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Hygiene Horror Story

Thursday 15th October was ‘Global Handwashing Day’. Our first thought was ‘who comes up with these things?!’ but it did get us talking about hygiene in the workplace. Quite apart from encouraging the spread of germs and infection, poor hygiene results in unpleasant outcomes like bad breath, body odour, greasy hair and smelly clothes. Yuk.

In some industries, for example, dentistry or those handling food, poor hygiene and a failure to follow hygiene rules may be considered an act of gross misconduct. In other industries poor hygiene may not have such a big impact on the job, nevertheless it can still be unpleasant for both fellow employees and customers/clients.

Many managers find that talking to an employee about poor hygiene is an incredibly difficult thing to do. It’s a sensitive subject and can often be more difficult then telling an employee he is being made redundant. Sometimes an employee may not be aware there is a problem with his hygiene. If not you’ll just have to brace yourself and say it the way it is, in private and sensitively. Take the employee to one side and have an informal chat with him. In some cultures personal hygiene is not taught so the employee may not know how to take care of himself, and sometimes the use of antiperspirant is considered to be bad for the skin. Tell the employee what the problem is. Ask him how you can help him resolve the issue.

Some medical conditions can cause such issues that seem like poor hygiene. For example hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating is difficult to control with a standard antiperspirant and often the worry of sweating excessively can make it worse. That’s not to say the person suffering from it has poor hygiene; it may just be that he does not know how to control it. Antiperspirants that are high in alcohol can help and are available to buy off the shelf. For bad cases an employee may need to see his doctor for further help.

We once had to deal with a young employee whose hygiene went downhill all of a sudden. He had been with the company for several months and it had never been a problem before. It turned out that his mother had recently died. He had lived with her and she had done all his washing. He did not know how to use a washing machine so after she died he just kept wearing the same clothes. You might be wondering why he didn’t cope better. People don’t always think or act logically, especially when their life has suddenly changed. Grief can dull some social habits too. His manager had a gentle conversation with him to try and find out what had happened. When she understood the problem, she gave him some guidance to help him get to grips with looking after himself and told him to take a couple of days off to get things sorted out. When he returned the problem was gone.

If a quiet word and informal guidance doesn’t work then you may have to deal with things formally through the discipline procedure.

Take a look at some more of our extreme HR experiences in our new stories from the Dark Side.

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