When A Co-Worker Has Bad Body Odor

by admin on November 12, 2012

I was approached today at work as a senior female in our area to talk to the female trainee about her smell.   The male staff senior to me would not handle this situation very well.

I am not sure how to approach this with sensitivity.  I had thought about just putting deodorant in her draw and hoping she would take the hint? The trainee shares an office with another worker, who has not complained, but the rest of the office can smell the body odor up the hall way.  She always has clean cloths and her hair looks washed.

We do live in a very warm climate, however our offices are air conditioned.

Any Advice please? 1029-12

First, this is a private matter about a person’s body odor and hygiene which is unfortunately become a workplace problem impacting the work environment for others.   Your discussion with her needs to be in private.   The only thing your fellow employees need to know is that the problem has been addressed.  They do not need the gory details of what you said, what the exact problem is or how you resolved it.    By being tactful and discreet, you build trust not only in her but other workers as well.

Two, keep the discussion on topic, be straightforward and assure her that it has nothing to do with her job performance but how she physically presents herself is  related to the company dress/appearance code which violations of can affect employee morale and client interactions.   (If your company does not have a dress code, you need to create one and implement it).

Three, offer possible solutions.   There are deodorants on the market such as Secret Clinical Strength and Degree Clinical Strength that are targeted to heavy sweaters with unusually strong odors.   If I remember correctly, there are even prescription strength deodorants a doctor can proscribe.  Be open to the idea that it may not be her underarms that are the source of the odors.   Yeast or bacterial infections in private areas, behind the knees, the mouth and the top of the butt crack can give off an unpleasant odor and can be remedied with over the counter product such as Gold Bond Medicated Powder or mycostatin creams or powders from the doctor.   If she seems amendable to finding solutions, perhaps have a few samples of the aforementioned items ready in a pretty basket or bag.   It might even be her laundry detergent!   I once used a particular brand and scent of liquid detergent that made the clothes have this smell that reminded everyone in the family of stale urine with a slightly sweet yet ammonia scent.  Our clothes smelled like rancid, old pee!   Ditched that bottle of detergent!

Four, treat this like any other infringement of the dress code and set a time limit for correction of the problem.   If your company has a disciplinary policy for continued infringements, you need to follow those procedures up to and including termination if necessary.

{ 68 comments… read them below or add one }

Yasuragi November 12, 2012 at 5:12 am

I once used a detergent that made all my clothes smell like wet dog the very second I even began to think about sweating.

Now I use nothing more than baking soda and apple cider vinegar to wash my clothes. They always smell fresh.

It may be because of her soap that she has such a smell. Body odor is caused by bacteria, not sweat, and some soaps and deodorants are like cheesecake for bacteria. Using more deodorant or harsher soaps would be counterproductive in that case. Adding apple cider vinegar to bathwater works great. Or a spritz of vinegar under the arms. It won’t smell like vinegar once it has dried. This can help the bacteria problem as well as any possible yeast issues. Vinegar is amazing.

Um…I swear I’m not a paid shill for a Big Vinegar.

As admin said, talk to her in private and do not share details with anyone else in the office.

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Jenna November 12, 2012 at 6:06 am

Body odor from a person who looks like they they bathe can indicate health problems. Suggest that she take a zinc supplement.

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ferretrick November 12, 2012 at 6:53 am

As her manager, solving the problem and suggeting products and all that is really not your job. Your only job is to make the employee aware that corrective action is needed. When this situation occurs, you must tactfully but explicitly deliver the message that it’s creating a problem, but it is her problem to solve. Diagnosing the cause and finding a solution is her responsibility. It’s no more the job of the employer to solve the employee’s hygiene issues than it is to find a way for a chronicly late employee to get to work on time. You are her manager, not her mother.

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Sarah November 12, 2012 at 7:04 am

Long time lurker here. If she looks like she washes and the odour is particularly unusual (ie fish) then it could be a metabolic genetic disorder. These are rare but having worked with people who have these I can say they impact hugely on a persons life. Please approach the situation carefully as people with these conditions have often been through a life time of teasing and horrible social situations!

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coralreef November 12, 2012 at 7:28 am

I work with a man who has NO hygiene whatsoever. His clothes, himself, his workplace, everything is filthy, filthy, filthy. He has been approached about it by our company president after complaints. No results, at all. And my bosses are not able to fire him for reasons I can’t fathom.

