How to Tell Your Employee He/She Smells Bad

You keep hoping that your employee won’t come into work smelling from body odor. But it continues. You’ve already gotten some complaints from a few of the employees. If you leave it any longer, your employees may start getting distracted and miss their goals.

How do you handle this? What’s the correct approach?

This has the potential to be very embarrassing if done incorrectly, so try to follow a plan.

You need to set up a private meeting with your employee where you are direct, tactful and non-judgemental. 

Do you have good rapport with this person? If you’ve barely interacted with him/her, it will be a bit harder. 

If you need to, spend some time even in this meeting building some rapport, before diving directly into the problem. Hinting at the problem is not a good way to go here. You need to be specific in the kindest way possible.

“Thanks for meeting me in my office today. I need your help with something. It’s difficult to share and I’m pretty uncomfortable right now. I’m aware that you may feel embarrassed but I want to be straightforward with you. I believe that you have a problem with body odor. 

Or

“You may not realize it, but it appears you have a body odor problem and it seems to be disrupting the workplace. I need your help to correct this.”

Wait to see if the person has any awareness of the problem. If you see that there is a lack of awareness you might say…

“I’ve had conversations like this before and usually people aren’t even aware that they may have a problem.”

Most importantly you can add that:

“I’m here to help in any way that I can but this does need addressing. Is this something you feel you can fix from here on in?”

Don’t allow the conversation to get into who said what and even specifics of what was said, if the employee asks. This is a problem that has a fix and the solution is usually to be more vigilant about personal hygiene – frequency of showering, freshly laundered clothes, daily use of deodorant. If needed you can just repeat the statement of the problem: “you have body odor”. 

The onus is on your employee to fix the problem. Hopefully the employee will take it from here but if things are not improved then there will have to be negative consequences.

Realize that as the manager you are actually helping your employee with his/her career by addressing this issue! You’re also preventing future avoidant behaviors from the other employees towards this employee. In summary, you are helping to remove a huge block in this person’s career!


Need help with things like this issue? Check out LeadingUp here.

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