Published: 01/04/2004, Volume II4, No. 5899 Page 36
You needn't cause a stink when dealing with a colleague's hygiene problem, says Jenny Rogers
Q A graduate trainee has just joined my team and will be with us for another four months. There is general dismay in our small office because he has a strong body odour. Should I talk to him or just regard it as a temporary problem that will go away when he does?
A One of my clients inherited a team where there was this very problem.This time the culprit was a senior woman.My client's team had tried everything short of a direct statement.They had loudly praised the virtues of a daily shower.They had marvelled at the convenience of the dry-cleaning shop that everyone had to pass on their way in to the building.They had spoken glowingly of the virtues of the 40o cycle in the washing machine.None of it worked.
My client fudged it at first.He feigned tender interest in the physical well-being of this woman and packed her off to the occupational health physician.This doctor had a secret brief to investigate any possible medical explanation for the BO.Needless to say, there was none.
In the end, the manager had to deal with it direct, as you must.
As the trainee's boss, part of your role is to develop him, and the foundation for any selfdevelopment has to be self-awareness.Here, this young man needs to know that he smells and that unless he deals with it, his career will be compromised.
The best way to do it is to combine a high degree of sensitivity with a high degree of directness.Ask to see him privately.Tell him that what you are going to say will be difficult to hear. Say that you notice that he has a strong body odour.
Do not take refuge in mealy-mouthed stuff about 'other people have told me'.Own your own opinion. In fact, tell him what you can smell at that moment.Describe the impact this is having on you and on colleagues.Spell out the career consequences.
Ask for his response.You may get tears, silence, anger or denial.Stick to your main aim: helping him understand that there really is a problem.Establish the underlying reasons.
These will probably be a combination of infrequent bathing, infrequent laundering and no deodorant.Tell him that it is not acceptable for the problem to continue.Agree a plan with him.Stay sympathetic at the impact of the feedback, steady on the message you have to give and supportive on how to help him sort it out.
This is as hard as it gets. If you can deal with it you will be able to handle any performance issue.
Jenny Rogers is an executive coach with Management Futures, www. managementfutures. co. uk.
Please e-mail your questions for Jenny Rogers in confidence to marylouise. harding@emap. com marked Dear Jenny.