Woman blocking her nose from an unpleasant smell

Advice: What to do about a smelly co-worker?

Colleen Clarke|

Dear Colleen,

A co-worker of mine has serious hygiene problems. I’m not sure if he is unaware, but he works in the statistical department and he smells like old moldy carpet. Other co-workers have noticed as well. He seems like a solitary fellow, it could be that he’s living alone and has lost any point of reference. I’m sure that he does fine as a statistician, but is there a tactful way to let the management or perhaps this man know that he’s grossing out his co-workers?

Thanks,
Maureen

Dear Maureen:

This is not an uncommon problem and certainly one of a sensitive nature. Unfortunately, people with body odour do not usually know they have it. I had a student in a very cramped closed classroom who was so offensive that we couldn’t hold the class. The owner of the company and I spoke to the gentleman and he thought we were joking and actually laughed at us. He insisted he showered and changed his shirt daily so how could he have a problem.

The good news is that it is not your responsibility to tell this fellow about his condition, it is up to his manager.

I have heard of scenarios where colleagues have put a bottle of mouth wash on a person’s desk when they had bad breath or bought them a bottle of Head and Shoulders shampoo when they have dandruff. This may appear subtle, but it’s actually potentially hurtful. The best practice is to inform the manager, who I am surprised hasn’t figured it out for himself yet. That being said, the manager may have informed the statistician but no action has yet been taken.

If the manager is of the same gender it is most assuredly easier for the conversation to take place with lesser embarrassment than if there is a gender differentiation. The manager could decide that he wants Human Resources to handle the situation which is acceptable as well.

In the meantime, don’t gossip about the statistician or discuss the situation in any way with anyone. Decide who is going to approach the manager and leave it at that.

Best of luck
-Colleen

Related: What do I do about a sabotaging co-worker?

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