What do I do about summer odour?

body odour
Body odour in the workplace happens. Be honest and tell him without any fuss.

Summer is a time we have come to dread in our small office due to the poor hygiene habits of a colleague. I don’t know whether he has a health problem or just doesn’t wear the right deodorant, but he smells pretty offensive. Trouble is, everyone likes the guy (especially in winter) and no one wants to insult him. What can I do?

Funny how some things never change. In our society now we can discuss all sorts of once-taboo subjects, like PMT, sex and even pornography, but body odour is still on the sensitive list.

We all become cowards when it comes to confronting a colleague about their body odour. That’s because we would hate to be on the receiving end. Having a strong odour is a source of great shame. Many of us can flaunt ourselves visually by wearing skimpy clothes without feeling shame. We can talk loudly and provocatively without feeling shame. But when it comes to the sense of smell, we all become very delicate.

God forbid that anyone should get a whiff of anything unpleasant coming from our person! And yet we each have distinctive odours that apparently were used by our primitive ancestors as information about each other. Perhaps that is why we are so desperate to eliminate or cover up our personal odour. We are trying to deny our primitive, animal nature.

This colleague of yours is failing in this endeavour. His animal nature is alive and available for all to experience aromatically. You say it is worse in summer. Either your office is not air-conditioned or he builds up a sweat going outside. This suggests the problem is not due to poor hygiene. If it was, he would be pungent all year round. People with poor hygiene habits are even less likely to shower in winter when it is cold and uncomfortable to undress.

Don’t buy into the idea that this guy is going to be mortified if you mention his body odour. Take a more moderate view than those who think body odour is shameful. Having a personal scent is normal. Naturally we have personal preferences as to which scents we like and which we do not. Just like we have preferences of hair colour and body shape. Treat this issue in the same way. Recall how you would tell a friend that his hair would look better if it were shorter. Tell this chap in a matter-of-fact way that you have noticed his body odour is very strong. Suggest that it would be to his advantage to tone it down.

Then leave it up to him.

He will probably ask some other colleagues if they think he has body odour. You better warn them so they can be honest with him. A simple, “yes, I have noticed that,” delivered with a friendly smile is all that is needed. Tell them to leave out any embarrassment or apologies. The way to handle this issue is with a minimum of fuss.

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