Building a team · HR

How do you tell a coworker they smell bad without offending them?

Abdullah Javed Student at Government College University, Faisalabad

September 18th, 2016

This may sound like a very stupid question. However, there is one person in my office that smells terrible and it is really interfering in the workspace as other coworkers either avoid interacting too much with him or avoid sometimes going to the office. We are a very small startup working out of a small space and this is a big deal for everyone but no one is really taking action.

Parker Fairfield Chief Strategy Officer at

September 18th, 2016

I would advise you to breach the subject away from the others, and to just do your best to make it a straight forward conversation.

I've run lots of teams of programmers, in Asia and in the USA, from all over the world.

This is one of the most problematic ... as often the smell is coming from something in the person's diet (so soap and shampoo won't help) OR it's coming from living somewhere with high humidity, where one's clothing does not DRY before the mold starts to grow, resulting in moldy/musty smell coming from the clothing.

Identifying the WHY is the 2nd step.
The first step is letting your colleague know that (A) there is a smell - and has he/she noticed it? and discussing how you'd like to assist in rectifying the issue.

With OUT asking - you might then start of by saying "smells can be from diet, or from practice ... and for instance" you wash your clothes like this, and after having a heavy diet of strong smelling things (curry, garlic) sometimes use a deodorant/after shave like X BRAND.

Ranjit Ghoshal Founder and Director at One Million Steps: Building a Healthier World for Giving®

September 18th, 2016

Does he follow you on FD? Because, somehow, I think the game is up and the cat is out of the bag.

Gulf Cloud First Cloud Service Provider Company in the Arabian Gulf

September 18th, 2016

I had case like this, So what I did is I went to the store and bought soap, shampoo and deodorant
Came back to office and side "I have gift for you"
He was happy opening the bag. 

Mark Shaw CEO at NEOS HR

September 18th, 2016

As Parker said, this issue occurs frequently enough.  My advice is to have the conversation based on the management problem.  I.e. "<name> when you come into the office with poor body hygine it causes <specific information> problem."  How can you help me resolve my problem?  Hope that helps

Jermaine Hardy Maintenance Worker II

September 19th, 2016

I work with an individual who has a history of alcoholic problems which everyone else believes is the cause of his odor.

Saravjit Singh Independent Consultant and Trainer

September 19th, 2016

One needs to be direct, solution oriented and empathetic. 

Talk to him in a soft voice - when no one is around Tell him that you have his total welfare at heart and want to help him one personal way. Then talk to him about the odor problem and how this is affecting everyone, although no one is telling this to him to his face so as not to embarrass him. Then discuss with him what he can do to overcome this.