How do I handle a co-worker's body odor if I'm not her supervisor?
June 23, 2005 1:37 PM   Subscribe

A older woman who works in our office has horrible, horrible body odor. It gets worse as the week goes on, until by Friday its very difficult to stand anywhere near her. I am not her supervisor, and her department is "between supervisors" at the moment, however she frequently needs to stop into my office in order to do her job. Its going to be Friday tomorrow, and I'm dreading her daily visit to my office. What (if anything) should I do?
posted by anastasiav to Work & Money (49 answers total)
Anonymously mail her a gift package filled with soaps, deodorants, lotions and perfume. This will have the dual effect of communicating the problem to her and enabling her to begin solving it.
posted by quadog at 1:43 PM on June 23, 2005

What's your office like?
Burn incense? Get a fan and stay upwind of her?

Needless to say, it would be rude to do anything too extravagant or obvious.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 1:44 PM on June 23, 2005

Response by poster: I should add that we're a very small nonprofit (a total of ten employees in the office) and the windows in my office don't open. Also, we have real offices with doors, and she works in one down the hall from me. Our server is also in that office, and the thing that actually prompted me to post this was the fact I had to go into her office to reboot the server. The smell in that room almost knocked me over.
posted by anastasiav at 1:50 PM on June 23, 2005

I used to have a teacher like that in high school. He must have had a serious medical condition because not only did he seriously reek, but he didn't reek of a "natural" BO either.

My advice would be to hold your conversation in a hallway, or indeed any place where the two of you can keep moving. At least you can keep a step ahead of the smell that way.
posted by clevershark at 1:51 PM on June 23, 2005

Keep a jar of Vicks VapoRub on your desk and (in)conspicuously dab it above your upper lip when she appears.
posted by pmbuko at 1:51 PM on June 23, 2005

I have personally debated this issue myself. I am far too polite to deal with these situations, my solution is to smoke cigarettes to dull my sense of smell.

Would you rather be confrontational or covert? Based on your knowledge of her, which approach would offend her more? Finally, what is the most undesirable situation: dealing with her smell or feeling bad about offending her.

I would say the smell is the most undesirable thing, and you need to do something, especially because it sounds like it is interfering with your work.

I would personally write a hand-written letter - that would indicate the seriousness of the situation and show that you had the consideration to take time to talk about the problem. I don't think you will avoid the problem of offending her though, unless you prefer the anonymous route. But if you do it anonymously, anytime she looks at you funny, you will probably get nervous, especially since your org is very small. I say go for short-term discomfort now in favor of long-term happiness, and not the reverse.
posted by tweak at 2:00 PM on June 23, 2005

Actually you could always send her an email telling her about the issue in a polite way, sent via an account that doesn't recognizably belong to someone in the office (e.g. get a gmail invite and register a random-looking name). This way she at least finds out about the problem (maybe she's unaware of it).
posted by clevershark at 2:05 PM on June 23, 2005

I remember seeing a website (its URL I can't recall) intended for situations like this. It would forward on an anonymous e-mail message to the individual. It had suggestions for many circumstances that require tact and anonymity. Does anyone recall it?
posted by ericb at 2:11 PM on June 23, 2005

Ah ... this website is not the one I remember, but might do the trick.
posted by ericb at 2:15 PM on June 23, 2005

If this was me I wouldn't like to receive an anonymous note or email from a random gmail address telling me I stink - it is a complete cop out. As well as just being generally shitty, it could have a serious affect on this woman's confidence as she interacts with people daily wondering if it was that person who is so offended by her.

