Dear Aunty B,
I work in an open plan workplace and my colleague that sits next to me often has bad body odour. It can be quite uncomfortable to be in the office. How do I bring it up?
Hope to hear from you soon,
On the nose
Dear On the nose,
I’m glad you asked me about this problem. I’m here to solve all sorts of office issues – big, small, and downright smelly.
Let’s cut to the chase: You really need to have a discrete and honest chat with this person about their body odour. It’s not going to be pleasant (for you or them), but neither is sitting next to someone who smells like they shower less often than filing their tax return.
Besides, you’ll be doing this person a favour. If I had some stray coriander in my teeth or a button undone, I’d want the person sitting next to me to raise the alarm before I wander off to the other side of the office or meet new clients. Body odour should be thought of in a similar way.
The important thing to remember, though, is to choose your words carefully. You should be honest and to-the-point, but at the same time you shouldn’t act like the person’s mum. Professional training coach Dan Rust has a great blog post outlining just a few ways you can inform a co-worker that they stink.
“While some people are tempted to leave anonymous notes, the one-to-one approach is much more effective and ultimately more kind [and] respectful if you choose your words and tone thoughtfully,” Rust writes.
“Don’t use words like ‘repulsive’ or ‘repugnant’, or anything else that is overly harsh. Even if true, these words will likely create more harm than good. ‘Less than fresh’ is a good, relatively soft phrase to use.”
On the nose, you need to pull this co-worker aside or chat to them when it’s just the two of you in the elevator. They could very well be making other people uncomfortable, but at the end of the day someone needs to be the person to step up and do the right thing. If you’ve gone to the effort of writing to me, I think that person is you.