Ask a Manager has a thought-provoking post on how to tell an employee she has body odor. There is no way out of this being an awkward situation to deal with, and an important piece of advice is to make sure to have the conversation at the end of the day so the employee doesn't have to sit there feeling self-conscious for the next several hours.
I have a follow-up question: what if the offensive odor is something that the person intends to be a pleasant smell such as scented soap or perfume? How would you handle it then? I'm extremely fragrance sensitive. If I am in a closed-door meeting and another individual has a lot of perfume or aftershave on, I have a variety of physical symptoms that make me uncomfortable. If I shake hands with someone that has a scented lotion or aftershave on, and get residue on my hands they begin to itch until I can find somewhere to wash my hands.
I have had a couple of occasions where I know I am going to be in repeated contact with someone who regularly wears body scents and have been forced to confront the situation. I vary my approach depending on the person, but typically it goes like this:
- I feel kind of embarrassed bringing this up, because it seems like such a minor issue.
- I have a condition that I have had since childhood - I am highly-fragrance sensitive.
- This means that I have a freakishly sensitive sense of smell, and things that don't bother normal people create discomfort for me. It starts with a really bad headache and eventually I start to have problems breathing.
- It seems that there is something in the perfume that you have been wearing that triggers this reaction.
- I hate to be a problem to you, but since we are going to be working on the XYZ project over the next couple of weeks I was wondering if we could switch out weekly update meetings to in the large conference room instead of your office. There's more air circulation in there, and it should be less of a problem.
My goal with this approach is not to equivocate, but to reduce any sense of judgment or pressure on the other person. I let them know that my condition pre-dates them because I don't want them to take my comments as a personal judgment. I also try whenever possible to offer a solution that doesn't require them to change their personal grooming habits - such as switching offices, using fans, etc. I find that most people reduce their perfume use voluntarily when I do this.
Have you dealt with a similar situation? How did you handle it?