Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Good Hygiene Is Essential To The Workplace

We here at the Ebb & Flow Institute try to maintain a professional work environment in which every employee is productive and underpaid. Dispruptions are not favored, and few things are more disruptive than a stinky co-worker. A new report supports the notion that this is a growing workplace problem.
In most companies the unpleasant chore is falling to the Human Resources staff. Nearly three-quarters of the human resource professionals who responded to an online survey said they've had to confront an employee over a body odor issue.
The Ebb & Flow Institute is not immune to the workplace problems of general society. In fact, I was asked recently to discuss the problem B.O. of a stinky low level employee. In an effort to be effective, I followed the advice of the linked survey. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the employee.

Talk to the employee. An anonymous note, e-mail or deodorant on one's desk doesn't cut it.

Lar: *Larry opens e-mail: "Die you stinky bastard"* Hmm. I wonder what that is all about? *phone rings* Hello.
EFI: Larry, I need to talk to you.
Lar: OK. Should I go to your office?
EFI: No, my window is stuck. I want to be someplace with fresh air. Let's meet for lunch by the slaughter house.

Have a private, discreet conversation -- with as much sensitivity as possible -- and acknowledge before that the topic is extremely uncomfortable.

*Sitting down at slaughter house*
EFI: I need to discuss something with you of a sensitive nature.
Lar: I'm sorry man. She said she was 25. How was I to know?
EFI: Uh, no, that isn't it. I need to discuss that stench of body odor that emanates off of you like an early morning mist rising over a manure pile.

Realize that a diet or medical condition might cause the problem. Gently suggest a visit to a doctor.

EFI: Look, this might not be all your fault. Are you French?
Lar: Uh, no, but they are a really cool group of people, along with hippies.
EFI: Hmmm, I see.

Stress that the issue isn't merely a personal matter, as it is a workplace disruption that must be addressed.

EFI: Look, Lar. It isn't personal. This has nothing to do with the cobra you found in your briefcase or the time your brakes failed.
Lar: I never told anyone about those things.
EFI: That's good. And this isn't about those unfortunate accidents. This is about disruptions here at work.

Don't become upset if the employee is extremely embarrassed and tries to end the discussion as rapidly as possible.

Lar: I think I'm going to be sick. I would like to leave.
EFI: Don't go yet. I just want you to be aware of this problem and that you need to work on it so that we can have a great workplace. I know this is embarrassing, being called out for smelling like a pig farm in August. But I'm here for you. Just think of me as your better smelling friend.
Lar: It isn't that. I just can't handle the slaughter of all these hogs. Can't we go back to sitting in the lobby or something?

Schedule a follow-up meeting in a few days to ensure the problem is being resolved.

EFI: Look Larry. We value your minimal role here at the Institute. How about I give you two days to scrub yourself. That should knock off about 75% of the stench. Then we can meet on Friday to see if a good cologne or maybe a trip through the car wash can help people stand to be in the same room as you? What do you say.

Sadly, Larry quit and started his own blog. But I think the EFI is on the cutting edge of progressive employment practices.