OP, I can sympatise with your situation, but at least it appears your trainee has a minimum knowledge of soap. Best of luck.

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clairedelune November 12, 2012 at 7:35 am

I agree with what Admin said, except for the suggestion of presenting her with a basket of products. As ferret rick says, it’s not the employer’s responsibility to diagnose and treat the problem, only to identify it. Bad body odor can often be a sign of health problems, and unless these senior managers are a group of doctors, determining the cause of the condition is outside their area of expertise. It also rather insultingly implies that the staffer is perhaps unaware of the existence of deodorant, which is surely not the problem.

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admin November 12, 2012 at 9:08 am

I double checked the suggestion to offer hygiene product samples and found several Human Resources sites that actually did publish this as a possible way to address the issue. I think how one does that and to whom has to be on a case by case basis.

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Din November 12, 2012 at 7:45 am

I completely disagree with the idea of giving her deodorants in a “pretty basket”. I can’t imagine anything more humiliating after you’ve just been told there’s a problem with your body odor than being handed that. It seems so dismissive to me.

Be kind and honest, and if she’s genuinely clueless suggest she see her physician. That’s as far as you need to go.

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--Lia November 12, 2012 at 8:08 am

I’d treat this like any other medical problem. You don’t get involved in the specifics. You do make the company’s resources towards a solution apparent. In other words, you call her into your office, spend one sentence detailing the problem (we’ve noticed a distinctive smell) and as many sentences as necessary talking about the solution. (The insurance plan is this. You can see these doctors. This one has been particularly recommended. We can help you with an appointment like this.) Keep ALL the emphasis on the solution. In the long run, that could be offering break time to go into the ladies room to wash or to change blouses or to use the doctor recommended products. But the tone should be all about a problem with a solution, nothing else. (And one last thing. It’s a huge help if you use medical terms for body parts. Get comfortable saying “vagina” out loud, not “down there”. The problem might not have anything to do an infection, but if it does, it could be a big help to her if you can say the word. Your being comfortable with a medical term means that she can be comfortable with a medical term. It’s actually a kindness to her. That goes for all medical words. Vagina was just an example.)

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Libby November 12, 2012 at 8:13 am

I totally agree with Sarah. This is a very delicate situation that your human resources department needs to deal with, not you. It is no one else’s business what was said or even if anything was said.

I can hear it now:
“Boss, did you say anything to Mary yet about her body odor?”
“I addressed this two days ago.”
“Well, she still stinks. How long are you going to let this go on?”
Etc., etc., etc.

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Dominic November 12, 2012 at 8:14 am

Although probably not the case here, but further to freshly washed clothes still smelling foul, when someone’s washing machine is not clean, it can leave an awful odor on clothing washed in it. Both top-loading and front-loading machines can have water sit in them and turn mildewy, contaminating anything washed in them. One of my co-workers had this issue for a time, but someone must have clued her in, and there is no longer that lingering smell on her clothes. We had friends who asked us about their laundry because their clothing had a smell to it. We found out not only were they not leaving the machine lid/door open to air out, they were piling dirty, sweaty workout clothes in the closed machine between washes. Yikes!

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Wendy B. November 12, 2012 at 8:50 am

I think before suggesting any supplements, etc. it should be suggested that she see her doctor.

First, address the issue one on one and try to make it sound like you’re on the same team and have “been there” at some point. If you emphasize that you’re trying to help her both at work and socially out of work and that you care about her as a person, I think you’ll get farther than sticking deodorant in her desk, which is hurtful and insulting.

There could be many different causes, from needing to rotate out her current deodorant to a new brand (or rotate between a couple of brands every few days), to a stronger brand, or trying something natural, like vinegar. But she probably really, really, REALLY needs to see her doctor. This could have come on so gradually for her she isn’t aware. Ask her to keep you updated, especially if there is a need to go through a process of elimination, which could take weeks or months even.

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livvy17 November 12, 2012 at 8:56 am

Please be careful, and involve Human Resources. Do not suggest that the problem might be medical, or in other ways speculate about her health issues. Do a little research on how to deal with the problem. (Society for Human Resource Management http://www.shrm.org) and others have recommendations on how to deal with this without opening up the manager or the employer to other problems.

