Oh-ho.. someone’s on the nose.. it’s Ms Whiffy. It may be summer-induced BO, it may be that nylon sweater she wears, it may be due to poor personal hygiene, it may be due to lack of clothes laundering, it may be the results of certain foods oozing from her pores.. whatever the cause, it’s a tricky subject to bring up.

Ideally, you should set up the solution to addressing this problem before it starts, by having a clear Grooming and Presentation Standards Policy that is highlighted during induction – at this point it can be covered as general advice and tied to business requirements. Something along the lines of:

For the comfort of all staff and as part of the professional image we require our team to present, it’s important to present for work freshly showered, teeth and hair brushed, wearing clean and ironed clothing and being sure to use appropriate personal hygiene products like an effective deodorant.. etc

Hopefully, at this point the employee will get the hint and the problem won’t arise.

When the problem does arise however, there will be the inevitable discussion of how to address the issue. Inevitably, the following scenarios will be suggested:

– perhaps we should leave a can of deodorant out and hope Ms Whiffy picks up the hint.

The idea that Ms Whiffy would see a can of deodorant and think “ah, this must be for me” is frankly ridiculous! It will be worse when Ms Whiffy is walking around the office asking “who’s lost their deodorant?” which is far more likely than her just using it.

– perhaps we should leave Ms Whiffy an anonymous note.

Firstly – chicken! Secondly, this could be misinterpreted as victimisation or bullying.

– perhaps we should call Ms Whiffy in for a meeting and tell her that everyone has noticed and complained..

While this one may be true, it lacks tact.. you may reasonably mortify poor Ms Whiffy if she believes everyone has been talking about her behind her back and no one had the decency to speak to her about it face to face.. which brings us to the

– perhaps someone should “speak to her face to face” scenario.

While this is the right approach, generally volunteers for this task are pretty thin on the ground.

– perhaps we should get HR to speak to her.

Sorry to disappoint, but this is the wrong answer too! This problem is not so easy to handball. The best person to do it, is one who already has a good relationship with Ms Whiffy – not the HR person, who may not have ever had a conversation with her before.

The best way ahead here, is for a close colleague/friend to take Ms Whiffy aside and broach the subject privately and tactfully. Depending on the relationship they have there are lots of ways to approach the subject, to achieve the desired result without embarrassing or shaming Ms Whiffy.

If there is no suitable person to do this (or the suitable person rejects being volunteered) the next best option is for Ms Whiffy’s direct manager to have a quiet word. The manager should approach her privately and tactfully and be sure to couch the conversation in terms that address the issue, in a non-personal way. This can be done in the context of your Grooming and Presentation Standards Policy if you have one. If you don’t, it’s time to get one – HR Gurus can help with this.

Our experienced Gurus can also provide coaching and strategies to handle this and other inevitably awkward workplace problems.. OH… and don’t call her Ms Whiffy!

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