By Jennifer Jacobus, PHR-CA, SDEA
Have you ever had the pleasure of someone walking into your office, themselves down in a chair, and declaring that their co-worker smells so bad that they can’t take it anymore? Maybe instead of body odor, said co-worker has flatulence or really bad breath?
What about the employee who shows up for work on Monday morning dressed like she should be working the corner downtown? It makes dealing with the employee who steals office supplies seem like a piece of cake!
If you haven’t yet been confronted with folks like these in your supervisory, management, or human resources role, count your lucky stars. What are you to do? Where do you start?
These types of issues need to be dealt with just as you would any performance-related issue. Here are some tips that may help this uncomfortable situation be resolved a little easier:
- Try to observe the body odor firsthand (yes, you read that right), so it’s not “hearsay.”
- When discussing the issue with the employee, do it in private.
- Treat this situation like any other performance issue – state what the problem is and what the expectations are for the employee to fix the problem.
- Be prepared – anticipate some rationale the employee may have for the odor, such as a religious conviction or a medical issue. Offer solutions such as showering more frequently, seeking medical attention, or bringing a change of clothes to work.
- Make sure there is no teasing or insensitive commentary from co-workers.
- Don’t make assumptions or inquire about the cause of the odor. Don’t mention cultural differences such as diet, and don’t suggest possible medical issues.
- If the employee does share with you that the problem is medically-related, you’ll need to consider accommodations or ways to rectify the problem. This may include moving him or her to a better-ventilated work space, putting fans in the office, or making sure that there are soaps and/or deodorants readily available in the office.
As for the woman showing up to work in her party clothes, you must simply sit her down and explain the business atmosphere that you are striving for. Tell her straight-up that her outfit is inappropriate for work. Be specific: too low-cut, too revealing, too short, etc. Having a clear and well-written dress code policy never hurts either.
You may think that punishing an employee stealing office supplies is a no-brainer, but you must be very careful and very certain about the incident before employing the word “stealing.” Being 99.9% sure that an employee is stealing, whether it be from the cash drawer, office supplies, petty cash, or company merchandise, isn’t good enough. It’s safer for an employer to be able to rely on a “cash shortages” policy or repeated documentation and warnings regarding lost tools, office supplies, etc. before implementing disciplinary action.
It is often the “human” part of human resources that is the most difficult to deal with. The important thing to remember when dealing with an uncomfortable situation is to be clear about what the issue is, be professional, and be able to provide examples and specifics about what must be done to change the behavior or problem. In short, communicate! Beating around the bush or hoping for the situation to go away on its own will, more often than not, necessitate additional uncomfortable conversations – so doing it right the first time is crucial.
It’s easy for someone to chuckle about these sorts of problems, but only if they aren’t happening in your company to your employees, and when you aren’t responsible for rectifying the issues – not so funny otherwise!