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mpk November 12, 2012 at 9:09 am

I also think it’s the manager’s job to just make the employee aware of the problem. It might be more embarrassing for the employee if you stand there with her trying to figure out the source of the odor.
I once used a deodorant that made me smell like i had b.o. Changed that pretty quick.
Also, never just leave deodorant or soap for other people in drawers or lockers as a hint. Bad idea. Can you imagine if you were on the receiving end of that and not knowing who gave it to you? That’s just too sneaky and spineless for my taste.
I don’t envy the manager having to have that discussion, though. It’s such a touchy subject and hard to bring it up without offending the person.

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AMC November 12, 2012 at 9:11 am

The commentors above have made some very good suggestions about the possible cause of the body odor. I just wanted to add that the employee’s diet may also be the culprit; certain foods and herbs have been linked to body odor problems. However you proceed, OP, it’s best to be direct with the employee. Do not leave a deodorant stick in her drawer and ‘hope she takes the hint.’ This will only embarass the employee and leave her wondering which anonymous jerk in the office is making fun of her behind her back. If the cause is a medical problem, deodorant may not be enough, so this move will just come off as insensitive. Remember that it’s quite possible that the employee may already be aware of the problem and trying to address it.

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lefool November 12, 2012 at 9:17 am

I agree 100% with ferretrick. Inform her that there is a problem and do not offer anything else unless she asks or is receptive. It’s humiliating when you have to be spoken to about a hygiene issue, and it’s worse the longer the talk goes on. Don’t talk about solutions unless she seems uncertain or wants to hear it. If you say “I’m sorry, Sarah, but we’ve noticed a smell…” and she says she understands, or she’ll take care of it, or anything else seemingly final, let that be the end. If she starts making excuses, then you can talk about reasons and solutions, but don’t make it painful if it doesn’t have to be.

And do not under any circumstances just put deodorant in her drawer and hope she gets the hint. That’s not only humiliating but passive-aggressive as well.

Needless to say I speak from experience.

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Mer November 12, 2012 at 9:21 am

I think the problem with suggesting hygiene product is that you have no way to know if the problem has anything to do with bad hygiene. It might be quite insulting if you suffer from difficult health problem and your colleagues just think you are a neglecting basic hygiene.

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Angel November 12, 2012 at 9:24 am

I agree this is a human resource problem, but the issue is, some companies are too small to have a separate department for this. This may very well be the case for the OP. The only solution I disagree with is the basket of products. That implies that she doesn’t know basic hygiene, when the OP has indicated that her co-worker looks like she does bathe. So that is not the problem. It could very well be a medical problem and needs to be approached with sensitivity. I can’t think of anything more embarrassing than being approached by a co-worker about how you smell, however, if it’s done in private and with sensitivity it could soften the blow. The only advice I have for the OP is to tread carefully.

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ferretrick November 12, 2012 at 9:41 am

I’m sorry but I’m seeing some really bad advice here-re: HR. You can certainly approach HR for advice about how to tackle the problem. That’s their job, to advise you on sticky management situations and improve relations between employer/employees. You may even ask if an HR person can be there in the meeting with the employee. However, other posters are completely incorrect that this is HR’s job to handle. HR is not her manager, and HR people HATE when management tries to shirk their superivsory duties unto them. HR’s job is to counsel and advise, not to do the management for you. This is an employee discipline issue, and as the manager, it’s your responsiblity.

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Lee November 12, 2012 at 10:15 am

I had the unfortunate experience of sharing a very small office (with no air circulation) with a man who smelled so badly it actually made me sick to my stomach. He biked to work everyday and, even though our office had a shower, which he apparently used, it didn’t help, and he also hung his sweaty biking clothes in the office. I complained many times, as did others in the office, but to no avail. HR actually told my manager and I that we could not, under any circumstances, talk to him about his odour or even ask him to stop hanging his sweaty clothes in our shared office. I was told to “learn to tolerate it.” I’m surprised the poster is even allowed to talk to the employee about the odour, though I think it should absolutely be addressed.

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Bint November 12, 2012 at 10:16 am

I’ve worked with two people like this. One was just filthy and wore the same shirt every day, being a heavy sweater. We used to gag when he walked in. The other girl had a medical problem and that same problem meant she had no idea. She couldn’t smell it. Her manager took her for little one to one (the girl told us afterwards) and just said there was a small problem and perhaps A wasn’t aware of it. A took it really well and went to her doctor. The man, nothing was done.