You will have to be up front with her and tell her in no uncertain terms that she has a problem. Keep it discreet and light hearted, tell her how hard you found it to bring it up and that you mean no offence and make sure there is no hard feelings at the end. If there is, talk it out. Play it by ear since you know and work with this person. Either that or grin and bear it.
posted by fire&wings at 2:21 PM on June 23, 2005

Best answer: My GoogleFu just located this:
Sure, Hold Your Nose, But Colleagues' Odors Pose Serious Problem
"Any body odors strong enough to spread beyond their perpetrators' cubicles are bound to upset colleagues. Unfortunately, options for dealing with them are awkward. It isn't simply that no one wants to hurt a colleague's feelings. It's also the knowledge that you will see the offender -- and he or she will see you -- forever, and neither of you will be able to forget the torturous conversation. As a result, many people just frown and bear the discomfort, forced into one of the office's countless endurance tests. But that doesn't change the fact that there can be some really bad smells at the office, and that they won't be able to be blamed on anyone's dog....Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute, maintains that it's best to tell people about their body odors. In a poll of more than 400 people, 75% of the respondents said they'd want to be notified by a friend if they smelled. 'They want to be told, so be a friend and tell them,' he says. But how best to do it? Privately, he says, adding that a good way to start might be: 'If the roles were reversed, I know I'd want you to talk to me about it.' One way or another, he adds, the idea is to convey that 'this issue has the potential to really reflect on you here at work.' No kidding. In a study done earlier this year, two-thirds of women believed their personal scent had an impact on their career success. 'In a very visceral way you're judged by how you smell,' concurs Alan Hirsch, a neurologist at Chicago's Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, who conducted the study for Suave."

[Wall Street Journal | July 21, 2004 - requires subscription]
posted by ericb at 2:24 PM on June 23, 2005

fire&wings - on reflection - and after reading the WSJ article - you're right.
posted by ericb at 2:26 PM on June 23, 2005

If I smelled bad, I'd want someone to tell me. If I got an anoymous e-mail, I would just think it was spam.
posted by fourstar at 2:33 PM on June 23, 2005

I've dealt with this problem, and I just tried to avoid enclosed spaces as far as possible. I couldn't imagine trying to tell an old lady she smelled. Not saying it's wrong or you shouldn't do it, but I was raised with a perhaps insane degree of ingrained respect for old folks. And they do tend to smell, for whatever combination of reasons. We'll all go down that path eventually, and I'm not sure we'll want to be confronted about it.
posted by languagehat at 2:35 PM on June 23, 2005

It sounds like a medical condition--I've known a couple people who had perfectly good grooming, but astoundingly bad BO, and it was, in fact, medical (but for whatever reason, not treatable). They knew it and were self-concious about it (one wound up becoming a recluse). Your co-worker probably knows it.

What to do about it is another question, one to which I'm afraid I have no answer.
posted by adamrice at 2:38 PM on June 23, 2005

fire&wings writes "If this was me I wouldn't like to receive an anonymous note or email from a random gmail address telling me I stink - it is a complete cop out."

Fine... you go tell someone to their face that they stink.

"The best" shouldn't be the enemy of "the good". In an ideal world this woman would practice better hygiene, but this is not a ideal world.
posted by clevershark at 2:39 PM on June 23, 2005

I should specify -- the reason I opined that this woman practices sub-standard hygiene is the mention in the FPP that the problem grows worse as the week progresses. Medically-caused BO is a fairly constant thing (from day to day).
posted by clevershark at 2:42 PM on June 23, 2005

Somewhere I read about a lady who was told by one of her co-workers that she had a terribly offensive smell. The lady was mortified because she had such-and-such medical problem that was causing the smell. She was already well aware of her problem and did many things to cover up her funk, but the funk would not be covered. Anyway, the lady actually quit her job because she was so embarrassed and could not bear to return and face her co-workers.

I can't recall where I read that or what the medical condition was called. I guess I'd want to rule out the medical condition thing before I mentioned this to someone. But it sounds like your co-worker just has poor hygiene.

Also, she might already know about her funk and not care. Is she generally conscientious? I have a friend who frequently goes a loooong time without showering. We tell him all the time that he stinks and he just shrugs. Oh well.

