Personal Hygiene – How to Enlighten an Employee

Personal Hygiene – How to Enlighten an Employee

Business Owners face a myriad of issues every day, not least of which involves human resources and the people who keep the company operating. As I’ve written before, it is important to recognize employees when their job is performed well, and equally important to recognize when a job is done not well.

It is also important to recognize an aspect of employees’ work that has nothing to do with performance; personal hygiene and appearance.

It can be uncomfortable, for sure, but addressing issues of personal hygiene and appearance is necessary for maintaining a high professional standard. Poor, unkempt appearances can erode relationships among colleagues and clients too. As a Business Owner, you must uphold an acceptable company-wide “look and feel” so that the workplace and its environs are not negatively affected.

Here’s how to handle this potentially awkward situation:

  1. This must be a one-on-one conversation. You cannot draw another person into the room as a witness to this conversation; you don’t want to embarrass the employee.
  2. Be sensitive and use discretion. It’s likely that this individual is unaware of the problem, and may even be wondering why coworkers shun them in the first place. Hold your conversation in a private office or conference room, and if possible schedule it for the end of the day when fewer people are around and the workday is over.  
  3. Begin the conversation by reinforcing all of the good attributes that the employee brings to the business and remind them of how much they contribute to the good of the company. By starting off this way, you will provide reassurance that their position is not being terminated and they will be more open and responsive to what comes next.
  4. Be as objective as possible and approach it as if you are correcting any situation that affects the company. “You smell” is incorrect but then again so is “You always make mistakes.” The words that you choose to use are very important.


I know this is awkward, and I also know it may not be easy to talk about it, but like any other business situation I must address it with you. I’ve noticed recently that you have a noticeable odor and I’m not certain if you notice it yourself. I know it can be caused by many factors and I know that by recognizing the situation you will take steps to correct it. I think you do great work and I hope you understand that I had to bring this to your attention.”

  1. Remain calm especially if the employee becomes defensive. Remember that they may be embarrassed and their defensive reaction is one way of hiding their discomfort. State the situation factually and do not try to diagnose the reason(s) the situation may be occurring. Diagnosing it isn’t the reason you are having the conversation; getting the individual to recognize the problem and handle it appropriately is.


If your company is large enough and your Employee Handbook has a section on Personal Standards and Dress Codes, you can send out an email or memo to the entire staff reminding all employees about the company’s dress code and standards for personal appearance and cleanliness. Although this type of communication should be sent out occasionally and can serve as a good reminder for everyone, it may not solve the current problem unless the individual you need to address is extremely self-aware. If not, you will need to have a one-to-one conversation.

On these occasions, it is best to act quickly rather than allow the “problem” go on for some time, as it will probably not improve by itself. The sooner you handle the matter the better it will be for everyone.


For further discussion or comments, please contact Gail L. Trugman Nikol, President Unique Business Solutions, gail@ubsassociates.com or call (516) 935-5641.

By admin September 18, 2018