How to tell an employee they smell

It might not be the most pleasant topic to bring up, but one expert says avoiding it can be worse – so, how do you tell an employee they smell?

How to tell an employee they smell

Approaching the bad habits or poor hygiene of an employee is a difficult area, as HR runs the risk of offending the employee in question. However, bad breath, niggling coughs and foul body odour are all drains on productivity, a new survey from Employment Office has found.

The poll found 75% of workers find it difficult to work alongside someone with bad body odour, and 64% work poorly when a colleague has bad breath. Other drains on concentration included persistent coughing (60%) and excessive flatulence (48%).

“It is important for an employer to resolve any personal hygiene issues before other staff members do it in a non-tactful way. If this happens the problem can easily escalate and become a bullying issue,” Tudor Marsden-Huggins of Employment Office, said.

Marsden-Huggins suggested that HR must address problems with hygiene as soon as possible and in private. The topic needs to be approached directly, but considerately so that the employee understands it isn’t an attack of them but a move to increase comfort across the organisation.

“The best thing to do is talk to your staff – create an environment where one-on-one communication is encouraged between employee and manager. This will go some way to dealing with delicate topics,” Marsden-Huggins said.


Key HR Takeaways

Susan Heathfield, US-based HR expert, previously outlined key points for HR to keep in mind when approaching the issue:

  • Start with a soft approach to set the employee at ease, but don't beat around the bush.
  • Tell the employee directly what the problem is as you perceive it.
  • Whenever possible, attach the feedback to a business issue, such as the impact on the team.
  • Advise that the behaviour is not just affecting the business and the employee's co-workers, but may affect the employee's career.
  • Be sensitive to the fact that different cultures have different norms and standards for appearance, bathing, and dress and differences in cooking and eating traditions, too.


Have you had a staff member with bad breath, body odour or other problems with hygiene? Did it disrupt other workers and how did you deal with it?

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