Do's and Don'ts When Explaining Hygiene Issues

I read recently that an employee's bad breath can bring down productivity.

At first I thought, no way. That's just a fact created by a breath mint company to sell more product. But after a little Googling, I found that a survey from Employment Office discovered that "75 percent of workers find it difficult to work alongside someone with bad body odor, and 64 percent work poorly when a co-worker has bad breath."employee bad breath.jpg

Maybe they were right. I can't speak to the bad breath or body odor, but once I had a fellow officemate who wore perfume so strong I contemplated rubbing Vicks® VapoRub™ under my nose—like they do on TV for grisly autopsies—so I could concentrate.

Treading Gently

Telling someone they have hygiene issues, whether it's bad breath, body odor or even stinky perfume, is uncomfortable for both the giver and the receiver. No one wants to embarrass someone, but putting it off only makes things worse.

Here are some simple Do's and Don'ts:

Don't: Make jokes or gossip. "What died up in here? Oh yeah, it's Bob." Won't help the matter. It might even get you fired.

Instead: Use a personal approach and in private.

Don't: Hint or leave unsubtle gifts, like breath mints, antiperspirant or Mr. Bubble.

Instead:  Be direct and tell the person what the problem is as you perceive it.

Don't: Give nasty feedback. Comments like, "You're ripe! Gees, if you don't get home and get a shower, you're fired," won't do the company or the employee any good.

Do:  Be sensitive with words. And treat it like any other performance issue. 

Don't: Alienate the person.

Instead: Explain you care. Be a sympathizer and not a judge. "I know if it was me, I'd want to know."

If you're looking to discuss this topic with employees, there is an amusing video Giving Hygiene Feedback, and it's really a humorous way to approach delicate topics.

Good Communication

There is no getting around it. Talking about poor hygiene will be uncomfortable. You can be proactive though. Create an environment now where one-on-one communication between employee and supervisor is encouraged.

Don't be the manager the handles the situation by keeping Vicks® VapoRub™ in their desk. 

Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor—with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.