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How to handle an employee with poor personal hygiene

If you've ever worked with someone who has poor hygiene, whether it's bad breath, smelly feet, or body odor, it can be distracting and unbearable to the point it is difficult to even function when that person is around.

If you handle a number of employees, there may come a time when this issue comes up. Because these issues can't go ignored, as the boss or manager of your company or department, it will usually fall to you to tell the person that they have an offensive odor. This is important because if you don't, other employees might take it upon themselves to do so, and chances are they won't be kind about it. This could open you up to a host of legal problems, including a hostile work environment or harassment. So it's best to address the problem as soon as possible.

The following are some tips for handling an employee with poor personal hygiene:

  • Don't ignore the problem. Whether someone complains to you or you notice it yourself, this is not a problem that should be ignored. None of your employees should be subjected to offensive odor, especially when it can be easily corrected.
  • Don't leave hints. Avoid putting toothpaste, soap, or hygiene items on the person's desk or in their locker. The best way to approach the problem is to do it in person.
  • Tell the person in private. Call the person with poor hygiene into your office and discuss it with them in private. Avoid calling a meeting and saying, "Some employees have body odor," because the offender most likely doesn't even know he or she has a problem. It is best to talk with the individual.
  • Approach the issue sensitively. You may want to begin by saying, "This is a sensitive topic," or "I don't want to cause you any embarrassment." Realize that this is not only embarrassing for you, but for them as well.
  • Try and attach the issue with business. When possible, make it a business issue rather than a personal one. You could tell them that their odor or breath may be offensive to potential customers, or a cramped office space makes the issue worse. Or perhaps their hygiene has caused a client to request a different rep. By approaching the issue as a business concern, it looks less like a personal attack.
  • Attach the issue to the employee's own performance. You may want to let him or her know that the issue could affect their future performance and career opportunities and that you don't want poor hygiene to get in the way of promotions or other opportunities.
  • Suggest the employee see a doctor. No one wants to feel dirty or unclean, so you may want to suggest your employee see a doctor to see if there is an underlying issue that may be causing the bad breath, body odor, and so forth.
  • Be brief. Because this is probably a conversation that neither one of you will enjoy, it is best to be brief and to the point, but do so sensitively and with tact.

Maintaining a comfortable office environment in which all employees can work in is an important part of being a manager. However, sometimes poor hygiene from your employees can affect the overall performance of your entire office. When this is the case, it is best to approach the problem tactfully.

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