When someone in the workplace presents with evidence of poor personal hygiene, managers need to act quickly and in a sensitive way to determine the cause. It’s not an easy topic to bring up in conversation and must be investigated with the employee in private.
There are some considerations for a manager facing this. An apparent decline in standards of personal cleanliness may be the result of a medical or mental health problem.
Liver or kidney disease, menopause, hyperthyroidism or diabetes can all be factors that change the way a person smells.
Depression can make people less motivated to make an effort to maintain their personal standards.
Tackling the Subject
For these reasons it’s important to be tactful, but leaving the situation unaddressed isn’t an option if an employer is to prevent the employee becoming harassed or even bullied as a result of their odour.
- Arrange a meeting with the employee
- Schedule the meeting for the end of the working day
- Meet in private
- Assure the employee that the meeting is to determine whether they need any help, not to embarrass them
- Be prepared for the employee to draw the meeting to an abrupt close
Ensure that they understand your responsibility to speak with an employee who may be experiencing personal problems or an illness that may affect the working environment. Remember that they may be unaware there is a problem. This may be the case in the early stages of an illness.
Proceed with Tact
Broaching the subject from the perspective that the employee may be ill without knowing will help them to examine recent changes they may have experienced from a new perspective. Tiredness, night sweats and other events are often ignored as potential symptoms of something more serious.
If the employee refuses to consider that there may be a problem, the employer needs to explain the effect that the issue is having in the workplace and that co-workers (and visitors if applicable) are affected.
If the employee reveals an illness or suspected illness, or that there are mental health considerations, the employer needs to find a route through which the employee can be properly supported.
If the root cause of the problem can be ameliorated by providing additional washing facilities it becomes incumbent on the employer to provide them. In such a case, if a uniform is supplied to employees, provision of additional changes of uniform would also assist the employee.
A Plan of Action
The employee must understand that the problem needs to be addressed and that a reasonable deadline will be set for a review of the action taken but, in the meantime, the employee should keep the employer informed regarding what progress is being made.
If, by the time of the review, no action has been taken and there is no improvement the employee must understand that their inaction could result in disciplinary measures
Usually an employee will be grateful for the support, but any refusal to acknowledge that there is a problem should be considered carefully.
It would, given the risks involved in this type of situation, be advisable to seek specialist advice at this point.