiterated at every point. It is a point that you need to emphasize to yourself and to the person concerned. Most of us have body odour. It is just that it is more prominent in some, than others.

If you understand this, then you will be able to see the issue more compassionately. You should even consider, regard and treat the issue as if it is no big deal.

10. Ask the employee if there is any reason:

Since you have already made a list of what causes body odour, you can check those reasons with the person. If there is any medical issue that the employee is unaware of, you can offer to help him out by suggesting a doctor.

Use of medicine for body odour helps you eliminate body odour. If the employee feels hesitant to talk about it to you, ask him if there is any other person with whom he would like to speak.

Maybe, he is more comfortable writing about it rather than speaking. Whatever the case may be, assure the employee that you will be with him in every step.

11. Find if there are any personal issues:

Has the body odour, to do anything about his lifestyle? You can assure him that whatever the reasons might be, the company is ready to offer a helping hand.

12. A group approach to may help:

Even if there is a single person or more with body odour issues, instead of having a one-to-one meeting, you can consider a group meeting and then talk about the issue as a general issue. Do not take any names.

The person or persons with the issue will automatically take note and correct it. If the person concerned does not show any initiative and the problem persists, then you can convene a meeting with him or her.

13. The issue is not a joke:

It is a delicate and embarrassing situation, not just for the person with sour body odour but also for the employer or the manager who has to speak to the former.

Do not take the issue casually and never, ever make a joke about the issue, however harmless or innocent the joke might be.

14. A straightforward talk is best:

Do not try to have an indirect conversation or try to give hints. The person in question may not even understand what you are pointing at.

Often, it can lead to misunderstandings and can complicate the issue. Hence have a direct and straightforward talk, but be gentle, non-judgemental and sensitive.

15. Don’t put the onus on others:

As discussed in point 6, it is better not to involve any third person into the matter. If you are going to say that someone has complained about the body odour, then issues will crop up between them and you might have inadvertently pitted your own employees against each other.

16. You can give a thought to the gender:

Though there should not be any gender bias in anything related to work, you can bring gender into focus here.

When it comes to the body odour issue, it is better that a male manager speaks to the male employee and if it is a woman, then let a female take charge of speaking to her.

17. You should come across as a genuine problem resolver:

Check your approach. It should be of someone who wants to resolve the issue and not as someone who is accusing. You need to assure yourself about it before you can put it to the person concerned.

18. End the conversation on a positive note:

First, thank the person for being so understanding and attentive. Ask him if he has any questions. Fix a deadline to solve the matter after checking it with the employee.

Tell him to get back to you for any help he might require. Leave the meeting with a smile and try to make the employee smile too.

19. Do a follow up:

Check with the employee to know what corrective measures he or she has taken. Find if it is working or not.

If the person in question is not taking the meeting or suggestions seriously, then strict action is called for.

20. Be helpful at each step:

If the body odour is just a matter of too much sweat, then a best deodorant for body odour could help.

But what if the person is allergic to it?

You can suggest a non-allergic deodorant or body spray to the person. In such ways, be helpful and compassionate. That usually works to resolve even tougher situations. So extend that helping hand.

In an office, as an employer or manager, you should not take any matter lightly. If a complaint comes before you, do not jump the gun. Instead, study and analyse the situation. As an employer, each individual working with you is important.

Hence it is needed that you treat everyone equally and resolve all matters amicably without offending anyone. The issue of body odour is a complicated and delicate one which needs a lot of consideration and thought.

The above 20 points can help you formulate a body odour solution in such a way that not only that the matter gets resolved, all will also be happy in the process. In the hindsight, you will also have helped a person who needed such sage advice that is not only going to help him in his office now but hopefully will serve as a lesson in future as well, not just in his professional but also personal life.