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Combating bad workplace personal hygiene

As many employers are aware, there will unavoidably be moments when uncomfortable conversations with staff are required. One of the most difficult circumstances is having to confront an employee about their body odor or poor personal hygiene. This is usually because you have heard complaints from coworkers or they are customer-facing.

Personal hygiene issues can be quite problematic on the job. They not only make the environment unpleasant for others, but they can also pose problems for businesses whose employees interact with the public.

It is crucial to remember, however, that individuals are not often aware they have a personal hygiene problem until it is brought to their attention. Furthermore, poor personal hygiene or body odor might be an indication of an underlying issue, such as a personal problem or a medical ailment.

Speak with the employee privately

Obviously, this is a situation that must be addressed as soon as possible. However, many managers and HR experts may be hesitant to confront this type of issue for fear of offending the person or triggering formal complaints about bullying and, in certain situations, discrimination.

However, it is best to deal with the matter professionally as soon as you become aware of it. If not, you may discover that colleagues take matters into their own hands, which may result in the problem not being handled as delicately as it should be.

The first step is to speak privately. It is best to get right to the point in a gentle, courteous, and unambiguous manner. There is little point in avoiding the matter; therefore, advise the employee immediately and non-judgmentally that concerns regarding their hygiene have been received.

However, it is also critical to be sensitive to the employee’s feelings during the chat and to try to put them at ease as much as possible. Make it clear what needs to happen and the potential penalties if the situation does not improve.

Additional action

A modest speech is often all that is required. If the situation remains, you may need to have another talk in which you outline the anticipated standards and what progress is expected within a realistic timescale. If the second talk does not result in a change, it may be essential to initiate formal disciplinary action.

As always, keep notes of your talks with the employee in case there are any concerns later on, as this will help you if you need to take disciplinary action later on. Any complaints received about the issue from colleagues (or customers or others) should also be documented.

For example, employees may occasionally explain their absences with health or cultural issues, and if disciplinary action is taken against them, they may allege that the employer’s actions are discriminatory since they relate to a protected trait. Employers should always carefully assess employee remarks and seek help if necessary to limit the likelihood of this happening.


These difficult conversations are never pleasant, but it is critical that issues are handled immediately and as soon as possible so that they do not escalate. To avoid claims of discrimination, it is also critical to act consistently and reasonably.

So, before initiating official action, it is wise to seek guidance. If you are uncomfortable conducting these kinds of interactions, some external training or role-playing with coworkers may be beneficial.