Could you wait until she gets a new supervisor and let him/her do the dirty deed? Is there a president or somebody else who could do it? If not, I think anonymous would be best. Yes, it's cowardly but if you write her a letter or an e-mail and sign it "A Friend" then at least she won't absolutely know it was one of her co-workers. Coulda been a personal friend, a family member, church member, casual acquaintance, etc.
posted by crapulent at 2:43 PM on June 23, 2005

Oh, too late. Nevermind.
posted by crapulent at 2:45 PM on June 23, 2005

If I smelled bad, I'd want someone to tell me.

If I smelled bad, I'd want someone to tell me too; regrettably though, I don't make up the 90% of oversensitive, jump-at-the-chance-to-make-a-situation-out-of-nothing-because-it's-the-first-vaguely-interesting-thing-to-happen-to-them-all-year individuals that seem to roam this planet.

I'd go for the anonymous email - I once did this on behalf of our team after we'd been worked into the ground, suggesting to the manager that he should acknowledge and reward our beyond-the-line-of-duty performance: he took it well and treated us to lunch.

Alternatively, how about an anonymous email to the GM, CEO or whatever?
posted by forallmankind at 2:48 PM on June 23, 2005

Also, if you were to create an anonymous email account, you could just put something like the company name in the address to avoid it being identified as spam by the user.
posted by forallmankind at 2:52 PM on June 23, 2005

I used to share an office with someone who smelt moderately bad so my colleagues used one of these anonymous internet services to send him deodrant and soap with a note saying he smells (in not so many words). After this he started spraying himself with deodrant in the office three or four times a day. It was like being gassed. If my colleagues had spoken to me I would have tactfully asked the guy to clean up his act.

It should really be the job of someone senior to tell this person that they need to wash. If there isn't anyone then discuss this with any colleagues who may also be affected and see if you can't agree a course of action - maybe someone will be happy to talk to her. But really, it's more respectful in the long run to be upfront about these things and someone should say it to her face.

Seriously, anonymous e-mails? Anonymous "gifts"? If someone did that to me I'd feel very hurt and I think most folk sugesting these solutions would too.
posted by dodgygeezer at 2:59 PM on June 23, 2005

Man, this is a tough situation. I recall reading about undergarments with odor absorbing charcoal for peopel with a certain flatulence condition.

I am not trying to sound preachy, but if you were this person, what would you want done to you?

Secondly, and this may have been mentioned, but you stated that the odor gets worse as Friday approaches, leading me to believe that it's not entirely congenital.

If you do go the anonymous note route, you could be super apologetic about it, but it sounds like the office is small enough that they'd figure out it was you.

I wish someone made a mood ring that identified when one's personal odor breaks the nose barrier. I suppose you could get a candle warmer and a high quality candle, along with a small usb fan.

WhenI worked with a "hoods in the woods" program, we'd spend the week in the mountains at a time, often without showering, and in general getting as rank as possible while we showed troubled kids the error of their ways. Anyway, we'd go to the payroll office at the end of the week and the staff would whip out these portable odor things (forgot the name) and slap them on the desk. This was at Brigham Young University, so the contrast between us and the staff was pronounced. It was awesome.

Maybe one of those desk ionizer things would help, too?
posted by craniac at 3:12 PM on June 23, 2005

If it was me, I'd want someone to tell me - but anonymously. I'd be horrified if someone (even a friend...maybe especially a friend) told me to my face.
posted by speranza at 3:14 PM on June 23, 2005

I swear there was another askmefi thread along these lines - all I can find is this though, which has some more information on the possible medical issues.
posted by advil at 3:15 PM on June 23, 2005

Don't rule out the medical aspect, but if it really does get worse as the week goes on, that might indicate that her home situation is either not normal (her plumbing doesn't work and she can't shower, she's living out of her car, whatever) or she has very frugal ideas about washing/laundry.

