Punk Rock HR Question #10: You Stink

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Dear Laurie,

I had a conversation with a co-worker that didn’t go well. My local HR representative said it was my responsibility to talk to an employee whose body odour offended me. I was given a “tip sheet” on how to handle difficult conversations, but none of the tips were related to foul smelling employees. My co-worker was offended and threatened to speak with Human Resources after our conversation. This is a disaster and I need some advice. I still think it’s HR’s job to tell this woman about her body odour.

~ Confused

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Dear Confused,

This is messy, buddy. I hate to say it, but Human Resources was right. It’s not my job to tell someone (on your behalf) that she smells. What do I look like — your personal valet? Would you like a glass of champagne? Some mineral water? May I present you with this evening’s paper?

That being said (& thank you for indulging me), I have some sympathy for you. No “tip sheet” in the world is going to prepare you for this type of discussion. It can be awkward, embarrassing for both parties, and emotionally contentious.

My thoughts are simple: this conversation was embarrassing for your colleague & she reacted viscerally. Threatening to come to Human Resources is a normal reaction. People come to me all day long with stupid shit. I roll my eyes and send them on their merry way — just like your HR representative sent you back into the real world and instructed you to speak with your co-worker directly.

Your colleague may complain about you to HR, but more than likely she knows your feedback is true. On the other hand, her reaction could mean that YOU are the one who smells and you don’t even know it. She might be wondering how you could be such a moron.

“It’s you,” she might say to you in the next few weeks. “You are smelling yourself. Quit blaming me.”

That would be totally awkward, eh?

Bottom line: I don’t think you are in any trouble because you did speak with Human Resources and they provided guidance and coaching; however, you may want to connect with your local HR representative and have a follow-up discussion. If HR is doing its job properly, there is some sort of documentation regarding your initial concern.

Best,
Laurie

PS – I have to ask — did the odor improve after your conversation?

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