The Hygiene Conversation

At some point in their career, every human resources professional will have to have the very uncomfortable “hygiene conversation.” When the temperature heats up, so does the potential for having this conversation.

So how can you prepare for this conversation to make it is as simple, quick, and painless as possible?

Keep the scope of the problem small and the tone relaxed. Everyone in the workplace might be aware or have mentioned the issue, but there is no reason you would need to state that to the employee. This is definitely the reason the conversation is taking place, but serves no purpose in being said aloud.

Be very careful in your use of terms. Some words carry a stigma or can be incendiary when spoken about someone. Telling someone that they “stink” or that their smell is “offensive” will certainly not keep the conversation open and relaxed. Similarly, don’t try to be lighthearted by using a cute term. Saying someone is “hygiene-impaired” will not make them laugh.

Keep the discussion private. Obviously, the conversation should take place in private. However, you should also keep the actual conversation private. Treat this as you would any other conversation with an employee by keeping it between you and the employee.

Keep an open mind on solutions. There are many reasons why body odor might exist. It could be lack of showering facilities. It could be that they are unaware of the issue. It could be cultural differences. It could be medications or illness. There are a million and one reasons–don’t assume you know why!

Finally, perhaps the most important thing to remember as you approach such a highly sensitive topic is that you care about the other person and want to help them address the issue without feeling humiliated. Keeping all of these things in mind will go a long way toward setting the tone and helping an awkward discussion go quickly and smoothly.