In any case, if you do say something, DO NOT say, "Gladys, you stink all the time" or anything to indicate that you've noticed day in and day out and never said anything. Say, "Oh, Gladys, you must have something stuck on your shoe, there was this strange odor as you walked by," or (something equally hokey) to indicate that this is the *first time you noticed.*

In the meantime, get a fan, and avoid the anonymous stuff.
posted by sageleaf at 3:17 PM on June 23, 2005

Best answer: There aren't any medical problems I can think of that cause bad BO. Colostomies and urostomies produce fecal and urine odors, respectively. There are some inherited disorders that make your pee smell like dirty socks or maple syrup, but folks with those are severely retarded. Bedsores don't smell very nice, but usually people confined to bed get those.

Other people's BO doesn't bother me too much, but if it did, I'd probably make up a package with a little letter and a bottle of deodorant/antiperspirant for them to try. Anonymously.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:22 PM on June 23, 2005

I encountered a similar problem a long time ago when I was a part time receptionist (ironically, i worked for a floral importer and distributor). The company had several receptionists for various divisions and we each worked one saturday a month to staff the sales reception area. The full time sales receptionist smelled awful. So bad, it brought tears to my eyes. It was a mixture of BO and who knows what. To make matters worse, there was little ventilation in the office and the smell seemed to cling to the walls, the phone, the desk, you name it. Working in her office made me so sick, the sales people must have thought I was pregnant with morning sickness or something.

FInally, I worked up the nerve to speak to the office manager (in charge of the receptionists) and she had a word with the smelly girl and requested that she take better care of her personal hygiene. Fortunately, the office manager conveyed the message as if she were the one to notice the odor. The receptionist questioned all of us to see if we noticed it (we all denied it, yeah, we were wimps) and eventually cleaned up her act.

I think if it were someone lateral to her, she probably would have ignored it. However, she could not avoid taking seriously the request from someone more senior. Even if your office stinker is between managers, there has to be someone above her. Perhaps your manager can say something to her, after all, it is affecting your job. Not to mention it is just plain disgusting.

In the meantime, perhaps you can get one of those odor canceling plug-in things or a candle to light on fridays in anticipation of her visit.
posted by necessitas at 3:37 PM on June 23, 2005

If this was me I wouldn't like to receive an anonymous note or email from a random gmail address telling me I stink - it is a complete cop out. (and plenty of other "I would want to be told" variants)

The problem with all these statements is

(1) You would want to be told because you give a damn if you smell and offend others with your presence, therefor you don't need to be told you smell and offend others with your presence because you take steps not to smell and offend others with your presence.

(2) I am not really worried about engaging in a "cop out" in this situation any more than I am worried about hurting someone's feelings when I say "how rude!" in response to a horridly inappropriate question. If you place me in the circumstance where I have to ask you to engage in basic human courtesy you really don't get to be pissy about it. Well, I guess you can be as pissy as you want, but don't expect me to care.

Those who believe basic hygene doesn't qualify under "basic human courtesy" are welcome to discuss this matter with me after they've shaken hands with someone who just used the bathroom and didn't wash up afterwards.
posted by phearlez at 3:41 PM on June 23, 2005

someone who just used the bathroom and didn't wash up afterwards.

most people don't. there's a study somewhere.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:17 PM on June 23, 2005

Easy for me to say, but I think you have to suck it up and tell her face to face. Look at it this way--you are doing her a huge favor. Who knows what professional and social opportunities she misses due to her odor. You are working to improve the quality of her life, as well as yours.
posted by LarryC at 4:36 PM on June 23, 2005

ikkyu2, there trimethylaminuria.

