Handling “personal issues” with your employees can be a true HR nightmare. The “personal” moniker would cover everything from addressing an employee who uses too much perfume or cologne (or other personal care products) to those with excessively bad breath or personal odor. Unfortunately, in health-based fields in which people work closely with one another, these types of issues simply must be addressed for the comfort of your patients and the rest of your staff.
The first step is to acknowledge that the employee may not even realize that there is a problem. Therefore, you should anticipate that when you bring it up, it could be the first that the employee is hearing about the issue. This surprise meeting could likely cause the employee embarrassment and force him or her to become defensive. That is why a direct, yet kind, approach is recommended.
For example, if the employee has an issue with body odor, you should say something along the lines of, “Brian, I wanted to discuss something with you discreetly. There are some days when you seem to have an issue with body odor. Is there something that I can do to help you address it? I know that we are all different and that our bodies respond to varying temperatures in different ways. And unlike your house, when you’re working in an office environment, you’re often dealing with temperatures that you cannot change. Maybe we could get you a fan or give you times during the day when you can freshen up?”
For many employees, simply mentioning the problem will be enough to address it. But you may want to add a caveat to the end, such as “I know this is an uncomfortable situation and that we’d probably both want to avoid having it come up again, so is this something that you can try to remedy right away?” By being direct and to the point, you will help to reduce some of the awkwardness in the room and will hopefully have a more pleasant working environment going forward.