In my workshops this is frequently cited as one of the most feared feedback situations. Needing to talk with a staff member about the fact that they have a bad body odour and so making working life unpleasant for their colleagues.
And the reason we fear this is because we would be mortified if someone gave us this feedback and, anticipating this reaction, we enter the conversation feeling the embarrassment and awkwardness of behalf of the individual.
However, you need to remember that one of the cast iron rules of feedback is that, as the manager, you create and set the tone of the conversation. More specifically, you get back what you put out and expect. So if you go in feeling embarrassed and expecting embarrassment back you will, undoubtedly, create an embarrassing situation. Meaning that both of you will scramble to finish the conversation as soon as possible to get out of this uncomfortable situation! And although a short, embarrassing conversation might solve the problem, it is actually more likely that it will not.
Always go into any initial conversation on the basis that they do not know that there is a body odour issue. And also, do not assume that once they know they know how to solve it!
Seriously, they genuinely may not know. One manager told me a story about a staff member who was a young man living alone for the first time having come out of care and knowing nothing about standard hygiene habits. He was unaware of the importance of showering each day, buying shampoo, wearing a clean shirt, regularly washing bed linen. The manager, who cared enough to tell him and support him in creating these new habits, said ‘It was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. It only took a bit of my time but it changed his life. A couple of months later he was in the pub with a girlfriend. That would never have happened before.’
In addition go in with an open mind. There can be many reasons for poor body odour. Some medical conditions cause problems, some people are struggling in other ways and letting personal hygiene slip can be a sign of more serious issue such as depression.
The most important thing here is to speak and to do so calmly and in an unembarrassed way. Tell them ‘We need to discuss an issue that I believe you may be unaware of but I need to tell you that staff and myself are noticing a strong body odour around you.’ You may change someone’s life.