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Possibly the MOST difficult conversation to have with an employee – Personal hygiene!

WOW….we really do like to tackle the tough issues and this is probably one of the toughest.

Approaching someone’s personal hygiene or lack thereof is without a doubt one of the most uncomfortable employee/employer conversations.

So where do you start?

The first thing you can do as a preventative measure is to have a Dress and Appearance Policy which includes a section about personal hygiene.  You wouldn’t necessarily need to be particularly detailed here; I recently read a policy which included “you must have a shower every morning” and “you must have clean teeth and fresh breath” which may be too prescriptive for you.  Your policy very much depends on your industry, the kinds of people you employ and the environment in which you work.

Our guide to the conversation

Choose an appropriate location and time – Don’t schedule a meeting to talk exclusively about the employee’s personal hygiene, you can be clear and concise without making it a big deal.

Be clear – It is so tempting to be vague and skirt around the issue, but you’ll usually end up getting tongue tied and then worrying about whether you have said the right thing.  Having a plan in your mind of what you will be saying helps to make sure there can be no misunderstanding.

Be sensitive – While you must not be vague about the problem you can still be sensitive and show empathy, particularly if the employee discloses a medical issue which impacts on personal hygiene.

What next?

Usually this conversation will be the catalyst for change however in some circumstances the issue will not be addressed and the problem continues.  In brief, these are the next steps:

  • Meet for a second time, explain the issue has not been resolved and ask about what they believe is the way forward, take notes, agree actions and then monitor the situation.
  • They may say they have taken steps, but things haven’t changed. Ask them to consider whether this is a medical issue and ask them to see their doctor and take any steps he/she suggests, take notes and let the employee know that you will be discussing this again.
  • If there is no medial issue and things still have not improved, you may decide to take disciplinary action by using your disciplinary policy and process. It is extremely rare to end up having to take this kind of action, but it does and can happen.

If you need any help with this difficult conversation or if you have an employee with whom you have spoken to about personal hygiene with no change, we can support your business through this tricky process.  Call us to find out how.

The Simple Take is: Care enough about everyone affected to have that first difficult conversation.  Put your grown up pants on and get on with it (but call us first if you need to!).

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