Ask Amy: Poor hygiene: When work gets personal

Ask Amy: Poor hygiene: When work gets personal

Dec 01, 2007
By staff

Q. I work at a large practice, and our team members get along well and even socialize outside of work. There's one hitch: One team member practices poor personal hygiene. Periodically, she emits a strong body odor for days at a time. Her team leader approached her when the problem first surfaced, and she improved temporarily. How can we approach her again without embarrassing her—and ourselves?


Dear Uncomfortable:

Plan a professional, factual conversation. First decide who should talk to her—preferably a supervisor. Since the team leader made the first attempt, consider recruiting the next level of management.

If you're that person, plan what you'll say in advance so you're not struggling during this delicate encounter. If you approach the situation sideways, act embarrassed, or apologize too much, the conversation will likely deteriorate. Tell her directly that others have complained about her body odor. You don't want to embarrass her, but she may not know. Gently remind her this isn't the first time she's been approached about this issue. Explain you recognized improvement initially, but you've noticed a problem again.

Be clear about your expectations: clean body and hair, clean uniform, and odor-free shoes. If you suspect the problem is a medical issue, you may also suggest she see a doctor. As you anticipate the conversation, think about what you'd want someone to say to you in a similar situation.