Friday, May 3, 2013

Body Odor in the Workplace

Within two weeks we had three issues around body odor in the work place - so I thought this would be a great time to discuss a very uncomfortable topic.  To many people BO seems like a funny topic unless you are the fellow team member having to deal with it daily or the manager having to address it.  Here are the situations we dealt with these past two weeks.

1.  Too much perfume.
We has a client who had an employee who was wearing enough perfume to "knock someone over".  The issue of whether the perfume smelled good or not was not the issue, but rather the reaction it created.  When we did our investigation it was a split between employees as to whether it bothered them or not and the fact that it varied on some days.  In the end, you have to ask if it is distracting others from doing their job and disturbing your clients/customers/patients?  Are people spending nonconstructive time discussing it?  Are people making faces, snide remarks, complaints?  If you answered yes to any of these, then you have to address it with the employee.

Recommendation:  In this case it was decided that it was easier to request that the employee not wear perfume at all since it seemed they were not aware of the proper portion to put on.  The management team preferred eliminating the use of perfume altogether rather than going through several days or weeks allowing the employee to try and test out different doses of perfume, the employer opted to just stop all perfume wearing.

2.  Body Odor Smell
Another client had an issue with a client who seemed to have a sour spell.  For majority of the time this person worked independent but they did work in an area with other team members   There were some days where the smell was worse than others.  The employee came to work looking neat, hair washed and clothes clean, but they had a certain smell.

Recommendation:  Meet with the employee to address the issue and the fact that it has become distracting to other team members. You can suggest that the manager tell the person on the days the smell is there, if there are days that the smell is stronger.  We suggested that the employee come up with ideas and solutions to solve this issue.  As it turned out, it was an issue that this employee had struggled with in prior positions and had been fired for.  solutions were to move the person to a more isolated space (in this case an office), allow them to use plug ins and other deodorizers that he liked along with fellow co-workers liked.  The smell increases when the employee is under stress, which there was not anything directly the company could do other than provide some suggestions on stress relief tools through the company EAP (employee assistance program).

3.  Unkempt Clothing and Appearance
This client had a warehouse employee who looked as if they were sleeping in their clothes and not showering very frequently   In this case, the employee did not meet clients or the public, but his odor and appearance did disturb his fellow team members and upper management when they did come through the warehouse.

Recommendation:  We addressed the issue with the employee asking him on a day when he appeared not to have showered, brushed his heir and had wrinkled clothes on.  He shared with us that he had been living out of his car for a period of time.  We researched ymca's and other shelters in the area where he could have access to a shower so that he could at least clean up prior to coming to work   We had to share with him that a requirement to his job was his appearance.  Giving him resources to help achieve that was critical to his success in turning this around.  You cant fix someone's housing issues, but you can guide them to resources that may help them stay employed and meet the requirements you have an an employer.

In the end, each of these instances were extremely uncomfortable for all involved - but had to be addressed for the success of the individuals and for the workforce to stay productive.  Often times the person with the issue doesn't even know it and certainly do not mean for it to be impacting their career in a negative way.  It is best to address an issues head on and be sure to ask those curious questions!

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