Employee's poor personal hygiene puts you in a difficult situation - Business Management Daily
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Employee’s poor personal hygiene puts you in a difficult situation

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in Centerpiece,Human Resources

Difficult situation Telling a person they have bad breath or body odor is difficult to do. Just having to tell them at all is difficult enough. That's why so many managers toss this employee problem HR's way. You need to toss it back to the managers and make them responsible for handling their own employee problems.

Anyone who lands in this difficult situation can use these best practices to address an employee's personal hygiene problem tactfully and effectively, and minimize the employee's embarrassment.

  • Quietly and discreetly call the employee away from his/her workstation because if co-workers complained about the hygiene problem, they'll know exactly why you're pulling the employee into the meeting.
  • Hold the meeting before the employee goes home for the day because there's no sense in telling him/her first thing in the morning, causing him/her to feel self-conscious all day, especially if the employee can't go home to shower ...(register to read more)

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Martin January 18, 2018 at 11:57 pm

I get complaints when I go out in public squeeky clean and fresh, I shower and rinse thoroughly and my scent is that of the soap I use, why do people have the Gaul to complain of another’s freshness of bein clean and in perfumed?


Ce January 4, 2018 at 10:15 am

Let’s flip this issue around a bit: I often find myself in very close proximity to individuals who wear extremely strong perfumes or colognes. Fortunately, I never experienced this when I worked in a cubicle environment! The issue is that I experience severe allergic reactions that frequently cause asthma attacks. Asthma attacks can be life-threatening.

Now, I believe that wearing a perfume most certainly qualifies as a personal choice. It becomes a problem when one’s personal choice adversely affects those around him. I feel sure that no one is on a personal quest to kill me with his cologne. In fact, if the perfume or cologne smells good to an individual, he probably never even considered that it might offend or cause harm to another. However, while it will NOT harm anyone to refrain from wearing perfumes/colognes, it CAN harm me if others do wear fragrances. In such a case, a no-fragrance policy is a perfectly reasonable and simple solution.

Bad odor often indicates the presence of harmful bacteria, but the smell itself does not usually contain bacteria. I wholeheartedly agree that there may very well be an underlying issue, manifested by poor hygiene OR wearing heavy perfume (think drug or alcohol use). Depression (think hoarding), abuse, medications, diabetes, kidney or liver disorders, gum disease, etc. can be the catalyst for body odor and/or bad breath. It could even be as simple as the person didn’t have the money to pay his water or electric bill. He may have an abscessed tooth, but doesn’t know how/is afraid/has no money to have it taken care of.

FYI: EVERYONE has an “odorprint” similar to a fingerprint. It’s what causes attraction, helps dogs to track fugitives, and indicates health conditions. Bad odors alert us to danger or displeasure – that’s why we want to avoid them.

I would advise that we should always ask questions to gain a full understanding of such a problem. Learn as much as you can about what’s really going on. The bottom line with people odors is to exercise compassion towards all who are involved, both the smellers and the smellies.


sg July 17, 2017 at 4:17 pm

But what if you have someone who is not only nasty, with greasy hair that is obviously not washed more than once a month, but also has, and has had for over 6 weeks now, a big thick scab on their hairline. Big as a silver dollar and about 1/4″ thick. Every time you pass them, they are picking it and touching it. We share facilities with this person. Nobody wants to address the ELEPHANT in the room but it seems there has to be some kind of way to address this. HELP !


Joe Smithy January 29, 2017 at 5:48 pm

Dear Sir,
Wash Yo *** & Brush Yo stanky Mouth!!

Mikey Mike


AW January 12, 2017 at 2:11 pm

When is it correct to address a culture or religious issue? We have employees that are Turkish and the business is owned by Turkish and they wash themselves after utilizing the toilet in the sink and before prayer. How do I as a manager address this without coming off being discriminating or unthoughtful. To me, it’s very unsanitary to wash your backside after using the toilet in a sink where everyone else using the bathroom and refused to clean up after it done. This is very unhealthy to anybody and sends a bad message to customers who walk in on this practice. There are other bathrooms in the building that are not used so can they use them? Need help please


Carolyn Edmiston March 6, 2017 at 11:25 am

Install bidets


Daniela March 25, 2016 at 1:13 pm

I am an employee that smells and I sweat profusely thru my feet and I smoke,I am depressed but I hide with stride. I work hard and do very well at my job. Since I just started I didn’t smell when I first got here but I smell now. I am an abused woman and have 8minutes on my lunch I don’t know what to do, I don’t want to go back in.


zuz September 4, 2015 at 9:25 am

Kudos to the manager that thinks it is inappropriate to talk about. As long they come to work dressed in clean clothes then there is not a problem. I have worked with people that will single out people they do not like and make up complaints of this nature because I never smelled them and was even sitting closer. It is time management wise up to that kind of stuff.


zuz September 4, 2015 at 9:19 am

Kudos to the manger who said this inappropriate to discuss at work…As long as they come to work dressed properly I’m clean clothes. I have worked with people that make up complaints like these just because they do not like someone. When will managers wise up to that.


hi September 6, 2016 at 11:25 am

no no no tell them to kys


Richard D August 24, 2015 at 2:12 pm

I work as a roofer an going to work we travel in 1 van, maybe up to 6 of us at a time. There is one Co worker who smells of sweat really badly even on a Monday morning. It’s getting to point were other workers are refusing to sit next to him an we even have to open all windows on van. Am I in my write to tell the MD something needs to be done about it?


Carla Troll April 7, 2016 at 9:55 am

Tell your co worker ne needs to invest in sure or he’ll be on foot patrol


Karen July 2, 2015 at 8:55 pm

Dear ________,

The topic of this letter may be as difficult for you to hear as it is or me to write, however, I would be neglecting my responsibility if I did not bring it to your attention.

