The Elephant in the Room: The Smelly Employee – Body Odour

Ouch! The ultimate of difficult conversations and one we have had to support a lot of employers through over the years. Unlike most of our previous smelly employee* blogs, where the employee usually has a measure of control over the smell, body odour is one which many people have little or no control over.

In my experience, very few cases of body odour are as a result of someone not washing on a regular basis. In most cases it is medical / hormonal, and the person is aware and very embarrassed by their smell.

Broaching the subject of body odour with an employ requires tact, diplomacy, and sensitivity. Be aware, the line manager or business owner may not be the best person to have this conversation. Sometimes, an emotionally astute colleague may need to be given the short straw, or take the initiative.

The most tactless solution I’ve seen was a bottle of deodorant left in a brown paper bag on the employee’s desk. The best solution I have seen was gym membership being offered to all staff to allow the employee access to showers and changing facilities during the day. However, even with this approach, how do you encourage the person with the problem to make use of the facilities.

It all boils down to a conversation.

I often start difficult conversations by asking questions. In this instance, it may be:

Do you have any idea why I wanted to chat with you today? Or, “Would it surprise you to know that your colleagues are concerned about you”?

An alternative approach may be to tell a story. This works particularly well if the person broaching the subject has had an issue with body odour or knows someone who has.

At the end of the day, it is important to recognise that you can’t solve the problem. You need to make them aware of the concern and the fact that they need to address it.

You need to establish what you as an employer can do to assist and this could range from changing facilities to sitting the person by an opening window. But, ultimately, they may need to seek medical support, change their diet or change their behaviours. The remedy, if there is one, will be different for everyone, but as an employer you cannot allow the employee to be bullied, harassed or excluded because of their smell. You have a duty of care to protect them and their colleagues.

Your aim is to make your workplace a comfortable place to be, for everyone.


* To read the rest of our blogs on The Smelly Employee, visit

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