How does one deal with the issue of personal hygiene, or lack of? I’m not talking about appearance, but of bad breath, or of odors such as cigarette smoke or strong perfume.

Are these odors hindering work? No. Are they offensive? Yes.

These problems are not a “work” behavior, so I wasn’t sure if the feedback model was the proper approach. But I would want to keep any feedback as emotionless as possible, so as not to embarrass the employee.

I am a new manager and new to Manager Tools. I’ve been concentrating on the O3, Feedback, and DISC podcasts this last month. I looked through the titles of the other podcasts and didn’t see anything that might relate to this. I also searched the forum for “hygiene” and didn’t find anything. So, here I am. Anyone know of a compassionate yet effective way to address this?


Mark's picture
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Feedback is your answer. I have taught this a HUNDRED times.

It IS hindering work, BECAUSE it's offensive.

Be compassionate and direct. [i]"I'd like to talk about a personal issue, and it's delicate. I hope I don't offend you - this is not something I'm terribly skilled at. When you come to work with a distinct odor, others notice, and it affects performance. I know that's probably hard to hear - personal odor, but there it is. Maybe it's your choice of or amount of personal scents, maybe it's working out and not showering, perhaps it's a medical condition that I need help being sensitive to.
I won't pry, but I hope there's a delicate discussion we can have about you making some changes. Let's talk about it."[/i]

Do NOT feel that this is outside your purview. This is your responsibility. Modern sensibilities do NOT mean that anyone can do anything with any results and not have respect for the impact it has on others. People sit too close to one another, and meet too often, to not be respectful in this way.

Could it be diet/culture/spiritual? YEP. Would I still talk about it? YOU BET. Would I move people? Unlikely.. the org has an investment in people being together. I would ask someone to change their behavior.

Seriously - I've coached hundreds and hundreds of managers on this.


joeflorida's picture

Thanks you for the guidance. I knew the responsibility was on me, but I didn’t want to make the person feel bad by saying the wrong thing.

I will be comfortable saying what you suggest and I appreciate the kick start. I realize I need to be direct, but also to change a behavior with compassion. Thanks to the One-on-Ones I started two weeks ago, I’ll have a comfortable forum (as much as it can be) to speak with the person.

I’ve worked with several people that have similar problems and, yes, it is disruptive to the rest of the staff. This is the first time that the responsibility falls on me to address the issue.

rthibode's picture

Joe, thanks for raising this delicate issue. It's one I've avoided dealing with in the past, but in the opposite sense -- I'm allergic to scent and have found it quite uncomfortable to ask people not to wear it. Your question led Mark to respond with some very useful language that I can adapt to my situation.

Mark, thanks for the words. After listening to your podcasts for a couple of months, I can "hear" the tone you'd use by reading the feedback. That makes it easier for me to practice giving difficult messages and then to deliver them effectively when the time comes.

Mark's picture
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How'd it go?


yahtzee's picture


How'd it go?


Mark- I know this is natural to you but i want to point out something you did that is extremely important. (maybe more important than the actual task itself)

Following up is the key to closing the loop on all things discussed or with tasks that have been asked of someone. A simple "how did that work out for you" or "what was the result of your discussion" is a great way to hold the employee accountable for what they said they were going to do in the beginning.