It’s not a situation anyone is going to enjoy, but yeah – the hygiene products?! How incredibly immature and gutless would I think that was of a manager? That’s if I even got the point instead of wondering why someone had given me a present. When you have a problem with an employee, you *talk* to them. You don’t put deodorant in their drawers. That’s the kind of thing your mum would do with tampons, not a manager dealing with a work situation!

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Laura November 12, 2012 at 10:36 am

I am an HR Manager, and at one point had to have a discussion with a male employee with a body odor issue. The poor guy had NO CLUE that he smelled bad, and was really mortified. We had a private discussion about it, and he came up with his own solutions. The next day he came in freshly showered and groomed. We did not have any more issues with it after that, I’m happy to report. I could write a book about some of the odd conversations I’ve had with people…all part of the job.

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Andie November 12, 2012 at 10:50 am

I know the conversation will be uncomfortable, but be a big girl/boy and do it. Don’t leave things in her desk drawer– that’s too vague and mean. That’s right, MEAN.

I always had wild hair, it’s been the bane of my existence in a world where straight, silky hair is desirable. I just put it back and hoped for a good hair day. Well, you can imagine how I felt when I got to work one day and found a little plastic hair brush in my locker. I never got so much as a hint that my hair was a problem from my manager. Was it a coworker or a group of coworkers who’d done this? Was this supposed to be funny? For my sanity, I had to believe that someone had found it discarded in the breakroom and in the rush to clean up before closing, tossed it in some random open locker.

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Bubbley November 12, 2012 at 10:53 am

I dealt with this once as the office manager of a small art company.

The gentleman in question was very much a modern day “hippy” and an extraordinarily gentle soul who was also, maybe, just a little bit ‘off’, temperamentally. I got ambushed by the ENTIRE art staff one morning, telling me that I had to deal with his body odor or they were all leaving. I was MORTIFIED and told them that they had to give me a week.

Ultimately, I called the gentleman into my office and started the conversation off with the fact that I was mortified to be speaking to him about something so personal, but that it had come to my attention that, under stress or deadline or even just when exerting himself a bit, his natural odor became a bit more than some of his coworkers could handle. He was caught completely unaware, had no idea that it was an issue and was embarrassed. We ended up consoling one another about the awkwardness of the situation.

I had gone out and gotten an all-natural mineral based deodorant (in keeping with his all natural lifestyle) and offered it to him and he gladly took it and promised that he would try it. As it turns out, he decided to leave a week later as he was so put off that no one but me was willing to talk to him about the problem.

Five years later, I ran into him in a local bar. We said ‘hi’ and caught up a little bit and he introduced me to his girlfriend. As I was wishing him well and moving on to my table, he whispered a thank you into my ear for “the conversation” – he still used the deodorant that I had found and the solving of his “odor issue” had, evidently, opened the door for a romantic relationship with the young lady that he was with whom he had known for years and who had always kept him at arms length because she didn’t know how to address the issue. :)

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Twik November 12, 2012 at 10:55 am

When the OP says she was approached as “a senior female,” does she mean, “most senior female manager,” or merely “I am the oldest female working with this person, so they think I’ll be able to pull off a ‘motherly’ approach”? Because if it’s the second, this has disaster all over it.

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josie November 12, 2012 at 11:00 am

Another thought is that the employee may be taking supplements that are causing the odor. People that take alot of garlic smell….even tho they say they don’t, other people notice it. People that take alot of fish oil do sometimes also.

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Cat November 12, 2012 at 11:01 am

I’d drop the word “smell” in favor of “odor” and have a gentle woman-to- woman talk on the subject. There are many reasons for this problem, some of which require medical intervention and some of which she can deal with herself.
I would not leave anything in her desk and hope she makes the connection. That’s one step from writing about her problem on the bathroom wall, and it is not an adult way to confront a problem.

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Lisa November 12, 2012 at 11:12 am

This is an HR, or in the case of a small office, an Office Manager issue. The employee needs to be addressed discreetly. No offers of deodorant, supplements, etc.. The employee needs to know that if they need assistance, that they can come to you.

Done

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AS November 12, 2012 at 11:24 am

After reading Sarah’s suggestion, I looked up for some article about TMAU, which is a metabolic disorder causing body odor. Here is an interesting article from a lady who had the problem, but carved out a niche for herself.

http://cjonline.com/news/2012-02-19/topekan-speaks-out-about-rare-disease-causing-body-odor

Here is an excerpt that might help OP make a decision to approach the co-worker is she indeed has TMAU. You might even have to think twice about giving an ultimatum or making her loose her job, as the admin suggested, if she actually has the disease.