I think you or someone above you has to do this face-to-face, and not in a "the whole office thinks you're smelly" kind of way. If I got an anonymous note I would be ashamed to be around everyone I knew thereafter; if someone confronted me, I would only be ashamed to be around that person.
posted by climalene at 5:00 PM on June 23, 2005

Whoa -- I totally don't have trimethylaminuria, even though my comment above makes it sound that way. I smell like bubble gum and roses, thank you.
posted by climalene at 5:07 PM on June 23, 2005

Sounds like she only takes one shower a week, but this was normal not that long ago. My father told me that one of his grade school teachers was fired for taking a bath every day (this was upstate New York in the 30's, they were out in the country and the county paid for the teacher's rooming).
posted by 445supermag at 5:19 PM on June 23, 2005

I think the world is split about 49-49 between people who'd rather hear anonymously and people who'd rather be told quietly face to face. The other 2% are the people who'd rather continue stinking forever.

I don't think there's a clear preference, leading me to think you can probably go with whatever would make you feel more comfortable under the circumstances - where the circumstances are both you telling her, and how you'd feel if someone was telling you.

Personally, I'd rather hear anonymously. I'd be more mortified at the instant by an anonymous email than by a face to face discussion, but I'd eventually stop suspecting everyone on Earth, but I'd never get over the person I was hearing it from.

Is there anyone in your company that's leaving soon? New job? Big move? I've always kind of thought having someone the person would never need to see again tell them would be the best of both worlds.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:23 PM on June 23, 2005

Best answer: I think you are just going to have to tough it out until there's a supervisor. However, if there's a woman in your office close to her age who you could trust, you might ask her to do it. This would be very difficult for a woman to hear from a younger person.

I disagree with the assumption that this is a medical problem, simply because the odor noticeably worsens over the course of a week. I'm guessing it's probably related to aging, compounded by her not bathing well or often enough. I have worked with an older woman like this whose odor was a terrible combination of BO and dank floral perfume. I considered speaking to her, but in the end felt I couldn't approach her with this as someone so much younger and more recent to the workplace. Also, an older woman could tell her more sympathetically and authoritatively than you.

Whatever you do, don't go the anonymous route. A note will make her paranoid, and there's no reason to think that sending her soap and deodorant will change the frequency of her bathing. She may well just think it's some kind of present and simply stick it in her closet, and you'll be where you started.

In the meantime, consider getting yourself some fresh eucalyptus to keep in your office. I find nothing else to be as powerful at masking odor while smelling fresh and natural. Offer her some for her area, if you can. Or buy it in potpourri form and put it on your desk and everywhere else in your office you can manage. Good luck!
posted by melissa may at 5:26 PM on June 23, 2005

How should I deal with a similar situation but in a classroom? I was assigned a seat directly behind a guy that really smells. I am not acquainted with this guy nor do I want to be, so basically I have no way of communicating with him except face-to-face. However, from all these previous posts, it seems that might not be the best way to handle it. Suggestions?
posted by Monochrome at 6:15 PM on June 23, 2005

If this is a 20-something dirty hippy you're dealing with, monochrome, it should be fairly easy: "Dude, you need a shower."
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:29 PM on June 23, 2005

Agree totally with finding someone closer to her own age. If you don't have any other older people, the next best would be someone who is closer with her.

I'd make the conversation something like "I'm so embarrassed to bring up such a personal matter, but I can't help but notice that Mrs. X doesn' know...smell very good, and it's very noticable. I'd hate for someone to say something rude, but I'm uncomfortable bringing it up with her."

If no such person that's closer with her exists, tell her the above yourself someplace where you won't be overheard. I think this is a "what would Miss Manners do" kind of moment.
posted by desuetude at 8:23 PM on June 23, 2005

