What can I do about a co-worker whose body odor invades my workspace? We have no HR director and I have reported this to my immediate supervisor. Others have obviously noticed the odor, but nobody is willing to do anything about it.
Invades My Space
Dear Invades My Space:
Yours is not an unusual problem. Our Archives have Q&As that have addressed smelly situations several times. I’ve provided references and a copy of Hygiene Guidelines that my associate Workplace Doctor Tina Lewis Rowe has prepared that you might share with your HR and supervisor. Once you have elected what further action you will determine is advisable, please let us know what works or fails. Whoever approaches this individual should do so with empathy, respect, and honesty. http://www.west2k.com/wpdocs/qdetail.asp?id=407 http://www.west2k.com/wpdocs/qdetail.asp?id=167 http://www.west2k.com/wpdocs/qdetail.asp?id=511 http://www.west2k.com/wpdocs/archive/q287.htm Working side by side with respect and honesty takes and makes big WEGOS. Presenting Yourself Positively Through Your Personal Hygiene and Habits Work often involves being close to others. If someone looks dirty, smells badly or does some gross or irritating thing repeatedly, it can quickly become the negative focus of everyone’s attention. It also can create bad feelings and attitudes about otherwise good employees. Worst of all, it can have an impact on effectiveness and offend customers and clients. Some cultures do not think of body odor as an important issue. In others, the methods and products needed to stay clean are not available. Some people have never learned the habit of being clean and well groomed. However, in the American work culture it is a major way most people have of judging if someone is responsible, considerate and mature. Most businesses and organizations have rules about hygiene and habits. Just like punctuality or good performance, these are work requirements that cannot be ignored. You are expected to have good personal hygiene and effective habits. PERSONAL HYGIENE There are five areas of personal hygiene that are most often the cause of discomfort for others and can be offensive, embarrassing and distracting: 1. Body cleanliness 2. Odors and fragrances 3. Clothing care and appearance 4. Hair care and grooming 5. Bodily functions. (Yes, bodily functions! But more about that later!) Body cleanliness This is the basic hygiene task of taking baths and showers often and using soap and a washcloth to wash all the surface of the skin.Many people like to shower or bathe every day, not only for cleanliness but because it is relaxing. It is also a good time to shampoo the hair and scalp, clean inside the ears, under the nails and in places that tend to have more odor causing bacteria than others-armpits, groin and feet.Whatever job you have, no matter how clean you think you stay, you need to thoroughly cleanse your entire body at least every other day. Skin cells shed, we perspire even when we don’t realize it, body odors cling and we get smelly!You might need to clean all or parts of your body several times a day if you sweat heavily or are exposed to dirt, smoke or other things in the air or on the work surface.You can also wash without immersing yourself, but you need to make sure that you are getting every area of your body covered with suds and rinsed, just as you would with anything else that is washed. Don’t skip areas! Any part of your body that doesn’t get soap rubbed on it and rinsed off will not be clean.Wash your hands often, especially after going to the bathroom or touching soiled or dirty areas at work. Keep your nails clean and trimmed. Make cleanliness a habit. Odors and fragrances There are several reasons someone might have an offensive odor: Sweat–either fresh or stale, a body that is not clean, clothes that are not clean or that have stale odors from being stored and not aired out, odors from some other source that cling to the skin, hair or clothes, too much perfume or cologne, use of products that have strong fragrances, unclean teeth, food habits, physical situations or medical problems. Unfortunately, we get used to our own odors. Other people aren’t so lucky and they can smell us!Start with a clean body. You may not feel dirty or sweaty, but your body is creating odors all the time. A clean body is the first step in good hygiene and odor control.Always apply an antiperspirant to your underarms after cleansing. If needed, wash under your arms and reapply antiperspirant during the day. Deodorants only mask odor, but antiperspirants will help reduce sweat. Ask a pharmacist if you are not sure about the difference between a deodorant and an antiperspirant.If you shower or bathe before sleeping and go to bed in nightclothes that aren’t clean or on a bed that isn’t clean, or if you sweat when you sleep, you will still have odors when you go to work. Be clean and good smelling right before you get dressed for work.It doesn’t help to have a clean body if your clothes smell sweaty, dirty or stale. Wash your clothes or dry clean them often. Items that are not right next to your skin, such as suit jackets or sweaters, get odors from your body-especially under the arms and around the neck-and need to be cleaned often. If you hang them back in a closet or a locker at work they will get a stale, unpleasant odor. Even items such as ties and scarves get odors from your body or the environment and should be cleaned regularly.If your washable clothes tend to hold odors in the armpit area, try rubbing under that area with a toothbrush dipped in baking soda and vinegar, then washing and rinsing well. Ask specifically for odor treatment on dry cleaned clothes if you have a problem. Get unscented products to avoid clashing fragrances! Deodorants and hair sprays sometimes smell stronger than many perfumes and can give people headaches.Don’t over-use perfume and cologne. That is a common complaint in offices! Ask a friend if your fragrance is too strong. You get used to it and will tend to apply too much. Don’t rub your hands on your clothes if they have fragrance on them-it will get stale and smell strongly. Wash your hands after you have applied fragrance so it won’t transfer to items in the office or to other people if they touch items you have touched. Remember that perfume does not cover up bad smells, it makes them worse.Bad breath keeps you from being effective because people will avoid you and resent the fact that you make the workplace unpleasant. The main causes of bad breath are unclean teeth or unhealthy