Hygiene Issues: How to Discuss Difficult Issues With Employees
4 Minute Read
4 Minute Read

It’s one of the rare issues that can have HR desperately trying to avoid a conversation. Telling an employee that there is a perceived issue with their hygiene is an incredibly sensitive and difficult conversation to have.

It runs the risk of an employee being embarrassed, hurt or feeling they can’t face their colleagues, particularly if they have been oblivious to the issue, but also presents challenges if the employee doesn’t take on board the conversation and work to change matters.

The Scenario:

The scenario: you have had employees raising concerns and complaints regarding a member of staff whose clothes are often unkempt, stained and scruffy, and that they are exhibiting a body odour that is found to be unpleasant.

They report that they do not want to sit next to him in the office, that no one joins him for lunch and they dislike being in meeting rooms. No one has said anything directly, but he is becoming isolated, and they want you, HR to have a word.

If there is anything to send you running, screaming for the recruitment pages, this is probably it. People would rather discuss money, death, or other people’s badly behaved children rather than address a personal hygiene issue with someone who isn’t a friend or family member.

Ultimately it requires steady nerves, and an ability to communicate frankly but with compassion.

How to Deal with Hygiene Issues

Ask them to attend a sit down with you, ideally somewhere private and quiet. Try and avoid timing the meeting where lots of people will see them ‘traipsing to HR’ – it’s going to be a difficult conversation so let’s try and preserve some dignity so that everyone else doesn’t know what is going on.

Get to the point and don’t hide behind other people. There is nothing that can destroy someone’s dignity like informing them you have had ‘lots of complaints’ about something so personal. Also fluffing the start of the conversation with too much small talk or talking ages to get to the point doesn’t help anyone.

Let them know that you would like to discuss something sensitive with them, and that whilst it may be a difficult conversation, the Company is here to support them.

Explain there is a concern regarding hygiene and that there appears to be a pattern of attending work in clothes that are not clean and that you have observed an odour. Focus on the facts- rather than speculating on the cause.

You can offer solutions and ask if there is anything the business can support with, and if the issue is medical suggest that they seek advice from their doctor.

Show empathy and acknowledge that it is a difficult topic that they may wish to discuss, but from a welfare perspective you have a responsibility to raise it with them and from a professional standpoint, they do need to improve how they are presenting for work.

Schedule a follow up and book it in the diary to pick up on the issue and see how they are doing, but also let them know that you are available for further discussion and support in your capacity as HR when needed.

Are You Ready to Be Your Workplace Hroe?

Dealing with hygiene issues in the workplace is a challenging task that many HR professionals dread. However, it’s a conversation that, when handled with care and compassion, can result in a positive outcome.

If you need specialist advice, contact our award-winning employment lawyers today!