What happened next? Dealing with smelly staff! By Sarah Fletcher

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How do you tell an employee that his poor personal hygiene is making his co-workers drop like flies? In this new series looking at what happened next we report on the outcome and learning points of this situation as experienced by a member who sought solace in the Any Answers forum. On hearing he smelled like a rubbish dump, did the offending employee kick up a stink? Keep reading to find out. By Sarah Fletcher

How do you deal with smelly staff?
“We have a staff member with a long standing personal hygiene problem. He has been spoken to about it several times, both by the head of department and myself as HR.

"It gets better for a while but then he slips back and it becomes worse again. He has been to the doctor and there is no medical reason for his symptoms, his departmental manager is really getting fed up as people from other departments continue to make (very unsubtle!) comments.

"I am going to sit down with him again in the hope this will shock him into action again but I am sure we will be in the same situation in a few months’ time. I'm thinking that, if this does happen, to commence a formal disciplinary procedure (it really is that bad and affecting everyone else in the department) as essentially he is able to do something about it (as it does get better for a while) and it is affecting others - I'd welcome your thoughts on this awkward situation!

Sally Reid

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What happened next?
Things really came to a head whilst we were considering the next stage. There was one day that it was particularly bad - so much so that another member of staff refused to work in his vicinity.

We decided not take formal action, we sat down with the employee (again!) and had a very honest discussion, explaining that if we needed to raise it with him again that it would be a disciplinary action.

It transpires that he does not currently have shower facilities at home and we gave him some different options and some suggestions (such as going to his parents’ house on the way to work to use their shower) which I don’t think he had thought of himself.

It was quite an awkward discussion and not nice for all concerned but we did lay it on the line. He was late in that day and we suspected he could have been for an interview - I pointed out that if he had come to an interview here like that we would not have given him the job! Not sure if that was the right thing to do but it seemed to hit home.

We allowed him to go home that day, freshen up and change his clothes, which seemed to do the trick on that particular day.

Which sources of information did you find the most useful?
The differing viewpoints which members gave allowed us to make a balanced decision.

What would you have done differently with hindsight?
Nothing, I think we handled it pretty well.

Was the outcome satisfactory for all parties?
So far so good - it seems to have made a vast improvement so far, and we have had a good attitude to go with it.

Are there any other learning points?
Make sure you understand all the information before leaping in with a disciplinary - this would have demotivated the employee. We need to follow through with the disciplinary immediately if things slide (if they do).

How to deal with this problem - advice offered by members:

  • Nik Kellingley tells Sally to “take action today and help them understand the problem and the effect of it”.
  • Cathy Pinnock advises “straight talking” – if he doesn’t clean up his act (literally), disciplinary action should be initiated.
  • Chris Hynd thinks disciplinary action will provide a “wake up” to the smelly employee, and this will prevent further crimes against cleanliness.
  • Amanda Knight suggests the body odour reveals low self esteem – how about emotional intelligence coaching?
  • Peter Stanway reminds Sally that this is the responsibility of the line manager.
  • Trevor Durritt recommends considering the personal reasons why this employee may be as stinky as a skunk – he knew a worker who gave his salary to his father, so could not afford hygiene products. Somebody lend that man a fiver!

Other items in the What Happened Next series

Related Any Answers posts:

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