Recently, our organization hired a young lady with real promise. She is good at her position despite being right out of college. In all my years of management, I have never had to face the issue we have with her. She smells of BO every time she works. I need advice on how to approach this topic with her, without embarrassing her or minimizing the issue.
-Just Want Her to Succeed
Telling someone they have a foul smell is no fun. When I imagine the conversation, I think of the bullies on the playground holding their noses and yelling “you stink!” I know it doesn’t feel like it but I can promise it won’t actually be like that. As a fellow manager, I know conversations have to be tailored to each employee in your supervision but I can certainly give you some general guidelines that might help.
Have the Conversation ASAP
If you have noticed her odor, I can guarantee you her peers have also noticed. The longer you wait to have this conversation, the more history she will have to pour over where she may fear her peers kept this from her. If you have noticed her odor doesn’t change, it is likely she doesn’t alter her routine very often.
Wait Until the End of the Day
When you speak to her about her odor, grab her on her way out the door. Telling her before she begins works gives her no time to change and will keep her from focusing on her work that day. If at all possible, do it the day before her day off. This will give her a chance reflect in the issue and recover from the shock.
It is terribly tempting to beat around the bush on this because it’s uncomfortable. I urge you to fight that temptation. Don’t hold a general meeting to discuss hygiene. Everyone will know who it is in reference to and will do more to embarrass her further. Have a one-on-one conversation and be clear. Don’t imply, don’t hint, just spell it out.
What Do You Say?!
Start the one-on-one with positive things she brings to the team. Let her know you have observed her in all aspects of her role. It’s vital that you build her up so she feels confident in what she does well.
However you say it, this will be a blow to her ego and self esteem. There is nothing you can do about that part. All you can do is prepare for the rebound.
There is honestly no reason to develop an action plan around this particular issue. All you are required to do is make the employee aware of the issue and offer your assistance if they need it. An additional step you can take is to share your personal story with something similar. If you work in an industry where things get sweaty, tell them it’s to be expected from time to time. Never had an issue with hygiene? Make it up! You are there to comfort your employee and they will feel much more comfortable if they feel like they have an ally.
I do not envy your situation. That is one of the hardest conversations you will have to have with an employee second only to having to terminate someone.
Best of luck,
June was born and raised in the south where “bless your heart” is an insult. Self professed serial dater and an expert in all matters of the heart. June also enjoys volunteering, dancing and sewing.