Telling colleagues they smell is ‘hardest talk’

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Is there anything more awkward than bringing up the ‘personal hygiene’ topic of conversation with a colleague who has a particular aversion to soap and shampoo? According to research, evidently not.

For two-thirds (66%) of British adults, having to ‘tell a colleague they smell’ is the hardest workplace conversation, so say the academics at Cardiff University who carried out the research in conjunction with female hygiene company Balance Activ.

The researchers found that telling co-workers their clothes are inappropriate (4%) came next in a list of awkward topics, matched by scolding them for not working hard enough (4%). The next most uncomfortable topic was bringing up poor timekeeping (2%).

Employees said they struggle to confront the issue of body odour directly, with a fifth of office workers (19%) reporting they had complained to bosses about a colleague’s smell, while others say they’ve left a can of deodorant on their desk and hoped the person would take the hint.

Meanwhile, 15% claimed they had moved desks to escape an odour. Only one in eight (12%) had confronted a workmate directly. Women are more likely to get upset about being told they need to sort out their smell, while men seem to be able to shrug it off.

Andrew Smith, Professor of Psychology at Cardiff University said: “Evolution led to us avoiding bad smells because they were associated with contaminated food and disease.

“In more recent times the subject has become difficult to discuss and people, especially women, tend to suffer in silence rather than complaining about bad smells.

“Women are likely to be very sensitive because of biological reasons and also social norms. As the research shows, this sensitivity influences their wellbeing at work, rest and play.”

Read more from South Wales Evening Post here.

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    Daniel Fountain

    All stories by: Daniel Fountain