Q: I work in a small department within a large organization. One of my associates has very offensive body odor. It is so bad that it makes some of us physically ill. Everyone, including management, speaks about his problem behind his back, but no one wants to bring it up with him. How should this be handled?
A: Ouch! This is one of the toughest situations to deal with in any office. It may help to know, however, that the vast majority of people surveyed say they’d want to be told about body odor, preferably by a friend. Your colleague needs a friend at work to talk privately with him. The trick is to couch the conversation in terms of helping and improving, rather than criticizing, in order to solve the problem without embarrassing the person: “[Person’s Name], I need to discuss a subject that’s difficult for me to raise, but that I’d want you to bring up with me if the shoe was on the other foot. I also want you to know that I care about you and want you to have the best possible chances for success. That’s why I’m telling you, as a friend, that your body odor is an issue.” From there, the friend can offer suggestions for dealing with the issue. If no friend is available, then the other workers need to ask management to step in. The bottom line is, the current situation is negatively affecting other workers, and may be causing difficulty with clients or customers as well. It needs to be dealt with.