Your personal hygiene has to be addressed to you and responded in a positive way by you. As I suggested a few weeks ago antiperspirant must be worn and clothes with no previous odor. Also, your fingernails should be cut and cleaned on a regular basis. Your job involves working closely with other employees and customers. Also, perviously you have represented (company name) while going to the bank and to the truck rental company.

I have a lot of respect for you, ______ and your work at __________. I thank you very much for that. I trust that you will understand the situation I am in (and you are in) and tend to this matter immediately and on a daily basis, while at work.

Thank you.


Bookie November 19, 2014 at 10:31 am

Some people need to realise that the word “personal” is not the issue here, Hygiene is. People with poor personal hygiene usually have other underlying issues which do need to be addressed.
Depression is one reason why a persons hygiene may suffer and that is something you should be concerned about.
Speaking to someone compassionately usually leads to the discovery of other issues which may be the cause of other difficulties other than the hygiene, or the person may be being mistreated. There are many reasons for poor hygiene, be human and try to help, you never know when someone needs a helping hand or someone to talk to.
Read the signs people, each case will be individual.


Lydia May 30, 2014 at 1:34 am

Hello there,

I read your article about smelly co-workers. I have one. I work with this girl/lady in an office were our cubicles are together, no walls in between, in a pretty isolated corner of the building. I cannot only smell her when she approaches me but I can smell her from my desk, and even from the hallway when I am walking back to our area.

I am pretty positive this is not a medical condition, but a problem of poor hygiene. I know this because some days is not as bad as others or it won’t be so strong in the morning, but after mid day is unbearable for me. I will explain my theory.

She is overweight, therefore she sweats more that the standard person. She has many disgusting habits, for example: constantly touches her face and picks stuff off of it as as off of her body, specially between her boobs and flicks it; she does the same from her scalp; she constantly tears the tips of her hair out; all of these just casually and constantly. When she is eating, she takes a big bite of her food and proceeds to start a conversation or explain something to me with a full mouth. Her hair and skin often look greasy, so she touches her skin and then rubs her finger together, regularly; the icing on the cake is that every time she addresses me or comes over to my desk I get burped on at least once.

This is my theory of why she smells: 1) She does not shower every morning before coming to work. 2) She drives 45 minutes to an hour to get to work in the morning in a car that she normally smokes in (therefore the car stinks), of course she smokes on her way to work. But it doesn’t end there. She takes cigarette brakes throughout the day, of course this are outside in the Arizona heat, so she sweats every time she is out there, then comes back the sweat dries, and an hour later she goes back out, sweats again, and this cycle is repeated all day long. Sweat over sweat is the worst body odor there is, specially if you did not shower to begin with.
I have talked to human resources about it, and to my manager several times. I have asked to be moved away from her. All I want is not to be 8 to 9 hours a day breathing her cloud of body odor. I cannot focus, I hold my breath all day long, I cannot take it anymore.
I don’t think anything has been done about it, because I first formally complained about it 4 months ago to human resources and again to my manager about three weeks ago and she still smells just as bad.

Both human resources and my manager have asked me not to talk to her about it. I am an Industrial Engineer working as a purchasing agent, and currently looking for another job. My guess is that human resources and my boss know that I am looking for another job, so they are not doing anything about it, because eventually I’ll be gone and they won’t have to deal with this. Since I am the only one that is complaining about this and neither one of them can smell it, it won’t be an issue when I am gone. I know I have a hypersensitive sense of smell when it comes to body odor, but this is something I cannot shut down.

The smell is still there, what can I do about this? Is there an agency that I can complain to about this? Please guide me on how to proceed on this issue. Help me please!
Thank you for taking the time to read my letter.

Phoenix, AZ


Mary August 12, 2016 at 12:25 am

I have a smelly teacher in my building that everyone is complaining about!! Omg we have had discussions about his odor and he still smells and it lights up the room. Don’t know what to do even the kids know he smells like a garbage bin. Need help!!!


Martin January 19, 2018 at 12:06 am

Invest in a bit 30 day febreeze room freshener less than four dollars, we have a relative that chose not to spray after poohing that little room freshener does the trick!


Tea August 30, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Thanks for the insight in to a difficult topic…by the way in your 6th point you say “Don’t give off the scent that the employee is guilty” I dont really think you meant “scent” in an already smelly topic…lol


Valeria T April 11, 2012 at 7:44 pm

I’d gone into a bit more detail on this in a similar thread; so I don’t have to
repeat myself, I am sending you the link to it here:



shaun c April 8, 2012 at 7:04 pm

This is entirely the wrong tack to take in this situation. Personal hygiene is, or should be, just that: PERSONAL. That means simply:

It is NO ONE ELSE’s business. Not the manager’s, not the co workers, no one else’s.

I as a manager would never bring up this subject with any employee. If other employees came to me with comments about one of their co workers along these lines, they would get a very short and to the point lecture on the subject of what is or is not appropriate discussion in the workplace. (A discussion of ANYONE’s *PERSONAL HYGIENE* falls quite definitely into the “not appropriate” category)


shaun c April 11, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Unfortunately Valeria T in reality this is one of the most uncomfortable conversations an Employer sometimes has to have. When an one individuals body odor is literally making the workplace ill something has to be done. This article outlines a bit of a brash approach, but the idea that one person fouling up the entire workplace is their personal choice is not reality. If an individual wants their person to smell then they are the one making the choice that their personal hygiene no longer personal. They may not even know there is an issue and as difficult and embarrassing as it may be it’s better to tell someone that they could be damaging their reputation.


kk July 11, 2014 at 8:55 am

Your obviously not a good manager if that is the case. If your whole team is complaining you will let the rest of your team suffer, rather than growing some balls and telling them yourself.


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