How to approach an employee with bad hygiene

Ignoring poor employee hygiene in the workplace can come at a cost to your practice, as it can impact productivity and reduce overall employee satisfaction. When faced with poor employee hygiene it’s your responsibility, as the employer, to handle the issue in a respectful manner. Here’s how… 

This is an edited version of an article which first appeared on the Smart Company website.

It might feel embarrassing for you, but it’s going to be worse for the other person and you don’t want to leave them feeling self-conscious. Here are some tips to help you navigate the process.

Avoid jumping the gun

Due to the delicate nature of the topic, you need to take your time in these situations. Wait until there is a consistent pattern of poor hygiene before you approach your employee; running out of deodorant is not a crime and even the best of us may have sacrificed a shower for a bit more sleep. It’s wise to be prudent in these situations so as not to create an issue based on an isolated incident.

You also need to consider how you will broach the topic with your employee. This may require adjusting the conversation based on the temperament of your employee and the relationship that you have with them. Whatever you do, don’t frame the conversation in an accusatory way; try and approach it as constructive criticism, like you would any other issue in the workplace.

A face-to-face approach is best

As a leader you have to show courage – you are the role model your employees look to. You don’t want your employee to feel more embarrassed. Use compassion and kindness, rather than resorting to passive-aggressive tactics like leaving deodorant or body spray at their workstation, or writing them a note. That won’t solve the problem, and could make things much worse.

Find a private place and sit down for a face-to-face conversation. When you handle issues like this properly it benefits you, the employee in question, and the workplace as a whole. You can offer a bit of understanding, while still remaining firm.

Find a private place and sit down for a face-to-face conversation.

Employees respect honesty, but if the issue has been raised by another member of staff, it might be kinder to shield them from this piece of information – it will only make them more self-conscious.

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Offer some practical advice

There are a number of reasons why someone might struggle with hygiene. They could be dealing with anything from an underlying health issue, to an ineffective brand of deodorant. Even the material of their clothing could be a contributing factor.

Additionally, a hygiene problem may be indicative of poor mental health or other issues in their personal life – so it might be worth approaching the conversation from a place of concern. You should be prepared for this scenario, but don’t assume anything.

Make a time to follow-up

The initial conversation isn’t enough. You need to follow-up with the employee and let them know you will be doing so. Give them a time frame of a week or two to make the necessary changes before you sit down again. This allows you to determine whether the issue has been resolved and, if it hasn’t been, you can work together on a new strategy. If they have resolved the issue then you should thank them for putting the effort in.

Promoting positive office hygiene (such as clean bathrooms, kitchens and adequate hand-washing supplies) sets a standard in the workplace for employees to follow. It’s also possible to include general hygiene standards, such as hand-washing and clean workstations, in your employee handbooks.

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