We have received a number of inquiries lately about how to handles complaints about employees with odor issues. Talking to employees about personal hygiene often makes managers uncomfortable. Though the situation is uncomfortable, it is a matter that has to be addressed and handled with sensitivity. Here is an example of how you might approach such as conversation:
Terry, I wanted to meet with you one-on-one because I need to share something with you privately, discreetly, and with as much sensitivity as possible. You may not realize it, but it appears you have a body odor problem, and it isn’t merely a personal matter — it’s a workplace disruption issue I’ll need your help to resolve.
I’ve had conversations like this with other employees before, and usually they’re not even aware that the problem exists. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable, but are you aware of the issue, and if so, is it something you could take care of?
I’m here to help in any way I can. If you’d like to set up a fan in your office, or arrange your schedule so you could take breaks during the day to freshen up, I’d be very supportive of that. Just let me know whatever I can do to help, OK?
If you wouldn’t mind, though, I’d prefer not to have to address this again — it’s a bit uncomfortable for me. So is this something you feel you can fix from here on in?
Always focus on shifting the responsibility for fixing the problem to the employee — emphasizing that not fixing the problem is unacceptable and may have consequences.