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Sticky Situation: Should I Tell My Intern She Smells?

03/06/2014 12:19 EST | Updated 05/06/2014 05:59 EDT

Sticky situation:

I just came across your website. I was looking for a solution on Google for "how to tell an intern that she stinks." She also wears the same clothes, every day, for the entire week. I am responsible for the retail counter in an aesthetic clinic. I have never been faced with this sticky situation; to tell or not to tell an employee that she smells.

Since this person finishes her internship in May, I think it would serve her well for the future. On top of that, she is a really nice person and I really enjoy working with her. She has a bright future ahead of her.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Solution (s):

Indeed, I agree, telling her will serve her well, especially as a future employee in aesthetic. In your industry, first impressions, including the olfactory ones, do count a lot.

As a past Human Resources manager, I know that this is one of the most difficult workplace conversations to have.

Time and again, in my Civility in the workplace workshop; Sights, Smells and Sounds, a participant will shyly ask: "Should I tell or not?" I always redirect the question to the group. I ask the participants: "If you were the culprit and stank the workplace, would you like to know?" The group's response is always unanimous: "Yes!"

Even if you now know that the person will ultimately appreciate knowing this sensitive information, there are some precautions that you should take.

I recommend having your conversation with the following five considerations:

1 . Invite the person for a private talk, away from other staff members, for a coffee or lunch. Do not tell her too far ahead of time. The anticipation could create anxiety. Invite her in person and not by email. Again, this could also create uneasiness in your trainee.

2 . Talk with empathy and sensitivity. Start with a few words of appreciation of her work. Start by telling her that you enjoy working with her and that she is good at what she does.

3 . Mention that what you have to say is not easy but, if the roles were reversed you would appreciate the direct approach, instead of rumours in the clinic.

4 . Relate that you have noticed certain smells and that as her mentor you feel obligated to share your observations with her to help her maintain her professional image.

5 . Speak of the physical, sometimes uncontrollable and unexpected consequences of stress that may produce disagreeable body scents. As an aesthetics professional, you can probably add clinical information to present these effects. Based on your expertise, you can also make recommendations on personal hygiene practices such as the use of deodorant and the laundering of clothes. I know that this is elementary, but perhaps this woman has an hypersensitive skin and does not realize that there are now very effective and suitable products that will not create an allergic reaction.

Also mention that even if an item of clothing is not stained and does not look dirty, that it absorbs body odours and even those of the environment, including the cooking ones. This mixture permeates clothing and usually stays until the next wash.

You might suggest that she invest in a few basic machine washable garments; three tops and two bottoms. They will give her several possibilities for a full week at work. You may even have a few shopping sources to share.

Sadly and surprisingly, in my experience, the person does not know that she stinks. And the vast majority of the time, even if embarrassed, the person sincerely appreciates being informed.

In addition, as a mentor, I believe that it is necessary and responsible of you to notify a student of the elements that contribute to their professional credibility and that of an entire clinic.

In a colleague to colleague, or boss to colleague relationship, when in doubt about the repercussions of such a conversation, seeks the support of the Human Resources department.

The results of this difficult announcement are usually quick and lasting. From the morning after the problem disappears and the air is purified.

Good luck.

Have a sticky situation at work or home? This is your forum. Write to Julie and she will reply promptly. Want more solutions to sticky situations? Check out Facebook, Twitter or order your autographed copy of Etiquette: Confidence & Credibility. Planning a conference? Julie happily travels coast to coast and beyond, to present customized activities.

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