teeth or gums, smoking, drinking coffee, eating food with strong odors and having a digestive disorder. Bad breath may be the result of a medical condition or prescription drug interactions, but most bad breath can be prevented.Brush your teeth, tongue and the inside of your mouth at least twice a day-and always before going to work. Floss and use a toothpick to remove food between the teeth. Avoid eating food with strong odors when you know you will be working closely with others. During the work day, rinse your mouth with water and use mouthwash or a mint when needed. Ask a friend to tell you honestly about the condition of your breath. Clothing care and appearanceStart with clean clothes. Clothes and uniforms should be washed or dry cleaned when they look or smell dirty or when you have worn them several times or have perspired in them. The odor often isn’t obvious until the item is on your warm body, so doing a sniff test in the closet won’t let you know how you will smell.Undergarments should be changed every day because they become soiled, collect odors and are kept warm by body heat and clothes, so they can be smelled even through clothing.Knits and acrylic fabrics tend to hold odor under the arms, so extra caution should be taken to keep these items clean.Most items of clothing can be washed by hand in a sink or tub if needed, then dried flat on a towel to avoid stretching or shrinking. Being clean doesn’t have to be expensive.After items are in a closet or storage box for awhile, they need to be aired out or put in a dryer to tumble without heat before wearing. This will help avoid a stale, sour smell. When in doubt about your clothes, wash them or clean them.Clothes should be ironed or pressed well to keep them smooth and neat appearing.Brush clothes to remove pet hairs or other things that look unsightly or that may get on chairs or the clothing of others at work. Remove spots and stains immediately.Shoes should be clean and kept in repair. Women especially should use caution since women’s shoes are more open and foot and shoe odor can escape. Wash them with a cloth and soap inside, if you think there is a bad smell to them. Wear padded liners that can be washed daily. Do not take your shoes off at work, since almost everyone will have some foot odor that will be obvious. Hair care and grooming Start with clean hair and a clean, healthy scalp. Shampoo often. Many people shampoo every day. At a minimum you will likely need to shampoo weekly to avoid stale odors and an unsightly, oily, stringy or dirty appearance. If you have dandruff, there are many treatments to help reduce it. After you brush or comb your hair, brush off your clothing, then brush your clothing during the day to remove flakes. Hair should not have the bed-head look, look oily appearing, stringing in clumps or sticking up all over. Hair holds odors, so it is a prime area for smelling stale or offensive. Keep your hair clean and wear it in a style you can keep neat. Bodily functions We all have them but they don’t have to intrude at work. If you find that yours cause odors or unpleasant noises, talk to a physician. Avoid foods that cause digestive problems or ask your doctor for suggestions about how to minimize food related discomfort. Some normal medical or physical conditions can cause odors, but these can nearly always be controlled by wearing clean clothes and undergarments, changing soiled items immediately, washing the body areas often and using products designed to help control odor. Bring supplies to work so you can stay clean. You should be bathing or showering every day during times when odor might be a problem. . PERSONAL HABITS Some people have offensive or irritating habits. Sometimes they think they are being funny by making crude noises, causing odors or being juvenile in some other way. These actions are not appropriate at work, in any setting. Even people who might laugh would usually prefer not to see, smell or hear the obnoxious behavior. Some people are unaware of their distracting and irritating actions. However, we all have the obligation to monitor our behavior and pay attention to our behavior. It is a work requirement as well as a social requirement. Consider this list of horrid habits, developed by a group of office workers: Nose picking, throat and phlegm clearing, wiping the nose with fingers and touching office items, habitual coughing, spitting tobacco or anything else, sniffing, belching, passing gas, touching one’s own body in a way that looks inappropriate or offensive, touching others, chewing gum loudly or popping it, sucking on a tooth, picking teeth excessively in public, knuckle cracking, humming, whistling, sighing, groaning, making habitual noises of any kind, habitual facial grimaces or mannerisms, twisting hair, jerking the head to flip hair out of the eyes or face, swiveling in a chair continually, hand or finger tapping, talking out loud to oneself while working, twitching, twisting or shaking any part of the body as a habitual action, over-use of certain words or phrases, anything else that isn’t necessary but is done as a habit or consciously to attract attention. Habits may be offensive, repulsive or irritating, but all are problems when they distract others or detract from your demeanor or appearance. People may not tell you about them until things get so bad you end up in a discussion with the boss! You need to monitor your own habits and actions by checking to see what unnecessary thing you do that is distracting to others, then stopping that activity. Ask a friend or supervisor to tell you honestly if you have a habit or repetitious behavior that should be controlled. When you have good personal hygiene and habits you can present yourself positively to those around you. Co-workers and supervisors will notice your good work instead of problem issues. You have everything to gain by making the effort to be the best you can be in every way-and it requires very little effort. REMEMBER:Start every work day with very clean hair, body and clothes and use antiperspirant.Freshen up while you are at work, to stay clean, neat and fresh smelling. Use personal care products that will reduce the cause of odors, but do not over-use fragrances.Break yourself of habits or actions that are distracting, offensive or irritating.Remember that it is your responsibility to be the kind of employee who focuses on work and helps others do the same. Good personal hygiene and habits are part of that focus. Ask a supervisor for advice if you have questions or concerns.