I don't think that the lady should be told anonymously. It's a cowardly, spineless route and it would cause the receiver to be paranoid and endlessly wonder who could it be? This not only does not foster a good working environment, but the discomfort would extend to her life outside of it, with family and friends - because everyone becomes a suspect. I don't think the lady should be told by you, a colleague, a peer, a partner, a friend, a subordinate, or anyone polite who fits the description. Considering you will have to be in contact with this person regularly, indefinitely, the greatest risk is that said "information" will not be taken well and relations will be strained afterwards. You really have no way of telling in advance how the confrontation will be received and it's embarrassing for both parties, especially if you mutually assign value upon each other. I think she should be told by someone who has nothing to lose and is reasonably detached from the whole situation. I can think of two people: a) a boss - if not a direct superior, then a comparable or higher one, or b) somebody in the office with an extroverted, blunt personality. Ideally, the boss should sit her down and talk over the matter with her as if were part of an employee review - as if s/he were noting the odor problem matter-of-factly and NOT as a complaint, nor as stemming from complaints from others, because then the lady would certainly feel as if her coworkers were ganging up on her. The boss should approach the subject benevolently and with great concern, in a what-could-be-causing-this and what-can-we-do-about-it frame, to learn whether the problem is medical or hygienic and whether the lady is well aware of it or not before the boss can proceed... very, very lightly. The opposite remedy may be administered in the form of asking the favor of a blunt co-worker to do it, the kind of person who will flippantly, maybe exaggeratedly, note the odor and take up the matter with the offending lady. The lady would be hard-pressed to take offense if said co-worker takes on risque subjects matter-of-factly and is "like that with everyone" anyway. [edited to fix typos -jessamyn]
posted by Lush at 8:26 PM on June 23, 2005

What about YOUR supervisor? You should be keeping the communication open with him/her anyway: tell him/her about this woman's odors and how they are adversely affecting your environment and productivity. S/he will probably have a suggestion or two, and might even offer to mention it to her as some sort of superior.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:32 PM on June 23, 2005

I knew of a nurse who would get older patients in who weren't bathing regularly, and as they sat on the exam table, she'd put a Stick Up on the underside so she could tolerate the smell. Maybe one on the underside of her desk? And one on yours?

My grandfather would smell horrible when he was ill... It wasn't even sweaty armpit type BO, it was something else even worse. It would fill the house whenever he got sick, and he was bathing regularly. It was strange, you could walk in the house and immediately know he was sick. My grandmother said it was because he'd had malaria when he was younger; no clue if that's true. He always smelled nice otherwise, but things like his car had that particular smell. I kind of wonder if he had some medical condition but just used lots of aftershave and deodorant to cover it up.

I have to go on record and say I'd be mortified and crushed if someone came and told me that I stink. I certainly wouldn't want to go around stinking, so I guess I'd rather someone do it, but I don't think that acute embarrassment is avoidable for everyone in that situation. I might actually rather get an anonymous note so that I could avoid knowingly having to deal with the person I'd offended.
posted by FortyT-wo at 11:49 PM on June 23, 2005

Best answer: An anecdote from the other side, which may be of some small assistance. When I was sailing in Mexico many years back, not long before I jumped ship and headed off for new advenchas, the skipper on the boat on which I was crewing (there were only four of us on board) had a bit of a fight on deck one day about something or other, which got a bit heated. We were both somewhat inebriated, as we pretty much always were while not under way, and he told me that I had been pretty stinky recently, and it was unpleasant.

I was flabbergasted. We'd been using the salt-water shower in the head for weeks -- no watermaker as we were cruising down the coast on the cheap -- and what with drinking and smoking and general wild times, well, things were a bit hazy. But I smelled?

I still cringe to think about it, more than a decade later. Maybe that's just me, but it can be, as Forty-Two suggests, pretty damn mortifying to be told that you're a big stinker. I think at the time it was mostly a lifestyle thing, as I have been told by people since that I'm actually less odiferous than many, but I am still intensely sensitive to any hint of stank from my body, particularly living in Asia, where folks just don't seem to get as whiffy as us big hairy Canucks do.

For what it's worth.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:47 AM on June 24, 2005

I like the idea of an email from a real but anonymous account. That way, you can communicate with a tone of sympathy and the desire to help, and the person can write back. This allows her to defend or ask for help. She might be one of those people who have a problem and no clue who they can ask for help.

