What Can You Do About a Stinky Colleague?

I know that it does not happen to you to have someone stinky around, but occasionally you may experience a sting in your eyes from the onions a colleague is chopping over the keyboard, no other reason. Legend states that the same can happen with some winds, even if you are not living in a windy geographical area.


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If you have hygiene challenged colleagues, the most diplomatic approach is to talk to their superior – and he/she has to find an even more diplomatic solution.

If you don’t solve the problem quickly as manager, there are a lot of chances that the person will become the target of workplace mockery.

If you can go beyond the awkward aspect of the situation, when you feel embarrassed of their embarrassment – you should find a way to communicate, as tactful as possible – that they stink. Well, not exactly with these words.

You can leave them a car refresher hanging on the monitor. NO, not really.

You can recommend them to chew on a gum and not raise the arms and risk having them unglued. NO, this won’t do either.

You can tell them that even if the label says 48 hours or more odor free, doesn’t actually mean they shouldn’t wash during the whole period. Spraying over whatever has been lying dead under their armpits for the past two days, won’t do any good. NO, you can’t say it like this.

You can choose to wear a surgical mask in their presence – like those they use in Asia for protection against pollution (this is some sort of pollution as well). NO.

You can put some mouthwash in the water dispenser. NO, this won’t go either.

You can give them money and provide some advice on what soaps, foam wash or deodorants to buy and what quantity. NO, don’t do it like this.

What you can actually do about a stinky colleague:

  • talk to them in private. It’s going to be hard, very hard, but as manager this is part of your duties (too). So you should not include this in the next meeting agenda as: ‘go stink and we’ll make you go extinct’;
  • first you need to underline the fact that it’s affecting them directly as well as the entire team. If they interact with the customers, even the company reputation will suffer;
  • you can expect them to deny or tell you that it’s a medical condition. Many times the person in cause doesn’t even realize that they have a real problem;
  • don’t make it awkward. Neither in private nor in public;
  • treat the situation with the attention it deserves.

There are situations when it’s actually a medical condition, but there’s a solution for these cases also.

Last but not least, let’s not forget those who stink of booze the day following the state drinking championships.

No matter on which side of the odor you are, go beyond awkward and change the air. After all, this is a matter of respect in the end.

Good luck sniffing!

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