How to Deal With Personal Hygiene Issues at Work

20 October 2020

Everyone should maintain personal hygiene at work. It’s professional, considerate, and often a necessary element of your working environment. However, employees can make working life uncomfortable for others with poor personal hygiene.

From the first day of their employment, employees should understand your dress codes and grooming policies. If an employee’s bad personal hygiene becomes a problem, you must address and deal with it.

Bad personal hygiene at work can affect a team, an office, and even an entire company. So you must treat it seriously. 

For advice on handling employee's poor personal hygiene at work, Peninsula Business Services provides on-site HR support services and unlimited 24-hour HR advice.  

Why is personal hygiene important at work?

Personal hygiene in the workplace can affect another employee’s quality of life. This includes issues like a foul-smelling environment or contracting illnesses. 

Bad personal hygiene comprises: 

  • Body odour
  • Unclean apparel
  • Bad breath
  • Persistent coughing
  • Flatulence
  • Overuse of deodorant, perfume or cologne

Some employees may not even be aware of their bad personal hygiene at work. This is why it’s good business practice to implement a personal hygiene at work policy. 

Ensuring poor personal hygiene at work doesn’t become an issue is what Peninsula Business Services design personal hygiene policies to prevent.

It’s difficult to understand how detrimental poor personal hygiene at work can be to co-workers. Many believe that bad personal hygiene at work can contribute to a loss of personal productivity. 

Poor personal hygiene can make a working environment unpleasant. Issues such as persistent coughs or strong perfumes can make it hard to concentrate.

Issues such as a persistent cough may be because of an employee working while they are unwell. This would be a health risk that you should address. This is when you need to consider how to handle both personal health and hygiene at work. 

For help with this issue, you can read our guide on how to handle an employee who attends work while unwell.

The essentials in dealing with personal hygiene issues at work

A good way to nip bad personal hygiene at work in the bud is to establish personal hygiene policies. 

The COVID pandemic has made good personal hygiene at work more important than ever. Handwashing and sanitisation is vital for businesses. Peninsula Business Services has discussed COVID risk assessments before.

Established policies will provide common knowledge of hygiene standards for employees to follow.

Understanding how to implement a workplace dress code helps establish personal hygiene policies. You can read our guide about workplace dress codes.

It’s important to maintain personal hygiene when interacting with a working environment. Important ‘risk hotspots’ to regularly clean include:

  • Bathrooms: Toilets, cubicle handles, flush buttons/handles.
  • Common areas: Kitchens, cafeterias, hallways.
  • Reception and entrance areas: Reception desks, sign-in clipboards, pens, door handles.
  • Lifts and stairwells: Handrails, lift buttons.
  • Desks and meeting rooms: Keyboards, equipment, monitors.

Desks are an extension of an employee’s personal hygiene that can affect others. A messy desk can cause issues for other team members , almost as much as body odour and persistent coughs.

Co-workers may raise issues such as cluttered desks as a problem. This would be an appropriate topic when discussing personal hygiene and an example of poor personal hygiene at work. 

Don’t discriminate when dealing with personal hygiene issues at work

Personal hygiene policies should respect any individual that can’t accommodate certain standards. These policies shouldn't discriminate against any protected characteristics to avoid employment tribunals.

Consider the following when thinking about taking disciplinary action over an employee’s bad personal hygiene:

  • Is it due to religious beliefs/cultural differences?
  • Is a bad standard of hygiene because of a medical concern, emotional stress, or a disability?
  • Does the employee have financial issues that make it difficult to address poor personal hygiene?

Any personal hygiene policies should coincide with any existing employee’s rights. The Equality Act 2010 fully outlines these rights.

How to deal with personal hygiene issues at work

There are only two parties that should intervene with poor personal hygiene at work. These are the employees with bad personal hygiene and HR managers. 

The best way to deal with personal hygiene issues at work is to politely and professionally raise the issue with the member of staff. Handle it discreetly, arranging a meeting with the employee.

Before meeting the employee, ensure you have all the facts. Don’t go off hearsay, gather your knowledge first-hand. If possible, be able to reference the issue directly, such as scruffy clothing.

Approach the employee and arrange a meeting. Try to deal with an issue sooner rather than later. This way you can avoid further issues with other employees and to spare them being the focus of gossip.

Positive reinforcement and work-based compliments ensure the employee doesn’t feel victimised.

Remain professional and don’t overstep your position. Avoid placing blame, don’t give unsolicited advice, and don’t attempt to diagnose the employee. Address the poor hygiene with the employee and allow the employee to speak their mind.

If they become emotional or defensive, try to maintain your supportive tone and manner. Bring the discussion back to positive terms so it can continue in a way that’s beneficial to both parties.

After talking to the employee about their poor hygiene arrange a follow-up discussion. Communicate your expectations, discuss what the employee’s next steps should be. Set a timeline for improvements.

How Peninsula Business Services can help

Discussing bad personal hygiene at work can be uncomfortable. This is why Peninsula Business Services provides comprehensive legal advice. 

Call us any time, day or night, on 0800 028 2420

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