“Still, Fields said, those with TMAU can face harassment in the workplace. Others with the disorder have told her about co-workers leaving soap or laxatives on their desks or managers and supervisors joking about their odor. Some have lost jobs or not been hired because of the disease.

Of course, for all you know it may not be any disorder. But it would be useful to keep an open mind for it.

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Annie November 12, 2012 at 11:35 am

This is timely. As we walked into work today, my husband/coworker told me I smelled like rotting vegetables. I know exactly what it is–I used a face cream today that I’ve had for a long time and rarely use, and it’s probably rancid. I have a very poor sense of smell and he has a very good sense of smell. So, I’ll be throwing away that face cream when I get home.

Don’t leave deodorant on her desk. That is cruel and juvenile.

I had a co-worker with a very powerful odor. He looked clean, but came from a culture that doesn’t bathe every day. His boss talked to him about it in private, and he started bathing daily. Problem solved.

@Yasuragi–apple cider vinegar is the best! My brother uses it instead of deodorant. I use it every two weeks or so on my scalp to prevent dandruff.

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just4kicks November 12, 2012 at 11:38 am

I think I know exactly what detergent you are talking about. My husband and I once had a huge argument because the clothes he wanted to wear to an important meeting smelled like “cat pee” and he accused me of forgetting to wash them and pulling them out of the dirty clothes hamper. I took him to the laundry room and he sniffed the clothes in the (just finished) washer and dryer. It was the detergent and went down the drain immediately!!!

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--Lia November 12, 2012 at 12:09 pm

I agree with those who note that this might not be a medical problem, but I’m going to stand by my advice to treat it like one. Right now, we don’t know what the solution is. It might be treating an infection, washing more often, changing the diet, fixing a washing machine, using different personal care products. We don’t know. We do know that just calling someone in to say what amounts to “you stink” isn’t going to help solve the problem. It’s only going to call attention to something that the employee either doesn’t recognize as a problem or has no idea how to fix. Getting into specifics as to what the employee might try is involving one’s self in a very personal matter– and one where you’re unsure. You don’t want to be saying “try this. No? Well try this” until you hit on the solution. But a doctor probably has better diagnostic tools than we do and should have been trained in being sensitive. With a doctor, the employee can go in and say that her supervisor at work sent her in because of an odor problem, then let the doctor take the lead. If it turns out that it’s nothing medical and more a matter of switching laundry detergents, the doctor can still lead the way on that.

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LadyPhoenix November 12, 2012 at 12:27 pm

The best thing to do is to talk to the employee privately about this issue. Consider calling her over when she is not busy and ask for a private discussion.

When the two of you are alone, polite state that you have noticed that the person is emitting a body odor and that they should take care of it as soon as possible. You could give them suggestions as to how to fix it such as “Maybe you need to try a new detergent”. However, you are not a doctor, so don’t try to treat her like you are one. Don’t say things like “Maybe you have a yeast infection, you should get yourself checked.” She needs to be the one to examine the issue regarding her odor, not you. For all you know, it really could be bad deodorant. From the way you describe her, it’s not like she isn’t using what she needs.

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Enna November 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm

I do agree with admin on all points but the one about buying the items. That could backfire and be really embrassing. If the trainee wants advice then that’s different or gets upset that people think she’s “dirty” then the manger says, “you are not dirty, it could be your washing machine or the detergent you use on your clothes or the soap you use, it could be a health condition. None of these are your fault but you can resolve them.”

@ Ferret Trick, I think who is responsible for it depends on the company and the policy that each indivdiual company has. For some comapanies, it might be under the HR Dept remit to deal with issues or to mediate to help the employee and employer, in others it maybe the manager’s responsiblity. One company I worked for my line manager sent out an email to everyone in (what was) my department reminding us about the rules on clothing as he had recieved comments about it. He didn’t meantion where the comments were coming from nor did he single anyone out so he was fair that way. I think that admin did hit one nail on the head that if there is no poilcy on clothing then then there needs to be one made.

