Dealing Sensitively With Personal Hygiene Issues

Sat, Apr 9, 2011





As if HR personnel don’t have enough to think about with trying to become more strategic players within their organizations, battling for their share of top talent and handling first lay-offs and now increased hiring, sometimes they are called upon to deal with what may seem like trivial issues but which actually have the potential to cause significant problems in the workplace nevertheless.  One of these issues which no-one in HR enjoys having to tackle is that of poor personal hygiene or grooming, simply because it’s so…personal.

Although a member of staff’s poor personal hygiene might be glaringly obvious to those around them, often the individual him or herself is not even aware of the issue.  In some cases it can stem from what might be quite serious health problems or other perfectly legitimate reasons over which the person feels as though they have little control, or of which they might even be unaware.  Even if they are conscious of the problem, however, having it raised with them directly is a deeply shaming and embarrassing experience.  Ignoring the issue, especially when it becomes a source of offence to colleagues and customers, not to mention making the individual the source of endless jokes or derogatory comments though, shouldn’t be an option.

In just the same way that any other aspect of an individual’s performance ultimately reflects on the image and reputation of a business, so too does the way that staff present themselves.  While companies can do much to ensure that their expectations are made clear by including a section on personal hygiene and grooming in their handbooks, if a person is not aware of the problem or if the cause is medically-related, for example, then dealing with it harshly is only likely to cause humiliation, not to mention potentially leaving the employer with a legal issue to deal with.  If it does come to the stage where they do need to address a problem with an employee directly, therefore, then clearly this should be done with the utmost sensitivity and respect and without making any assumptions.  When raising the issue, it is essential to establish whether there is any underlying reason that the employer needs to take account of or to make provisions for.  The individual may well be doing all they can to address the problem themselves, but in some cases, for instance, may lack the financial resources which would allow them to deal with it effectively, and where this is so, it may benefit the employer to offer some support.

Failing to deal with issues of poor personal hygiene and grooming can create hostility and ill-feeling within a workplace which ultimately affects the productivity of the individual him or herself and everyone around them.  While the problem needs to be dealt with though, it needs to be handled in a supportive way with care, compassion and respect.

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