This Is the Right Way to Let a Co-worker Know He Smells

The smell is unmistakable. After triple-checking that it’s not your own body odor that’s resulting in the stench, you’ve determined who the offending party is.

But what to do? It’s not as though you ever received any professional training in how to tell a co-worker he stinks and needs to bathe more.

As someone who has firsthand experience with this when I worked in a restaurant, I can tell you that this is one to leave to the powers that be. As cool as the chef and I were, I simply couldn’t tell him he smelled and needed to start wearing deodorant and, um, showering on a regular basis.

If you have a co-worker with questionable hygiene, I can understand your struggle; it is all too real. But don’t try to tackle this one yourself.

Instead, request a meeting with someone in your organization’s HR department. If you’re tight with your boss and feel more comfortable mentioning it to them, then that’s a fine route to take as well. Either way, you’re going to have to be frank:

“This is weird and hard to say, but here it is: I’ve noticed that [Name] may have some body odor issues, and, well, the thing is, it’s just really unpleasant to be around. I didn’t want to say anything, but I don’t think I’m the only one who’s bothered by it.”

It’s OK if you cringe as you say it and brace yourself for the response. In all likelihood, your manager or HR will note the issue and handle it accordingly—probably in the form of a conversation with your colleague.

There are plenty of times being assertive pays off, but not here. Leave this one to someone more equipped to handle it.

If you’re struggling to get through the work because your co-worker’s hygiene issues are distracting, well, you’re going to have to find a good solution to it. After all, there’s no reason that you should let an annoying co-worker habit get in the way of you doing your best work.

So, tell me on Twitter: What is your most frustrating office issue? If a lot of people agree, I might just cover it! And in the meantime, check out career coach Melody Wilding’s advice for dealing with office frustrations.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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