Discussing strong body odour is always a difficult conversation to have with a staff member
I recently watched this excellent video from dvm360 by Shawn McVey Ask Shawn: Help! A good employee smells bad and it certainly brought back some memories for me. In a past life I was a Human Resource Manager for a variety of service industries and in every position, addressing unpleasant body odour with staff was something I had to deal with on numerous occasions.
The first point that Shawn makes in the video is probably the most important. If you have a staff member with this issue then you should never delay in having the conversation. If strong body odour has been an issue with a staff member on a number of occasions it’s time to have a chat. You’re not doing them any favours by putting off the conversation because you don’t want to hurt their feelings. The fact is that by delaying the conversation you’re prolonging what is most likely an embarrassing situation for them.
Have a look at Shawn's excellent advice in this 2 ½ minute video:
Here’s a summary of what Shawn said…
1. Be respectful of the person and start by showing empathy
2. Shawn’s suggested script:
“This is really uncomfortable and I don’t want to hurt your feelings in any way but I have to share some information with you that I think will help you and probably help us at the clinic too. You might not know it but I experience body odour when I’m around you and I don’t know a softer way to say it and I just wanted to give you that heads up because I’m sure that would concern you. Have I hurt your feelings? Have I made you uncomfortable?”
Then let the other person respond.
3. The next step is to deal with the problem:
- There are cosmetic products that can help e.g. deodorant
- If the person already uses deodorant it may be a physical issue that requires treatment by a GP if so you may want to tell them: "We'll be behind you to help you deal with the problem"
4. Be sensitive to the fact that if the employee is a different ethnicity, nationality or culture then that may factor into the situation
Here’s how I've dealt with similar situations…
My script is a little different to Shawn’s:
"Thanks for sparing me a few minutes. I’ve got something I need to talk to you about. I’ve noticed over the last few days that your body odour has been quite strong and I wasn’t sure if you were aware of it."
<Let them respond>
Some of the responses I’ve heard and some possible solutions:
"Oh no – I haven’t been able to wash my uniform over the last week because…":
o My washing machine broke (Possible solution: use the clinic machine)
o I’ve been kicked out of home (Possible solution: this is a big one – use the clinic machine but then further discussion required)
o I’ve broken up with my partner and have moved in with friends (Possible solution: same as above)
"I’ve run out of deodorant and was waiting until the next pay day to buy some more"
(Possible solution: buy them some deodorant and then have a discussion about basic budgeting skills)
"I've changed to using a natural deodorant as I was concerned about the chemicals in normal deodorant"
(Possible suggestion: try another brand, bring extra uniforms to change into)
"I’ve always suffered from excessive sweating but it gets worse when I get nervous/in summer/ when the air conditioning isn’t low enough"
(Possible solutions: discuss if GP has been consulted)
"I’ve increased the amount of garlic I’m eating to improve my health" (over 5 raw garlic cloves every morning!)
(Possible solution: raw garlic not really fair on everyone else maybe try odourless garlic capsules)
Each time you have this conversation with a team member the situation will be different and therefore your responses will also have to vary however following Shawn's steps will lead you in the right direction. One thing though that has been the same every time I've had to tackle this conversation is that the staff member has always thanked me for telling them and they have been more than happy (often relieved) to discuss a solution.
In my experience NO ONE wants to suffer from strong body odour.
I'd be interested to hear your experiences in this area – share them in the comments section below.