How to tell an employee they smell

How to tell an employee they smell

How to tell an employee they smell

Approaching the bad habits or poor hygiene of an employee is a difficult area, as HR runs the risk of offending the employee in question. However, bad breath, niggling coughs and foul body odour are all drains on productivity, a new survey from Employment Office has found.

The poll found 75% of workers find it difficult to work alongside someone with bad body odour, and 64% work poorly when a colleague has bad breath. Other drains on concentration included persistent coughing (60%) and excessive flatulence (48%).

“It is important for an employer to resolve any personal hygiene issues before other staff members do it in a non-tactful way. If this happens the problem can easily escalate and become a bullying issue,” Tudor Marsden-Huggins of Employment Office, said.

Marsden-Huggins suggested that HR must address problems with hygiene as soon as possible and in private. The topic needs to be approached directly, but considerately so that the employee understands it isn’t an attack of them but a move to increase comfort across the organization.

“The best thing to do is talk to your staff – create an environment where one-on-one communication is encouraged between employee and manager. This will go some way to dealing with delicate topics,” Marsden-Huggins said.

Key HR Takeaways

Susan Heathfield, US-based HR expert, outlined these key points for HR to keep in mind when approaching the issue:

  • Start with a soft approach to set the employee at ease, but don't beat around the bush.
  • Tell the employee directly what the problem is as you perceive it.
  • Whenever possible, attach the feedback to a business issue, such as the impact on the team.
  • Advise that the behaviour is not just affecting the business and the employee's co-workers, but may affect the employee's career.
  • Be sensitive to the fact that different cultures have different norms and standards for appearance, bathing, and dress and differences in cooking and eating traditions, too.


Have you had a staff member with bad breath, body odour or other problems with hygiene? Did it disrupt other workers and how did you deal with it?


  • Valerie 2013-09-19 8:18:01 AM
    An employee working for me had bad body odour. She obviously knew this was a problem since she was trying to mask it with a ton of perfume which exacerbated the problem. I took her aside and spoke with her about the heavy dose of perfume she was using and how it was affecting the other employees. I further commented that she should see a doctor since her problem could well be something a doctor could help her with. She took my advice and saw a doctor who did determine that her body odor was something that he was able to treat successfully. She thanked me for this afterwards.
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  • Andrea 2013-09-24 6:51:18 AM
    What happens if the body odur is affecting the business? What if they work with customers? If they continue not to address the issue, what would be the next step? ....
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