The Business Coach with Laura Murphy: A problem with body odour

Question: We have a staff member who really, really smells. We’ve put up with it for months but it’s got worse with the hot weather. We don’t know how to approach it. What can we do? Roger

Answer: It’s easy it is to challenge someone when they produce an uncomfortable environment through excessive swearing for example but when it comes to this, everyone fights shy.

Yes, it’s difficult and sensitive but not unusual and it should have been tackled before now. I’ve seen this approached in various ways, some more successfully than others.

In one instance some anti-perspirant was left on the colleague’s desk and when they came back, they were visibly embarrassed. Not entirely productive. In another a work colleague took the person to the pub and told them he was making life uncomfortable for everyone. That put a level of responsibility on someone who wasn’t willing.

The best approach is for the line manager to speak to the person privately. Be frank about the problem in, and I can’t stress this enough, a non-accusatory way. It could be that there’s a genuine medical problem that needs resolving here, rather than an issue of personal hygiene.

By focussing on the impact it’s having on team performance, giving examples, you can help both of you look at this objectively rather than taking personal affront. As with any performance issue, discuss whether they were aware of the problem, what steps they might have taken in trying to resolve it, what steps can be taken now and in the future to establish a more equitable working environment. Agree any support mechanisms required and how much information can be shared with others. Then keep it under review.


Laura Murphy is the founder of mtc2 ltd, a management consultancy, training and coaching company. Laura is an organisation development specialist and business coach. If you have a problem then contact her at

Visit the website on or click on the external link above right.

Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.