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Do you have to deal with body odour?
It's your office. You spend a large part of your waking hours here. Your daily schedule involves constant, gruelling mindwork as you battle to fulfill your targets.
Under the circumstances, the last thing you want to do is deal with someone whose personal habits annoy you. However, this can, at times, become inevitable, considering people with different beliefs, mindsets, attitudes and work patterns are sharing the same space.
In this first part of a series on annoying habits at workplace, we take a look at personal hygiene issues and suggest how you can deal with them.
Common hygiene issues
Personal hygiene is the basic concept of cleaning, grooming and caring for one's body.
"In an office, its presence or absence can impact everyone's morale and performance. It decreases productivity if a colleague has an offensive body odour as it is a constant source of irritation for his/ her neighbours. When personal matters affect workplace results or relationships, they become job performance issues. Hygiene problems often alienate colleagues, customers and clients, leading to many undesirable consequences," says Anjali Singh, 27, manager with a finance company in Delhi.
Let's take a look at some of the more pressing concerns:
"Apocrine (a kind of sweat) is the body odour culprit. The well-known sweaty smell occurs only after apocrine reacts with the bacteria on our skin," says physician Dr Satish Saxena.
"Some people have more active apocrine glands than others, or just aren't successful in getting rid of the bacteria on their skin. Certain medicines, too, can change the body's natural odour," he adds.
Foot odour is usually caused by the breakdown of bacteria on the surface of the skin.
"Foot odour may be difficult to control since the cause is often a fungal infection, most frequently between the toes. You need to take steps to eliminate the fungi, the underlying cause of the odour," says Dr Saxena.
Halitosis (bad breath)
Bad breath could be due to a variety of reasons, including improper hygiene, diet (after consuming raw onions and garlic, for example), gum disease, smoking, pan masala or even certain medications.
"Halitosis could indicate a more serious internal problem such as diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease or bronchial infection. These systemic illnesses each have their own distinct odour," says Dr Saxena.
Dandruff, an itchy scalp or even lice can be an issue for some people.
Flatulence (excessive gas)
"An excessive amount of flatulence could be due to many reasons, for example, lactose intolerance, certain foods, swallowing too much air, overgrowth of bacteria in the colon, etc," says Dr Saxena.
Excessive flatulence can also be a symptom of a serious health problem such as appendicitis, gallstones, stomach ulcer or irritable bowel syndrome.
Why hygiene is important
A person's body odour and overall hygiene are important concerns, especially when you are in a small, poorly ventilated space where many people work together.
One should be considerate about their neighbours and not generate strong smells that will permeate their space. For example, by not eating eggs or onions inside the office.
Also, if you smoke, you should air yourself before entering the office.
The same applies for cologne. "Fragrance is a very personal choice. It should be reserved for the person using it, and not the whole office," says Rishi Gupta, 29, HR manager in a telecom company.
Dealing with a colleague's hygiene issues
"One of my colleagues is impeccably dressed. However, whenever he passes me, I am forced to breathe this horrible body odour. It's so bad that I have to get away from my desk; I can't tolerate the fumes," laments Anjali.
Talking to anyone with this kind of a problem is not easy.
"This situation is not as rare an occurrence as one wishes it might be. Yet, the person with the problem nearly always gets defensive, embarrassed and feels personally injured," says Rishi.
Nevertheless, you do need to address this. Since personal hygiene issues have the potential to result in undesirable work results/ relationships, they become job-related problems.
"This is a sensitive situation. Most stinky people don't even realise they stink because they are so accustomed to the smell. When you speak with them, be non-accusatory and positive. Play the role of a supporter and a helper. Know that it will be difficult for the offending person to hear, so it's your responsibility to handle it with tact and sincerity," says Rishi.
If you feel you can't be diplomatic, ask a colleague who is closer to the person to take on the task.
A male supervisor should, preferably, address hygiene issues with a male employee; a female supervisor should do so with a female employee.
"It will be more comfortable for the colleague with the problem to hear this information from someone of the same sex," agrees Anjali.
A step-by-step guide
Anuj Raheja, 28, HR manager with a Delhi-based FMCG company, says, "Addressing hygiene issues is always tricky. To do this well, you must speak to the employee about it. Some ideas that have worked for me are:
Anuj says, "I've noticed that when you empathise with someone (instead of just sounding accusing), the employee is led to acknowledge there is a cause for the complaint. In one instance, I discussed it with our corporate HR department (while maintaining confidentiality, of course). The company stepped in by arranging upgraded dental care for the employee."
The indirect route
"If the confidential approach does not work, try this indirect technique. Purchase a selection of deodorants, choose some employees (including the 'offending' one) and design a coaching activity using 'market research' as your topic. Prepare a small questionnaire, give the products to the employees to try out, have them answer the questions and then have them prepare a presentation on the results including their opinions on body hygiene in general. Award a prize for the best presentation. You'll be improving the skills of your employees, indirectly solving your problem in a painless manner and some learning will take place as well," suggests Anuj.
"A few of us got together and bought some deodorant spray, mouthwash, and some breath mints, along with a few other gifts, and left them on the offending employee's desk as a gift on his birthday. He started using them and the problem has since been resolved," says Rishi.
Poor personal hygiene is obvious, though few are comfortable discussing it. But the fact remains that productivity at the workplace, landing your dream job or even gaining new friends can be influenced by good -- or bad -- personal hygiene.
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