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Difficult conversations: Encouraging staff to take pride in their appearance

By partnersinhr, Apr 6 2017 08:52AM

One of the toughest aspects of being a business owner is dealing with more sensitive situations with individual staff members. It doesn’t get more sensitive than when their colleagues are complaining of their poor personal hygiene!


Maintaining a comfortable environment in which all employees can work in is an important part of being an employer.  If you’ve been forced to field complaints from other staff members regarding an individual’s dragon breath, grubby hair or, worse still, pungent body odour, you’re going to have to pluck up the courage to have a private chat about their hygiene - particularly if it’s affecting the performance and morale of others.


A survey back in 2013 by the Australian Employment Office found that the vast majority of workers are hugely affected by the cleanliness of their colleagues. Three-quarters (75 per cent) said they struggle to work alongside someone with body odour, while almost two-thirds (64 per cent) said they find it difficult to work with a colleague with bad breath.


Whilst an employee’s personal hygiene may only be slightly damaging to your company's profile, it’s more a case of being cruel to be kind by encouraging them to take pride in their appearance. Your business will reap the rewards if it is tackled earlier rather than later.


It's important to bear in mind that an individual’s poor hygiene may be the sign of a deep-rooted health or mental health issue. It’s therefore crucial as their employer that you have an open mind before engaging in discussion with them. There may be an understandable explanation for their personal appearance issues such as a break down in a relationship, substance abuse, sickness or general depression.


With the end goal of encouraging your employee to take more pride in themselves and feel more confident, you’re going to have to tread a fine line between encouragement and criticism, which could result in social isolation if your discussion isn’t taken in the spirit intended.


With that in mind, here are a few tactful solutions to stop the problem festering – quite literally - and minimise embarrassment all round:


Have a low-key chat


There’s no two ways about it, you’re going to have to speak directly with the individual in question, but make sure you don’t do it in front of their colleagues. Consider having ‘the chat’ at the end of the working day when the office is much quieter and the chances of colleagues gossiping is at a minimum.


Be sure to show empathy


The last thing you want to do is completely offend your employee – you could end up with a larger problem on your hands! Don’t pussy-foot around the issue either. Make it clear that you have their best interests at heart and that you want them to take great pride in their appearance but also remind them that they are in the workplace and representing the company.  If there is a dress code / personal hygiene or code of conduct policy which refers to elements of personal hygiene then remind them of it.


Be prepared for fireworks


No-one likes to be called up for bad work, let alone bad personal hygiene. So, when you’re preparing to have the chat with your employee, be mindful that they could become aggressive and emotional once confronted. If the worst happens, try to remain calm and reiterate the quality of their overall work – if it up to scratch, of course – and encourage them to simply step up their personal grooming to better represent the company and be in a better position to be considered for greater responsibility and promotions within their team.


Closely monitor improvements over time


Following your initial chat, make sure you keep a close eye on their personal hygiene standards. If they refuse to take your advice on board and don’t address the issue then it’s probably time to take a hard-line approach, involving HR.


However, in many cases, employees will, in the long-term, benefit from having a frank discussion on their personal hygiene. They may not thank you for it at the time, but by remaining supportive and encouraging you should be able to achieve a positive resolution for all concerned.


At Partners in HR, we can help your business deal with sensitive employee issues in the right manner, avoiding the threat of compensation claims and improving productivity and morale in the workplace. For more specific advice on this and any other HR issue, contact us today.


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