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LovleAnjel November 12, 2012 at 12:40 pm

The employee may not realize she smells bad. There is a gene that codes for being able to sense the compounds that cause bad BO (including fishy smells). If this person totally lacks the gene, they have no idea how bad they smell to the people who have it. Imagine someone coming to you, telling you that you smell bad, and as far as you can tell, you smell great! If you take their word for it, how can you tell when a product has worked for you? Walk up to someone at work and ask them to sniff you? This conversation could very easily slide into creepy/backstabby land.

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Stacey Frith-Smith November 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Because the problem is one whose source is unknown, the interview should be information only. No mention of compliance or discipline should come into it at this point. The underlying cause could be medical in nature, so you are dealing with privacy issues, discrimination liability potential and the full force of laws that guarantee freedom from intrusion into privacy for health and “reasonable accommodation” for special issues. Speculating as to the cause (bad soap, metabolic issue, severe illness?) is counterproductive. Nor can you assume that the employee is unaware of the problem. The only thing you can do as the manager tasked with dealing with the issue is to inform her that an odor appears to be emanating from her work area and from her person and advise her that the situation must be remedied by a certain date or a suitable waiver provided by her physician. There should be an HR representative at the meeting with you to serve as a resource if the employee so desires and to serve as an impartial witness to the proceedings in case there is a question (or accusation) that comes up later. You can also install an air purifier in her office or look into similar options for healthfully freshening the air if office policy permits it and there are funds for doing so available.

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Calliope November 12, 2012 at 1:07 pm

I totally agree with ferretrick. Do not recommend products, suggest she see a doctor, or speculate as to the cause of her body odor. That’s not your job and it’s not your business, and I can’t imagine anything more humiliating to an employee than a manager nosing into her personal business that way. Simply inform her, as politely as possible, that the odor is noticeable and that she needs to do something about it.

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Leigh November 12, 2012 at 1:31 pm

If it is a medical problem, she may already be aware of it, and it could just be a matter of explaining it to the manager. I think a direct but respecful approach is needed with the employee. Yes, it will be a difficult and probably embarrassing conversation, but I think the employee would probably prefer the direct approach as opposed to an indirect one. Also, if she does have a medical condition, finding random items in her desk (like deodorant) could be seen (potentially) as harassment, bullying, or at the very least insensitve.

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sillyme November 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm

This is the thing: what happens if she’s already been to a doctor, is already using all the available products and she’s basically at the end of the road for solutions? What if she’s on a medication or treatment regimine for some health condition and this is a side effect? Hormones, chemotherapy … what then?

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Library Diva November 12, 2012 at 2:27 pm

I have no advice for the OP, only sympathy. The only way this could be more awkward is if you had to remove your own clothing before doing it. Best of luck in this discussion, and do give us an update. I’m curious as to how it all comes out and how this employee handles it.

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Claire November 12, 2012 at 3:01 pm

I agree with ferretrick and Stacey and Sillyme.

This lady was recently on TV

http://www.channel4embarrassingillnesses.com/conditions/hidradenitis-suppurativa/

as you can imagine she suffers incredibly and is indeed at the end of her tether. Her body odour is significant and there is almost nothing she can do. (she’s had operations, botox, meds, all sorts).

A discreet conversation stating facts only is sufficient to start with – there is an odour, it has been noticed and is impacting on the working environment. Be led then by her response – issues around does she know, does she care, has she tried anything/everything are all matters which will come to light and can be addressed once the subject has been raised and she has had a reasonable time to assimilate and respond. Mentioning sanction is too soon at this stage.

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yokozbornak November 12, 2012 at 4:01 pm

I went to school with a girl who had the above mentioned disorder. She worked hard to keep the smell as contained as possible and was very open about her condition which I think helped the situation a lot. I feel so bad for everyone involved in this situation because it does sound like there may be an underlying issue of some sort. Good luck, OP, and please update us on what happens.

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Page November 12, 2012 at 4:16 pm

I definitely think OP should address the employee, but I’m wondering if it could be a cultural issue. In America, we tend to be extra sensitive about body odor issues. In many other parts of the world, people don’t regularly wear deodorant and just accept odor as part of being human. Is there a gentle way to find out if she is wearing deodorant at all? It may not be anything as extreme as a medical condition.

