What to Do When Hygiene Becomes a Problem In the Office

July 29, 2020

There is a logical expectation that employees in your agency will use a commonsense approach regarding appropriate hygiene and sanitary practices. Your agency very likely has a section in the employee handbook that covers general guidelines about personal hygiene. It is typically a safe assumption that employees will follow it without much discussion required.  Unfortunately, this does not always happen as it should, and, left unaddressed, can become a bigger problem for the employee with the hygiene issue as well as any other employees and clients that need to work with that individual. 

Once an employee brings a co-worker’s hygiene to your attention, it is essential to act before the stink becomes a problematic stench (literally or figuratively) that interferes with work and performance. While approaching an issue like employee hygiene can be uncomfortable, here are tips you can use to have a helpful and productive conversation on a very awkward topic.

Get Necessary Details – 

Obtaining the relevant details is critical to ensuring that the issue presented warrants a response from a supervisor. For example, what is causing the odor? Offensive odor from overuse of perfume or cologne will require a different approach than body odor resulting from a lack of proper hygiene. It’s also essential to understand how long the issue has been going on and if the employee has demonstrated new behavior. Both of these things are important for understanding the full scope of the problem. 

If it sounds like this is a new development, It might be wise to wait for the situation out for at least a few more days to see if it’s been a couple of days to see if it improves or remedies itself. However, if it is apparent that the issue has been present for a while, it is important for the well-being of all employees that a conversation addressing the problem takes place sooner rather than later.  

Recognize that there could be other contributing factors in play – 

The chances are that an employee did not just become fond of perfume or irresponsible overnight for no reason. Finding out if the employee in question has mentioned any major life events to colleagues is vital. These things can impact and disrupt an employee’s regular habits, even when it concerns personal hygiene. 

If an employee has a new love interest in their lives, they may have decided a little extra eau de toilette might impress and gain a little attention. More importantly, however, understanding that a lack of personal hygiene and self-care can be a sign of depression and anxiety. If an employee is becoming withdrawn or easily frustrated on top of neglecting good hygiene, there certainly could be a personal crisis that requires even more careful and compassionate handling.

Handle the conversation delicately –   

Whether the cause of the odor is the overuse of perfume or poor hygiene, it is understandably difficult to tell an employee that the way smell is offensive to others. There is no easy way to get that message across, and it is reasonable for an employee to feel defensive. Utilizing both professionalism and empathy when delivering the message is critical. 

Keep the conversation as private as possible.  If necessary, have another manager or HR present to discuss the issue.  Use the employee handbook and review the agency policy on hygiene with the employee.  Once you have had a chance to address concerns, make sure to have an open discussion about workable solutions.

While a conversation on a topic like odor and personal hygiene can be uncomfortable, it’s essential to address it in a way that respects all employees’ rights. Using the tips above will help you facilitate a conversation kindly and work towards a solution from which everyone can benefit.

For more on this topic, check out the full episode of The Independent Agent below: