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Got to tell a lady at work that she smells- really really bad

(36 Posts)
Moogatron Tue 14-Oct-08 11:56:14

Her office stinks, is filthy, so is she with unwashed hair/ unwashed clothes etc. She's really sensitive. Has anyone else had to do this or something equally personal? Does anyone have any tips for how to do this?

Your thoughts would be gratefully received!!

expatinscotland Tue 14-Oct-08 11:57:19

an unpleasant situation.

bumping for you.

a11 Tue 14-Oct-08 11:58:47

Does she have a mental health problem? Sounds like it's a possibility. Do you work for an organisation with an occupational health dept as they would be able to help.

VersdeSociete Tue 14-Oct-08 11:59:05

Can you take some HR advice? It is a very difficult situation- I would look for support. are you her boss?

Pruners Tue 14-Oct-08 12:05:20

Message withdrawn

georgiemum Tue 14-Oct-08 12:08:02

I think it's an HR issue. If she is very sensitive you may really really upset her and you would feel bad if you did.

purpleduck Tue 14-Oct-08 12:08:27

<<<<<whistles through teeth>>>>
I wouldn't want to be in your shoes...good luck

expatinscotland Tue 14-Oct-08 12:13:43

did she manage to overcome her, erm, personal odor problems, Pruners?

what a sticky situation to be in, moog!

Pruners Tue 14-Oct-08 12:17:28

Message withdrawn

MrsWobble Tue 14-Oct-08 12:17:53

I've had to do it. It was easier in a way because the person concerned was client facing and we had client complaints so I was able to deal with it as a matter of resolving a client complaint without having to enter into any judgement or discussion.

I second the view that blunt and factual is the way forward - it's not nice to do but it's probably not as bad as you anticipate either. Good luck.

Pennies Tue 14-Oct-08 12:21:02

Why is this a job for HR? This is NOT an HR issue, it's an issue for line management. The only involvement HR should have is merely to give advice to a manager on how they might best deal with it.

Why oh why do people think HR are just purely there to do their dirty work?

Rant over.

Be blunt but not rude.

flowerybeanbag Tue 14-Oct-08 12:22:25

I am assuming you are her boss?

Please don't ask HR to do it unless you really really really can't face it. I've had to do this before because a manager didn't want to say anything that might upset their team member. That's what being a manager is all about! Sometimes you have to do unpleasant things.

I didn't mind doing it as such, did it the way Pruners describes. But it would have been better if the person's manager had done it rather than dragging someone 300 miles from HR to have the meeting instead. I was unimpressed by having to take a whole day out to do it, and I think the individual concerned was very embarrassed by that as well tbh and would have preferred a quiet word from their boss.

It's not easy I know, but being blunt in a kind fairly matter of fact way is probably best. Easier if there are issues to do with facing clients as well.

georgiemum Tue 14-Oct-08 12:22:58

That's what I meant - ask HR for advice, not get HR to do the dirty work! Work in HR, do we Pennies?

flowerybeanbag Tue 14-Oct-08 12:23:32

x-posts with Pennies. Loving your work there Pennies...grin

expatinscotland Tue 14-Oct-08 12:26:01

Yes, we had a stinker like that in one office I worked in who made the rest of us paranoid, Pruners. Been there!

Instead, the corridor smelled like too much perfume as we all went over the score to make sure we weren't smelly.

Even now, I'm a bit paranoid about it.

Moogatron Tue 14-Oct-08 12:26:04

Thanks, Pruners, I think I might take your advice and just come out with it. I'm not her line manager, but am the only female manager around. There is no HR for her, only an HR Business Partner who has said that it cannot be her line manager who tells her as he is not the right level and it has to be someone at my level, me being the default choice. The Business Partner is next to useless.

We don't have any occupational health people, but we do have an environmental health technician.

The funny thing about this lady is that she is a pain in the neck at work, getting riled really easily and stressed- having to be interviewed due to a lot of sick leave- yet she's on the local town council and has been pencilled into be mayor in 2010!!

She is rather large and sports the same stained clothes most days and does not make up for it by being nice. Once, when I was her line manager, she asked me for special paid leave to attend a council meeting and the paperwork stated that I needed to see evidence of the requirement for her to be at the meeting- such as minutes from the last meeting and the date of next meeting if that makes sense. I popped the paperwork back in her intray with a note requesting to see the required evidence as highlighted in the application form.

Anyway, she threw all her teddies out of the cot, accusing me of not trusting her. I said that that was not the issue and that I was required- company policy- to see some evidence. She apologised and sent me a rambling note about how she lived alone and since her parents has died (she's about 50) working for the town council in her spare time is her lifeblood and she would hate to give it up because I thought it interfered with her work.

so you can imagine my reluctance to talk to her!!

Pennies Tue 14-Oct-08 12:26:54

I used to work in HR, but left after being asked by too many managers to tell their staff that they stank wink!

Simplysally Tue 14-Oct-08 12:27:22

We had this situation at one place I worked with the office junior who didn't seem to change his shirts everyday despite always going shopping at lunchtimes hmm. A poster in the kitchen about personal hygiene failed to make an impact (he even agreed with it that it was really important to stay fresh for everyone's sake in a small office!) so in the end a secretary volunteered to do it (his manager didn't want to get involved). The joke was that in his desk was a can of Lynx. Perhaps he ought to have had a spare can at home as well.

Boco Tue 14-Oct-08 12:27:49

I used to have to do this all the time. I helped people with learning disabilities and / or mental health problems find work. A few times the employer would call a couple of months later and say there was a problem and could I come in and tell the person that they had to sort out their personal hygiene.

I found the only way was to be quite direct - if you show how awkward you feel it makes it worse for them, I used to say 'i'm sorry, I know this is very embarrassing but there is a problem and we need to work out what to do about it.'

The hardest was helping a blind transsexual sort out her makeup problems as she had foundation clogged in her stubble.

flowerybeanbag Tue 14-Oct-08 12:30:37

Her line manager is 'not the right level'? Eh? What level does someone have to be to discuss BO?

Either someone is a person's line manager or not, surely? If they are capable of appraising, guiding, directing, disciplining them, then why do they need an extra level of responsibility before they are qualified to discuss BO?

[boggle]

Also, why is it up to the HRBP to decide which manager is capable of having this conversation?

Words fail me.

Lubyloo Tue 14-Oct-08 12:30:54

Yes I had to do this twice! The first one smelled awful and we had comments from customers about it.No one wanted to go in the staff room immediately after he had had his break as we had to let it air sad

I just sat him down at the end of his shift and asked how he felt things were going etc. I then reminded him of the standards that we expected (had a couple of performance issues as well) and just said that with the warm weather (it was a few years ago when we actually had some warm weather!) it was important that we ALL pay attention to personal hygiene. That meant having a wash or shower before coming to work and using some deodorant so that it was a pleasant working environment for all of us. He came in the following day wearing overpowering aftershave and kept it up for two weeks until he left!

The second one was a female member of staff. I just addressed it at a staff meeting and made it very general and a discussion on standards. I filled a little basket with some deodorant, hand cream and nail files and said I was putting it in the toilets and they should all help themselves and let me know if there were any other products they wanted in there. I made it very light hearted and said there was no excuse for any whiffy pits or dirty nails. It seemed to work!

Moogatron Tue 14-Oct-08 12:36:09

Flowerybeanbag- Civil Service. Need I say more?!

lalaa Tue 14-Oct-08 12:36:21

I've had to do something similar with someone who was clearly drinking at work. I went down a H&S route on that initially but also touched on whether there was anything we could support her with - issues at home, etc, and it turned out that her father had died some time in the recent past (but before she'd started work with us) and she wasn't coping at all.

flowerybeanbag Tue 14-Oct-08 12:38:04

No, no need. grin

<<adds to v long list of reasons why have never and will never work in public sector>>

shootfromthehip Tue 14-Oct-08 12:51:13

Had to do this myself many moons ago as the chap in question left and aroma on seats that stayed there for days. Just had to tackle it head on- explained that I had noticed the smell and was wondering if everything was ok because it was not like him- utter balls as he had hummed for ages but I thought it was the nicest way to go about it hmm. It did make a difference for about a fortnight but slipped again, despite me reminding him regularly.

I would try the 'I'm concerned about you' tact.

This said I found it too difficult an issue to tackle with a v. good friend of mine as she would have been mortified. I just made sure I always offered her a towel at mine saying 'you'll need this for your shower before we go out' when she was at mine. blush Tricky one. good luck

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