No Image Available

Lucie Mitchell

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more about Lucie Mitchell

HR tip: Personal hygiene problem


These questions are being answered by Learn HR, a market leader in the provision of HR and payroll training and nationally-recognised professional qualifications.


I have been told that one of my employees has a body odour problem. His colleagues have told me that it is unpleasant working near him. They have dropped hints but to no avail, so they are looking to me to sort the problem. What should I do?

You have a duty to maintain a decent work environment for your employees and also to treat this particular individual humanely. You should not resort to hints because often they are not taken or, if they are, cause great offence. Nor should you or anyone do dreadful things such as leaving a bar of soap on the employee’s workstation.

Ideally, deal with the matter yourself and apply what usually is the best tactic – an honest approach made tactfully. As you are the manager it is your problem, therefore say that you have noticed, not that others have complained, about an unpleasant odour. Explain that it is quite common and that one therefore has to make special efforts to deal with it such as showering every day, laundering clothes more frequently, even picking natural rather than man-made fabrics. Suggest that the employee tries some of these things but that if the problem remains, he take it to his doctor since there may be a medical problem that needs attention. This is not a pleasant problem for you to deal with, but if you do you will help the employee and his colleagues – and, I suggest, gain a lot of respect.

6 Responses

  1. Good observation!

    I think it’s become a bit of a ‘tip of the year’!

    We indeed do have a tip every week: click here to read all our tips.

    I’ll get this particular glitch sorted, thank you for pointing it out.


    Kind regards

    Charlie Duff


    Have there honestly been been no new tips of the week since JUNE 2009, or is there some kind of technical hitch? 

  3. Discretionary feedback

     How close is your relationship will dictate how "direct" you can give the feedback and how "appreciatively" he will accept it.

    The 3 way feedback approach when giving formal feedback on sensitive or personal issues, could be

    1. Seek Permision – e.g Can I give you feedback on a very important matter. 

    2. State the Intention. – e.g To help you overcome a problem that is causing social discomfort to others. 

    3. Tell it straight – "I have received complaints on the condition of your ………….. or "It has been brought to your…" 

    Good luck

  4. may not quite a professional answer

    I’m saying this is not professional since we use it along with friends. You can try to select a simple occasion and give this employee a bottle of perfume as a present, i think that might helps sometimes.

  5. Not uncommon!
    In our own company we had an excellent employee who never the less had a body odour problem. All it took was a straightforward conversation with this person, explaining the issue and suggesting quite openly that he started using a de-oderant. He immediately did so and that was that. Problem resolved.

    People who bravely give one personal feedback are to be treasured and fully respected. In my early days, just out of Uni I was put on the road by my company visiting retail chemists, to learn about stock taking, selling, customer relationships and so on. On one visit the owner chemist after listening to my latest spiel about the company’s new promotion, gently signalled that I should follow him to the back of the shop, out of sight and hearing of any one else.

    Smiling conspiratorially but in a kindly way he asked me: “Do you know your breath smells really badly? Has anyone bothered to tell you. I think you should visit your dentist and discuss it?”

    Utterly shocked I had to admit that I simply did not know and thanked him profusely for taking the trouble to give me the bad news. I immediately scheduled a visit to the dentist where the problem was rapidly diagnosed and sorted.

    I have never forgotten that incident and recognise that it took some courage on the part of the other person to do what he did. Managers too need courage and that is what you need to find in your case!

    Andrew Leigh
    Andrew blogs at

  6. Agree with open and honest approach
    preface your discussion with a flag “this is a difficult thing to discuss and my intention is not to cause you embarrasment”. Then use the “I have noticed ……” mentioned in the answer. I have done this with several direct reports and always with a good outcome and integrity enhanced.

No Image Available
Lucie Mitchell

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Lucie Mitchell

Get the latest from HRZone

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.