How to im­prove your busi­ness scents

Bad smells af­fect in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships, morale


ANY of our read­ers have been re­joic­ing and en­joy­ing the fore­cast for hot, hot and “stink­ing hot” sum­mer weather. Peo­ple au­to­mat­i­cally think of beach time, fam­ily pic­nics in the park, fam­ily va­ca­tions at the lake and/or danc­ing at the an­nual Folk Fes­ti­val.

How­ever, on the other side of the equa­tion, we have the chal­lenge of our hot bod­ies sweat­ing, and all those ef­forts we take in try­ing to cool down. Yet, if we don’t take care of our­selves, sweat can turn into pretty of­fen­sive body odour. This might not be no­ticed at the lake and/or it could be for­given while at the Folk Fes­ti­val, but it is a whole other story when it oc­curs in the work­place.

Most of the time, we don’t even re­al­ize the power or in­flu­ence of the smells and scents around us. Yet to­day, work­places are deal­ing with al­lergy is­sues against per­fume, and many have banned per­fume of all kinds. How­ever, we also know that dis­taste­ful odours in the work­place — in­clud­ing cigarette smoke, var­i­ous air fresh­en­ing sprays, smelly fish in the lunch­room and/or all those for­got­ten foods in the staff re­frig­er­a­tor — are of­ten cited as prob­lem ar­eas.

Dis­taste­ful smells in the work­place in­ter­fere in think­ing pro­cesses and make the work en­vi­ron­ment un­com­fort­able. It causes fel­low em­ploy­ees to iso­late their col­league and/or make fun of them, which in turn cre­ates work­place cliques and poor in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships. Smell also in­flu­ences our mood, emo­tions, ev­ery­day thoughts and the en­joy­ment of our sur­round­ings.

The most chal­leng­ing odour is­sue to deal with is that foul, “stink­ing hot”

Mand smelly body odour pro­jected by an em­ployee with poor per­sonal hy­giene. That’s be­cause it is an em­bar­rass­ing is­sue for the em­ployee, but also a chal­lenge for a man­ager who now has to find a way to dis­cuss the is­sue and hope­fully find a so­lu­tion. Not only that, the em­ployee may also be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a con­fi­den­tial, un­der­ly­ing health prob­lem. At one time, man­agers be­lieved that per­sonal body odour was in­deed per­sonal and the work­place had no busi­ness in­ter­fer­ing. How­ever, that is no longer the case.

Em­ploy­ees ex­pe­ri­enc­ing iso­la­tion from col­leagues be­cause of per­sonal hy­giene is­sues is a work­place is­sue. The man­ager’s job is to en­sure a com­fort­able and safe place to work for all em­ploy­ees. Not only that, if a man­ager con­tin­u­ally de­lays ac­tion, the em­ployee might well be­come a walk­ing health haz­ard. So, no mat­ter what, man­age­ment must deal with the sit­u­a­tion.

While a con­ver­sa­tion with the of­fend­ing em­ployee will un­doubt­edly be sen­si­tive, in many cases you will find that the in­di­vid­ual is not fully aware of their prob­lem. If they are aware of the is­sue, they of­ten don’t know what to do about it and/or sim­ply haven’t sought med­i­cal help for this prob­lem. Of course, there are al­ways those em­ploy­ees who just don’t take pride in per­sonal hy­giene.

The fol­low­ing tips will help to guide you through this awk­ward con­ver­sa­tion.

In­di­vid­ual ap­proach: If an in­di­vid­ual em­ployee is con­cerned about the per­sonal hy­giene of a col­league, the ques­tion is “do I or don’t I” con­front the in­di­vid­ual? While a per­sonal in­ter­ven­tion can work, it will de­pend on the char­ac­ter of the in­di­vid­u­als, the abil­ity of one em­ployee to raise the is­sue in a sen­si­tive way as well as the an­tic­i­pated re­sponse. Make this de­ter­mi­na­tion be­fore you try, and if you do not feel safe, dis­cuss the is­sue with man­age­ment.

Man­age­ment plan­ning: Man­age­ment needs to be hon­est and di­rect, yet con­sid­er­ate, all at the same time. Keep in mind that it is not what you say but how you say it, so plan your con­ver­sa­tion… what you will say, the an­tic­i­pated re­sponse such as self-con­scious­ness and/or anger about your in­tru­sion into their life.

Set a pri­vate meet­ing: Whereas in most cases this con­ver­sa­tion will be sen­si­tive, set a con­fi­den­tial meet­ing in a lo­ca­tion where you not only have pri­vacy but where the in­di­vid­ual doesn’t have to re­turn to their work­sta­tion by en­coun­ter­ing a long line of gawk­ing col­leagues.

State your case: Be­gin your meet­ing by ad­dress­ing the need for the meet­ing, in that the is­sue of per­sonal hy­giene and body odour has come to your at­ten­tion. Ask if the in­di­vid­ual is aware of this, and if there is a health is­sue that man­age­ment needs to be aware of so ac­com­mo­da­tion can be con­sid­ered.

Take a coach­ing ap­proach: Take a mo­ment to re­view your dress and hy­giene pol­icy, and de­pend­ing on the em­ployee’s re­sponse, pre­pare your dec­la­ra­tion state­ment of what needs to be done and when. Keep in mind the in­di­vid­ual will be self-con­scious. Be sure to of­fer to help the in­di­vid­ual ex­plore your em­ployee as­sis­tance ben­e­fits. En­gage the em­ployee to help them un­der­stand the is­sue as an or­ga­ni­za­tional is­sue, and in­vite them to sug­gest so­lu­tions.

Health prob­lems: If you iden­tify a health prob­lem, di­rect the em­ployee to visit their physi­cian to dis­cuss the is­sue and to re­turn with fur­ther sug­ges­tions to over­come the prob­lem.

Pro­vide gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion: While the cur­rent is­sue may be iso­lated to one per­son, this is a good time to re­view your pol­icy and pro­ce­dures with re­spect to hy­giene and to ed­u­cate em­ploy­ees on this is­sue. This could in­clude a lunch-and-learn about var­i­ous prod­ucts peo­ple are al­ler­gic to, and how scents can im­pact a per­son’s health. Some per­fumes, for in­stance, can cause an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion which re­sults in days off work.

Hold a sec­ond meet­ing: Fol­low up with the in­di­vid­ual and pro­vide en­cour­age­ment on any pos­i­tive changes. Re­state your sup­port, but en­sure the in­di­vid­ual is aware of the dress and hy­giene code at your or­ga­ni­za­tion.

While the fastest-grow­ing “smell” is­sue in the work­place is that of per­fume and other fra­grances, body odour re­sult­ing from poor hy­giene, es­pe­cially in a hot sum­mer, can re­sult in se­ri­ous prob­lems, in­clud­ing morale, pro­duc­tiv­ity and poor in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships amongst em­ploy­ees. It is an is­sue that can­not be left with the hope it will self-cor­rect.

Have courage, and take steps at the first hint of a prob­lem.

Smells, like strong per­fume or body odour, can make the work en­vi­ron­ment un­com­fort­able.

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