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Management: Confronting A Team Member About Hygiene
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Management: Confronting A Team Member About Hygiene - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Confronting A Team Member About Hygiene

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Confronting A Team Member About Hygiene

You may never have to confront a team member about his or her hygiene, but it comes up every once in a while, and it’s never a fun conversation. There are a few lines we have to walk carefully, but the big one lies between communicating clearly and being compassionate about another person’s feelings. Hygiene isn’t like forgetfulness or punctuatlity: it’s a personal issue and it very directly involves people’s bodies and how they take care of them, a level of conversational intimacy nearly always kept out of the office.

Before addressing the how, it’s important to think about the when. Most of us have had a bad hair, teeth, breath, or body odor day once or twice, despite our noblest efforts, and in a caring workplace, we’re likely to look the other way when it happens to others. We’ve been there. Unless it’s a pattern of behavior, and if the offending hygiene is happening to an otherwise competent, professional team member, it’s probably unnecessary to address the issue at all, beyond the kind offer of a mint or something else appropriate.

When it’s a recurring problem, for the sake of coworkers, clients, and the team member’s own professional future, it needs to be addressed. Except in delicate circumstances, it’s on the leader to do the work. It’s crucial to keep in mind that although you’re walking into personal territory probably not listed in your job description, your job is to be a leader. Good team members admire, respect, and appreciate good leadership, so everything you know about leading comes into play here, as if you were merely giving a few notes on an important slide deck. This includes knowing your team member well enough to know the best approach, although of course this isn’t always the case.

There are many ways to have the conversation, but conversations with a handful of managers reveal a few consistencies:

  • 1. First, deal with the immediate problem: the hygiene. A quick phone call to the team member at his or her desk is personal without being too confrontational. Don’t beat around the bush, and leave conversation for later. Something like, “We can talk about this in private later if you want, but right now, I need you to go home and take a shower” works fine. Chances are the team member will be embarrassed enough not to want to continue the phone call, and if you use your not-up-for-debate voice, the team member won’t try to talk his or her way out of it, although that’s unlikely anyway.
  • 2. When the problem has been taken care of and the team member returns to work, have a conversation. Give him or her an hour or so to initiate conversation. If that doesn’t happen, pull the person aside and say, “If there are problems I can help you with, please let me know. I’m on your side.” It’s important that you’re sincere when you say this, especially if the behavior is recent and wasn’t an issue in the past. Changes in personal hygiene can indicate all kinds of serious problems, and you may need to be ready for anything.
  • 3. Trust the person to handle it him- or herself. Sometimes the issue is something simple but logistical. Most of your team members will say, “I’m having issues with ________, but I will work it out,” or simply, “It won’t happen again.” This assertion means the team member is assuming responsibility, and it’s usually a good sign. It’s often accompanied by a sincere apology as well. The great majority of the time, the issue with this person ends right here.
  • 4. ...but be prepared to work with him or her in solving the problem. As with any other corrective action, you’ve got to listen as compassionately as you can. This is a human being you care about, at the very least enough to help him or her contribute to your work as best as possible. Hopefully, your concern goes further than that, and you may be in a position to help someone overcome a roadblock.

In the grand scheme of workplace behaviors, hygiene is important but it’s not super-super-super important, the kind of thing that can ruin a company. On the other hand, few things cause unfair assumptions as quickly. Treat the issue with the sobriety it deserves, but keep things in perspective and lead accordingly.


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Management: Confronting A Team Member About Hygiene - Executive Leadership Articles

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