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How to handle an employee with poor hygiene

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HC Online | 10 Dec 2014, 09:53 AM Agree 0
It’s one of the most sensitive workplace subjects but ignoring it can isolate the employee and make others feel uncomfortable. So how do you tell someone they smell?
  • Catherine Cahill | 10 Dec 2014, 11:59 AM Agree 0
    I found the very best way to deal with this subject is to take the "embarrassment" out of it. That is, you deal with this issue with the same level of honesty and objectivity that you deal with any other issue.

    I have created Grooming standards for organisations that specifically address the need for washing of clothes, regular showers, deodorant and (particularly for smokers) brushing teeth and the use of breath fresheners.

    The Policy includes the notation that if your manager brings one of these issues to your attention, it is for your own benefit.

    It works surprisingly well.
  • Judy Apps | 10 Dec 2014, 12:00 PM Agree 0
    Having been in this situation and having to deal with an employee who had a long standing issue in this regard, and I was not the first to have addressed the hygiene issue with him, it would be great to have strategy for someone who denies there is an issue and therefore refuses to do anything. The problem may be a symptom of something greater eg social isolation, mental health issues and a simple discussion alerting an individual to something you have noticed is not an adequate response.
  • Robin | 10 Dec 2014, 02:37 PM Agree 0
    I think the direct approach is best. Years ago a problem of smelly feet was brought to my attention by the employee's colleagues to the point where it had to be dealt with. Key to the successful outcome was, in advance of meeting, coming up with a few strategies to suggest to the employee. A somewhat mortified employee was very grateful for the suggestions which ranged from keeping a couple of spare pairs of shoes in her locker and changing them every break to ditching the plastic shoes to use of foot deoderant and wearing only natural fibre (cotton) socks - fresh pair daily. Often people have no idea there is a problem. Investigating another shocker whose parents had immigrated to Australia from southern Europe (where living conditions meant a bath was a rare event), revealed she only took a bath once a week and wore a lot of polyester - again an easy solution. For the bad breath scenario, I used to keep a supply of fresh mints but I love the idea of having Grooming Standards. We have policies for everything else so why not this area as well.
  • Judy Apps | 10 Dec 2014, 02:55 PM Agree 0
    Thanks for the responses. I had 2 chronic issues. Both were older males, both lived alone and had been alone for some time since their mothers had died (the emotional attachment to the mother would seem to have been very strong, maybe dysfunctional given their ages), both were socially isolated and one was a recovering alcoholic (alcohol abuse arising from mother's death). Neither bathed, cleaned teeth or changed their clothes regularly (for one individual a bath, change of clothes and teeth cleaning was weekly only - summer and winter). For one the solution was to find them someone who was prepared to help them learn how to look after themselves and some improvements were made ie someone took an interest in him. For the other, nothing worked including a medical intervention. I tend to think we are overwhelmed with Policies and I'm not sure a policy will help an individual whose issues are so deep seated and where there is no appreciation of the impact their lack of hygiene has on others.
  • Greg | 10 Dec 2014, 05:24 PM Agree 0
    I would love to see a copy of Catherine's grooming policy to use as a template. It makes the situation so much easier when it is in black & white.
  • Catherine Cahill | 15 Dec 2014, 10:58 AM Agree 0
    Greg - I tailor the policies to the particular client - and recommend being quite specific about the dress standards that match the culture (which in some case means banning suits!). On the Hygiene side - the following is an example:

    For the comfort of clients, guests and colleagues ensure that you:
    • Shower / bathe daily with frequent use of effective deodorant and soap
    • Always check your breath- smokers need to be particularly careful and ensure that smoke cannot be smelt. If necessary, use breath fresheners or mints before speaking to patrons. Brush teeth after all meals, and for extra care use mouthwash to remove lingering food odours.
  • Sean E. Mahar | 01 Jan 2015, 04:40 AM Agree 0
    The recommendation of "Wait for a pattern. Don't say anything the first, second or third time something occurs." is as absurd as my waiting to see a pattern in this kind hearted author's works before bringing attention to it. It is wrong. Human beings need immediate feedback in order to make the most of our personal abilities to process feedback and improve our performance. When a supervisor sees an employee doing something unacceptable--smelling badly or speaking rudely on the phone--waiting until this has occurred several times before speaking with the employee sends the message that "I saw you do something wrong and you saw me seeing you do something wrong. You saw me walk away and not bring this to your attention. You thought you were doing fine, I said nothing. Surprise, I am now going to confront you about something you did 2 weeks ago that you have probably forgotten. The next time you see me, you should worry that I am taking notes to zing you again when you least expect it." By delaying feedback, we teach our employees not to trust us. All the other suggestions make sense to me. Thank you for this opportunity to offer comments.
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