Scents and sen­si­bil­i­ties

The Washington Post Sunday - - JOBS - KARLA L. MILLER


Even though HR is off­site, that’s where you should start. Good HR pro­fes­sion­als know how to be diplo­matic and dis­creet while re­main­ing mind­ful of le­gal bound­aries — and they’ve prob­a­bly en­coun­tered this is­sue be­fore. Amy Main­gault, di­rec­tor of the Knowl­edge Cen­ter at the So­ci­ety for Hu­man Re­source Man­age­ment, rec­om­mends you ac­knowl­edge up­front that your is­sue is awk­ward and may seem petty, but that it’s af­fect­ing morale and per­for­mance. Then state the prob­lem sim­ply: Your su­per­vi­sor has a strong body odor that makes you want to avoid faceto face in­ter­ac­tions. You have ob­served sim­i­lar re­ac­tions among your co­work­ers. Ask some­one from HR to visit the of­fice to ver­ify your com­plaint and to dis­cuss the is­sue di­rectly and con­fi­den­tially with your su­per­vi­sor.

If that’s not pos­si­ble, HR should con­tact your su­per­vi­sor’s boss — who surely has no­ticed the smell — to re­port the prob­lem and to ad­vise on how to ad­dress it ap­pro­pri­ately.

Main­gault says who­ever ends up ini­ti­at­ing this un­pleas­ant con­ver­sa­tion should “be frank, gen­tle and make guid­ance avail­able” — and should speak from first­hand ob­ser­va­tion, not hurt­ful hearsay: “I have ob­served that you have a strong body odor. To main­tain the high­est level of pro­fes­sion­al­ism, it is im­por­tant that you ad­dress this right away.” Then that per­son should ask whether the su­per­vi­sor can re­solve the prob­lem alone or needs some sug­ges­tions on where to start. That gives the su­per­vi­sor an op­por­tu­nity to bring up any med­i­cal con­di­tions. In­ci­den­tally, this talk will prob­a­bly go over bet­ter with some­one who is the same gen­der as the su­per­vi­sor.

In the in­terim, when you can’t dis­tance your­self through email, phone or telecom­mut­ing, try a dab of Vicks Va­poRub or es­sen­tial oils un­der your nos­trils, or a strong men­thol lozenge. With luck, the air will clear be­fore you have to per­ma­nently dis­tance your­self.

Karla Miller dis­penses ad­vice on work­place dra­mas and trau­mas for the Washington Post Mag­a­zine’s @Work Ad­vice col­umn. She tack­les ques­tions on ob­nox­ious of­fice mates, bul­ly­ing bosses, and get­ting by in the cur­rent job mar­ket. You can read her col­umns at wash­ing­ton­­vice and fol­low her on Twit­ter: @Kar­laAtWork.

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