Maybe she's having to save to buy a washer, or its some weird medical problem, or an inadequate way of dealing with a medical problem (various possible causes come to mind).
posted by Goofyy at 1:22 AM on June 24, 2005

Best answer: Wow, that's a tough one. Unfortunately, as people age, their sense of smell diminishes, and their body odor increases. It's pretty much a given that this lady is unaware of the problem, and it would obviously be in her best interest (as well as yours!) to be made aware of it.

Assuming other intermediaries - such as someone in upper management, or perhaps a member of her family - are out of the question, and you decide to approach her about the problem, I would suggest going about it this way: Tell her that you have a relative (aunt or something) about her age and that her doctor diagnosed her with a zinc deficiency which is quite common in older people1 and results in excessive body odor2, depressed immune functions, decreased appetite, and other problems3. You can say that while it's a little embarrassing to bring up, you are concerned that she may have this problem because there is a definite body odor that she may not be aware of, which is exactly the problem your aunt had (and she wasn't even aware of the unpleasant odor), until someone suggested she see a doctor. etc.

If you have the proper nice, straighforward, somewhat clinical approach this could be the least painful way for her to become aware of the problem. However, if you don't choose to address her directly, I can't say I blame you at all... it is quite an uncomfortable role to take on.

[1] Many studies of elderly persons suggest poor zinc intake is common. Zinc intake correlates with protein intake, which often is reduced in the frail elderly person; diuretics, diabetes mellitus, and inflammation increase urinary zinc loss, and various cytokines can alter zinc metabolism. Absorption of zinc decreases with aging.

[2] The efficiency or otherwise of our internal detoxification processes are commonly affected by nutrient imbalances - for example the micro-element zinc has been reported by Professor Derek Bryce-Smith, of Reading University, England, as being deficient in people with body odor

[3] Zinc is such a critical element in human health that even a small deficiency is a disaster. Zinc supplementation is a powerful therapeutic tool in managing a long list of illnesses.
posted by taz at 2:34 AM on June 24, 2005

Best answer: ^ btw, I'm not really saying that a zinc deficiency is definitely the problem - just that focusing on something specifically medical as opposed to suggesting that she bathe more often gives you both a kind of "out" while still making her aware of the problem. If you also give her a couple of links, including the body odor page linked above, she should have enough information to deal with the problem, without (we hope!) being unduly embarrassed.
posted by taz at 2:44 AM on June 24, 2005

I work alongside a chap with a similar problem, coupled with a negative attitude. Situation is worsened by the fact that he's aware of this but, apparently, does nothing about it. Office prehistory tells us that (a) the anonymous can of deodorant only served to antagonise him, and (b) being reported to the personnel dept pretty much did the same thing, perhaps due to (understandably) weak management. After all, being the boss doesn't make it any easier to confront as a person.

Wasn't looking forward to another summer at this desk, then came the news that his job is being made redundant within the month. Not good news for him but a breath of fresh air for the rest of us.
posted by freston at 4:15 AM on June 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

Dear Mrs. Lovely but Smelly.

This is quite a difficult matter to address, and there is truly no good way. I struggled with the proper way to manage this issue for quite some time and finally decided that being direct was the best course of action, but to put this message in writing to spare us both from the discomfort of having to discuss this face to face.

Over the course of the past few months, I've unfortunately heard comments from other staff members mentioning a problem that I myself have noticed. Plainly, we have all become aware that you have an unpleasant body odor which seems to worsen as the work week progresses.

This may be due to a medical problem or some personal matter that we are unaware of. Whatever the cause, I felt that it was important that you be informed about this, so that you might take the steps needed to deal with the problem as best as you can.

I sincerely hope that your feelings are not hurt by this and that you are not embarrassed. I think everyone is well aware that people are often unable to recognize this problem for themselves, and no one thinks less of you for it. Everyone values your contributions to the workplace and hopes that this matter can be dealt with easily and quickly.

Your Co-worker
posted by Dreama at 11:18 AM on June 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

Climalene - learn somethin' new every day. Thanks.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:17 PM on June 24, 2005

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