Firstly, it’s something that will come to your attention often through co-workers of the accused, so the first step will be to verify that it is an issue. Obviously, this should be done discreetly. Don’t hang around and put this off. You need to act quickly.
What causes body odour?
There are a number of causes to the body odour issue:
It could be simply a cleanliness issue where the person just needs to shower more regularly or use more effective deodorant. It could be linked to laundry habits – they may wear the same clothes all week in which case, any amount of bathing isn’t going to mask the clothing smell. Also, another sensitive area could be their cultural diet, which could impact on their natural aroma. Finally, for some people, it could be a medical issue which could be akin to halitosis for bad breath.
So, you’ve identified that the issue does in fact exist and you need to address it with them. The bonus for you is that they may not be aware of the issue and might be very grateful to you for bringing it to their attention. That is the best outcome of the situation and does happen sometimes.
What to say
However, you have to get there first and it’s always good to be direct and get to the point fast. You may say something to this person along the lines of:
“I need to discuss something with you that is awkward and uncomfortable for me. I do hope that I don’t offend you. You have had a noticeable body odour lately and I wanted to bring it to your attention as most people wouldn’t know this about themselves.”
I suggest you then follow up with something that you believe may be the reason or cause. For example, if you notice they wear the same clothes all week long, you can suggest that it may have something to do with that.
At this point you will know whether the person is embarrassed or goes on the offensive. You will notice that in the suggested wording above, you didn’t mention that people had complained about them – that will only make things worse. You have stayed with the facts by saying they have a noticeable body odour. If they do take a stance and refuse to admit it, you can remain on the factual slant and tell them that they need to respect the workplace and come to work clean.
You may also point other potential causes such as the list above and ask them to have a think about what they can do. Get them to commit to some action and make sure you follow up. Give yourself a reward task to do after dealing with the situation – you deserve it!