One of my co-workers stinks. It is the foulest B.O. my nose has ever experienced. Some of us have dropped gentle hints, but our co-worker seems oblivious. We have also hinted to our supervisor to do something. Nothing works. Do you have suggestions for us?
— Holding Our Noses
Evil Skippy’s Top Ten Tips for Handling Smelly Co-Workers
- Try crossing your fingers and hoping that the problem goes away. That should be just about as effective as what you have been doing.
- Although you do not seem willing to speak directly, honestly and respectfully to your co-worker, try talking to everyone else at work about the issue.
- Wear a germ mask. People may think you are phobic, but at least you might be able to breathe without wincing.
- Buy a case of Fabreeze. Spray liberally.
- Declare the rest of 2010 to be “Work Outside Year.”
- Leave a big bottle of cologne or perfume on the co-worker’s desk. Wait. Never mind. You’ll just be writing to me in a few days about a co-worker who uses to much scent if you do that.
- Follow the CSI example and rub some Vick’s under your nose.
- Swoon, fall, hit your head and then file a workers’ compensation claim. You will avoid the smell, get away from the office and receive some benefits. Win-win-win.
- Change careers.
- Tell everyone that you are in training for a deep-sea diving exhibition and have to wear scuba gear – including the breathing apparatus – all day every day for months.
Then again, you might try taking the professional adult approach.
I get it. Strong body odors are bound to upset colleagues. Unfortunately, options for dealing with them are awkward. Most of us do not want to hurt a co-worker’s feelings or have to continue working with someone knowing that neither of you will be able to forget the uncomfortable conversation. So what do you do?
First, be empathetic. How would you want to be treated? I doubt it would be by any system that involved the rest of the work group gossiping and venting behind your back. Most of us would want to be informed. Some of us would prefer an honest (and private) face-to-face chat with a trusted friend or colleague. Some of us would prefer a polite (but anonymous) note. If none of you are willing to be the one who handles the communication, your only option is to make your supervisor do his or her job. If anyone’s conduct (or smell) is disrupting the workplace, it is the supervisor’s duty to do something about it. (Keep in mind that if the co-worker smells due to a medical problem as opposed to inadequate hygiene, management’s options may be limited.)
Take heart in the fact that you are not alone. The issue of the smelly co-worker has been around since there have been jobs and will last long into the future. Running an Internet search for “smelly co-workers” will yield hundreds of sites addressing the problem – some helpful, some not so much. Such reputable publications as the N.Y. Times (“The Scent of a Co-Worker”) and Forbes (“Smell Ya Later”) have tackled the matter. Those two articles will provide a starting point for you, as will Forbes’ “Seven Tips on Tackling Employee Hygiene Problems”.
Good luck. As you keep your nose to the proverbial grindstone, may all the smells be pleasant ones.