update: how to talk to an employee about body odor

Remember the manager who needed to talk to an employee about body odor? Here’s her update:

I did talk to the employee, and I am not going to kid you — this is probably the toughest conversation I’ve ever had with a subordinate. (And yes, I have fired people before. This was worse.)

Before we talked, I kept telling myself, “This isn’t about you, so stop being such a wuss. This is about helping her. If you don’t talk to her, who will? Someone needs to help her.” So I presented the information in most compassionate way possible, pointing out that I had noticed some changes in her appearance and grooming and was worried about her. I explained that while we have no dress code, there are certain standards
that we’re all expected to abide by — clean clothing, good hygiene, etc. — and that she was coming up short in these areas.

To my amazement, she did not seem surprised by anything I had to say. Apparently some other coworkers had already said things that were
critical to the point of being cruel. Even more amazing, she thanked me for bringing it to her attention and for having the courage to go there.

I did not pry into her personal life or ask why these things were happening, just offered my support, as well as further support through HR if she needed it, and then asked if she felt these problems were things she could correct. She said they were, and she could. And she has. Though this was incredibly difficult to do, it seems to have made a huge difference.

Thanks to all on Ask a Manager who encouraged me to man up and have this conversation with her. It was absolutely the right thing to do, and I pray that if I’m ever in similar straits, someone will have the balls to have that conversation with me.

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