You Smell: Who Said That?!


Managers and HR professionals have to be well equipped to tackle the good, the bad, and the ugly. At times, this can present awkward situations not only for us, but also for the employee(s).

Embarrassing personal issues such as poor hygiene, bad breath, and body odor are difficult conversations that most people dread having with others. Although it may be easy to let your teenage daughter know that she is musky or tell your son that there is a foul odor coming from the sneakers in his bedroom closet, when it comes to the workplace, it’s a different story.


Flashback from the Past

Quick story…. Years ago, the accounting department at a company where I worked started smelling awful throughout the day like foul-smelling stool. It was malodorous. It stank so much that several workers would become nauseated. The situation was so bad that some employees would frequently leave the building and go outside for a while to get fresh air.

Although it was reported to the supervisor, management did nothing. Employees started asking questions to try to figure out the root cause of the smell. One day, several employees were joking around about how bad the office smelled. Then a new employee said, “I never smell anything bad in the department.” Really?!  This response was followed with several replies from almost everyone.

No one believed them. How could they not smell the stench in the air? Everyone continued to ask questions to try to understand how this could be possible.

To make a long story short, eventually, the person shared with the team that they were born without a sense of smell (congenital anosmia) as well as a few other medical issues. Then after they described the scent, the new worker conveyed that they had an issue with flatal incontinence, which is uncontrollable gas (flatus or flatulent gases).

Out of nowhere, someone yelled, “You Smell!” indirectly to the new person. I bet you can guess what happened next…

Talk to Employees about Hygiene & Body Odor


“You Smell” is not something that you would say to a new employee. Is it?! Well, that is what happened.

This situation could have been prevented if the supervisor looked into the issue after the initial complaint or at least tried to resolve the odor issue. Perhaps, that would have spared the new employee from being humiliated.

Odor issues must be addressed in the workplace even if it is caused by a medical condition because it can negatively affect others: coworkers, customers, clients, visitors, and so on. Things can be rather complicated especially if the worker is clueless about his or her body odor.

Sometimes it may be difficult for other employees to understand and be sympathetic when a medical condition, for example, or some other underlying issue is causing the problem. That is why it is important for managers to address these issues. Because it is related to a medical condition, it is important that the employee knows that s/he will be accommodated.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), a smell disorder is a decrease in the ability to smell or changes in the way odors are perceived. Before tackling a situation like this at your place of employment, be sure to be mindful of the following smell disorders.


Smell Disorders

Hyposmia is a reduced ability to detect odors.

Anosmia is the complete inability to detect odors. In rare cases, someone may be born without a sense of smell, a condition called congenital anosmia.

Parosmia is a change in the normal perception of odors, such as when the smell of something familiar is distorted, or when something that normally smells pleasant now smells foul.

Phantosmia is the sensation of an odor that isn’t there.

Source: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders


Take a Shower Every Day


If you are not sure whether you have issues with body odor, these seven (7) tips can help you smell great at work.


7 Tips to Smelling Better at Work

  1. Take a shower everyday (1-2 times a day when needed)
  2. Wash your hair every other day
  3. Wash your face twice a day (morning and at night)
  4. Brush your teeth and use mouthwash
  5. Wear CLEAN clothes (This includes clean underwear. Your shirts should not have dirt rings underneath the armpits.)
  6. Wear different shoes (they need to air out )
  7. Keep a small can of air freshener or Lysol at your desk and use it


Have you discussed personal issues like hygiene, body odor, or bad breath with an employee(s)? I would love to hear from you (And please don’t use their name). Please share your story below. As always, like, comment, and share this post with your network.





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