Q&A With Jane: How To Handle An Employee With Poor Hygiene

Hi Jane,

We’re dealing with an employee here, who has a bit of a hygiene issue. This man just does not bathe! The whole office smells like a rat-infested moldy carpet when he’s around. It might seem that I’m intruding in someone’s personal habits but due to his close physical proximity, it is affecting me directly. Due to the unpleasant smell, it becomes difficult for me to concentrate on my work. In fact, I keep a check on the time as I can’t wait to leave the office. This incident has made my professional life really inconvenient. I’m well aware that I can’t approach the individual. But I don’t know how to bring this up to the HR’s notice, without looking like a snitch.

The reason why I’m conscious in talking to my HR about this is that I don’t want to give my colleagues the impression that I’m a complaint box. This will repel people away from me. But gradually, dealing with this situation is getting unbearable for me. I’m confused about how should I address it. Any advice?



Hygiene is a personal agenda but if it’s affecting the people around, then it does not remain that personal anymore. It becomes extremely difficult to work around someone who’s spreading foul smell. Such odor can affect the work quality of the people around him and also cause inconvenience. Apparently, you might not be the only one who’s experiencing such inconvenience. There might be other people as well around the employee who feel the same but haven’t broached the subject. It is scientifically proven that unpleasant smell can affect the mood as well as work productivity of the individual. Hence if you suffer in silence, it will have adverse effects on your personal as well as the company’s progress.

In a professional environment, discussing someone’s personal hygiene issue might be looked down upon. Try not to talk about this issue with your colleagues as this will spread a negative impression of the given individual. On the other hand, you don’t want to be known as a gossip monger. Be as discreet about this as possible but bring it to your manager’s notice on an immediate basis.

That employee might find it humiliating if you approach him directly about this. Hence, stick to the official protocol and inform the HR about this issue. Give the HR an overview about the fact that his odor is unpleasant for you and hinders your work productivity. If the HR advises you to wait for the person to realize it himself, make the HR understand that you have been observing such unpleasantness for a while now. Request them to subtly talk to him about it so that it does not bother others as well. I’m sure the HR will find a solution for this without hurting the sentiments of the employee.

Jane Harper
Writer. Human resources expert and consultant. Follow @thehrdigest on Twitter

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