I’ll tell you why I thought of writing this as I wonder how many of you have had to deal with the issue of cleanliness or body odour in the work place? I’m sorry to say that I have and it’s difficult to say the least! .
Fairly early in my career, as a student, I had a job of running a cafe and one of two of the ladies in the team turned up in their uniform, which was then and probably still is illegal (you’re supposed to get changed at work), but not only that, it was clearly stained and not ironed, the other lady looked like she hadn’t washed her hair either and I found myself wondering how they thought it was acceptable when they were coming to work to help prepare and serve food – anyway, the challenge for me was to speak to them about it and it’s such a personal issue.
I girded my loins and asked to meet each one individually. Frankly I was as nervous as they were. My approach was to write some notes on a post-it so I wouldn’t lose my way and started by saying “I’m sorry I have to approach this but I regret the way you dress is unacceptable for a restaurant and breaches health and safety requirements, you need to bring your uniform to work each day, clean and ironed to change here” I also said to one, “I’m certain you wash every day like all of us, but I’m sorry to say that your hair looks unkempt as though you haven’t washed it for a while” – I then sat nervously waiting for a backlash – none came I’m delighted to say. Indeed neither lady was even funny with me and took a much greater pride in their appearance thereafter, but it was difficult for me.
The challenge of course is that now more than ever perhaps, everyone needs a witness to any sort of chat or disciplinary meeting however minor, but the dilemma now would be those ladies would have felt really embarrassed had there have been someone else with me – perhaps I was just lucky.
In recent years my career has moved me in other directions and I have established small companies, selling the last one, but only 12 months ago I had an occasion to speak to two male members of staff about body odour. Others in the team had complained and of course the issue was brought to me. Again I took both separately to one side, indeed from what I recalled, I walked outside with them so they didn’t feel too uncomfortable, but having to explain they smelled and that they perhaps needed to take a shower more often or change their deodorant was not pleasant for any of us.
Both rather coyly apologised and took more effort, but dealing with hygiene issues in the work place is never going to be easy is it – so here are my tips and I may be reprimanded by you HR folks but i think this is best done personally and alone if at all possible… make a few bullet points on a note, so if they get upset you don’t lose track, apologise for having to raise the issue and that you do not mean to cause offence but then just “get the words out” tactfully and starting as soon as possible in the conversation, from then it only gets easier.