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Kiki November 12, 2012 at 4:53 pm

I wouldn’t leave deoderant or antiperspirant in the person’s office. Some people are allergic to the ingredients in those products and can’t use them. It is best to speak to the person, maybe they are aware of the problem, but weren’t aware of how bad it was. They would probably be greatful to know. Think of it like telling someone they have spinach in their teeth or toilet paper stuck on their shoe. You are stopping them from experiencing future embarrassment.

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Calliope November 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Page, there’s no reason the OP would need to find out of this woman is wearing deodorant. The issue isn’t what products this woman is or isn’t using, it’s that her body odor is bothering her coworkers. It’s up to OP to tell her, and after that, it’s up to the woman herself to take care of it.

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jen a. November 12, 2012 at 5:36 pm

It’s certainly possible that the girl smells because of a medical issue, but chances are it’s because her deo isn’t cutting it. Sometimes people just can’t tell they smell, or they don’t realize the smell is as strong as it it. There’s no way around the fact that this is going to be an embarrassing situation, but bringing up very personal hygiene issues (such as a yeast infection, suggested by some commenters) would push things over the top. Talking about her vagina is not a conversation that should happen between coworkers – it’s getting in the creepy territory. It might even get you into a bit of trouble. If it is a medical issue it’s no one’s business unless the poor girl chooses to share that information.

I feel for you OP. I’ve had to have this exact conversation with students and it’s always uncomfortable. A little bit of compassion and empathy can go a long way. Good luck!

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PM November 12, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Another reason that discreetly giving someone with odor problems a “pretty basket” won’t work: A lot of people with odor problems are so far in denial that it wouldn’t occur to them that they need the soaps and products. At my first workplace, there was a cleaning man who would come in the mornings. He had a body odor that left a trail of scent behind him up to half an hour after he left a room.

HR tried to talk to him about the issue, but had been too delicate in their approach for fear of offending him. The HR director had given him a giant basket of mini-shampoos, soaps, after-shaves and told him to find one he liked best. Weeks later, the odor was still a problem, so the HR director asked if he’d found a soap he liked. The cleaning guy said, “Nah, I didn’t need any of that stuff, so I donated it to the Goodwill.”

The odor problem was still an issue two years later when I left that office. They never found a way to approach him.

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The Elf November 12, 2012 at 8:38 pm

I had a medical problem wherein I couldn’t wear deoderant for about six months. I was acutely conscious of the problem and bathed fanatically. Some days it just wasn’t enough. If someone had said something to me I probably would have rolled over and died of embarrassment. Now I can use it, but only very specific products will both work and not give me horrible, horrible hives. (Naturally, none of them are carried regularly by my local grocery and drug stores. Of course.) Both of the products mentioned would send me into an itching frenzied rash that would make the problem worse. Yeah, they’re designed for “heavy sweaters” but they also have a lot of cover-up scents that could cause allergic reactions in an already sensitive area.

I agree with Ferretrick and Calliope, that the way to approach it is not to suggest a solution but to present the problem. If she asks for advice, by all means suggest something. But unless she asks, just leave it in terms of the problem. It should be done by a senior employee or boss, of the same gender if possible, in a kind but straight forward way. I feel for the OP because this is never an easy problem!

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sv November 12, 2012 at 10:20 pm

As many others have stated here, the best approach is simply to be matter of fact and direct, but with kindness. Don’t beat around the bush and don’t suggest it is a medical/hygeine/washing machine problem. Definitely do not offer advice regarding products, hygeine or anything else. I cannot imagine anything more humiliating than someone earnestly telling me about personal hygeine products as though I was unable to find out that information myself.

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Shaindy November 12, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Long time lurker, because I never had anything to add. But on this topic I do. My husband has a problem of overactive sweating. His body odour has been brought up to him many times at many different workplaces. He showers fanatically, sometimes two or three times a day, but he’s unable to wear many deodorants because of allergies, so he’s royally screwed. As others have said, she’s going to be embarrassed no matter what, so do your best to be as matter of fact about it as possible. If she does ask for advice or help, it was recommended to my husband to try botox shots (our insurance didn’t cover it so he couldn’t do it, unfortunately). A dermatologist would be able to help.

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Liz November 13, 2012 at 12:22 am

In order for ppl to change their behaviour you’re better off giving them the opportunity to suggest something themselves so they don’t feel dictated to and own the solution. You may think you know the solution but you may not know the problem. It should be a casual conversation perhaps starting with what going on with their work ans life in general taking an interest. They may give you clues as to what the problem is and the conversation will flow more easily then.

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