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04th July 2015

How would you deal with an employee that has personal hygiene problems?

How would you deal with an employee that has personal hygiene problems?

With temperature’s reaching 30o this week, the warm weather will be welcomed by some but not by others. I recall a situation years ago that occurred with an employee and their lack of personal hygiene. Unfortunately, this manager had particularly bad body odour.  None of the managers would deal with the problem which I then found out had been a problem since the previous year, but it had been swept under the carpet and not dealt with. The employee had been nicknamed ‘Stinky Jenny’ (not her real name), which was not good for team relations, particularly as employees had been quite vocal to say they weren’t working with ‘Stinky Jenny’, and not nice for any employee to be gossiped about either. This employee managed a business in the service sector, so personal hygiene was crucial for the clients, customers and for everyone.

So, how should you approach an employee if they are lacking in personal hygiene?

  • Nip it in the bud, don’t allow for this to be ignored in the hope that the employee may sort out their personal hygiene tomorrow. They might, but they also might not!
  • Often, if it isn’t addressed, employees then may start to ostracise that employee.  Employees find personal hygiene a topic to gossip about, so by dealing with an employee’s hygiene or grooming habits this stops this from occurring.
  • Invite them to a meeting, for a cup of tea – remember it’s not a formal meeting that you are holding but do it in private where no-one can overhear the conversation.
  • Deal with the matter directly, sensitively and professionally, you may feel you want to turn the conversation into a laughing and joking conversation, but deal with the matter professionally. The risk of having a humoured conversation is that the employee won’t take your concerns seriously.
  • Look for a resolution, that person may not even know that their personal hygiene isn’t to a good enough standard.
  • They may need some guidance. Unwashed clothes, shoes that don’t breathe, or health problems can be the cause.
  • Be prepared!  The employee may have no idea and become angry by the feedback that you are giving them, so keep calm.  Explain the standards of personal hygiene that you expect from all employees.  If you have a policy then refer to this.
  • Follow it up – Explain that you will have another meeting shortly to allow the employee to reflect on your discussions.
  • Set the boundaries clearly and let them know what you expect them to do in preparation for the next meeting.
  • Make them aware of any consequences if no changes are made to improve the situation.

In most circumstances employees are embarrassed, but also very thankful that you have made them aware of the problem and will address the matter immediately. ‘Stinky Jenny’ certainly improved her situation.

Anita Manfredi of Employer Solutions – QCS Expert Expert HR Contributor

Topics: Human Resources

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