A lot of things can be distracting in the workplace -- chatty co-workers, constant interruptions and loud music are common culprits. Smells can be just as distracting, but are usually a little trickier to address, especially when one of your co-workers is the source. This situation calls for tact, sensitivity and privacy. Just imagine how you would feel if someone called you out for "stinking" or "reeking" in the office, especially in front of other people. Think before you speak in this situation and get a supervisor involved if need be.
Talk to the offending co-worker in private, if you are comfortable doing so. She may not be aware of the problem or realize how it's affecting those around her. Be gentle but direct. Putting an air freshener on her desk or sending an anonymous email isn't going to do the trick, according to business experts at MSNBC. If you do decide to broach the subject with her, remember this is a touchy personal issue. Don't be accusatory, rude or use offensive terms. Instead, present your comments as input from someone who cares about her and knows she "would want to know about the issue" since it's affecting the workplace.
Talk to your supervisor or a human resources employee about the problem if you feel uncomfortable talking directly to your co-worker. Explain that the problem is an ongoing issue that affects numerous employees. Ask the supervisor or someone in HR to speak to the employee about the problem.
Request that the human resources department consider implementing a policy about heavy perfumes, scented candles or strong-smelling foods in the workplace if those are the culprits. Though less sensitive an issue than an individual with an odor problem, these other sources of offensive smells should also be addressed with tact, since personal preferences are involved. An "odor-prevention policy" is most effective if it focuses on health issues and sensitivities, as well as overall office air quality.
- MSNBC: When a Worker's Odor Affects the Workplace
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Indoor Environmental Quality -- Chemicals and Odors
- Legal Workplace: How to Approach Employees With Poor Hygiene
- New York Times: The Workplace -- Clearing the Air
- University of Central Oklahoma: Addressing an Employee “Body Odor” Issue
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