How to deal with a smelly employee

People come in all different shapes, sizes and unfortunately smells and a pungent aroma can have a negative impact on workplace morale, teamwork and relationships between your team. Despite it being an awkward topic to confront someone about, it should not be left to fester. The employee is representing your company and you don't want to leave potential clients with a bad taste in their mouth.

Dealing With Complaints

As a manager it is your job to deal with any complaints that your team has. Sometimes these include internal complaints regarding other staff members, whilst some of these may be easily settled some appear to be more awkward to deal with, especially when it comes down to personal hygiene.


There are many ways that you could deal with an employee that arrives with an odd smell, however not all of them are tactful. Leaving a bucket of water, soap and a flannel on someones desk may get the point across but it is highly unlikely they'll show up for work ever again. The best way to approach the situation is to take the time to have a talk, saving both of you from an embarrassing confrontation.


Prior to the interview, the first thing to do is to identify the theme of the complaints. The offending smell could be driving away clients or affecting the relationship between colleagues. Either way, the employees' work life and your client base is being affected and that warrants immediate action.

The Talk

The kindest thing to do is to be honest, caring and supportive about the subject. Take them aside to a separate office to avoid embarrassing them in front of the office and make sure you have this interview at the end of the day to ensure that they aren't spending the rest of the work day sitting in a pool of shame and self loathing.


First off, check with the employee that there are no medical issues that are causing the smell. However, if the issue is to do with the employees clothing, then start with that. It's easier to talk about and can easily be resolved by mentioning that no matter how relaxed the uniform rules may be, employees are required to ensure that clothes are clean and tidy, especially if they are representing the company directly to clients.


Now that the clothes are out the way (if they were a problem in the first place) the more awkward conversation can begin, personal hygiene. Making sure not to point fingers or name names, it is first important to inform them that complaints have arisen regarding their interesting aroma and it is beginning to affect the office and their professional life.


By talking to the employee you can discover the origins of the smell, it could be a solution as simple as washing clothes more often, taking a shower when they get to work or bathing with soap. The employee may not even realise there was an issue. By bringing it to their attention privately you are avoiding embarrassment for the employee and can even share some of your favourite soaps and smellies to try and help them scrub up. After all by keeping it light-hearted and a little less serious, the employee may be a little less embarrassed.


Once the issue has been addressed you need to make sure your employee is not upset or offended, and if you handled the complaints well enough they should be fine.

The Follow-Up

Once the meeting has taken place make sure to put some time aside in the next week to reflect on whether your employee has cleaned up or is still gathering complaints with a strange stench. If they have improved their hygiene then you can thank them for understanding and making personal changes. However if they have taken no action that was possible, then it becomes reasonable to talk about consequences, although it usually only takes the one conversation.


Having to talk to someone about their lack of personal hygiene is an awkward conversation and no amount of training from HR can prepare you for it. However by making sure you're polite, respectful and supportive to your employee you can solve the issue easily without having to isolate them.