• By Sam Cook
  • In
  • Posted Tuesday October 13, 2015

Managing poor hygiene: How to hold the dreaded conversation

One of the most difficult conversations to have as a manager is to tell an employee they have poor hygiene. Many managers are scared of the consequences and often put off the conversation all together - sometimes resulting in matters escalating between colleagues.

It is important that any hygiene matters are addressed immediately, not only to protect the practice reputation, but because these cases can quickly escalate into bullying and harassment situations against the offending employee. This, in turn, can result in costly legal claims.

It is important that you tread carefully in these situations; there are many reasons that an employee may not be as fresh as they once were. Particular note should be taken of employees who's hygiene levels change quickly as this could be an indicator of a deeper problem from issues like alcoholism or depression to certain forms of cancer where aerosol products or certain chemicals cannot be used.

With potential for unfair dismissal (including constructive) and discrimination claims, it is understandable that this discussion can be extra daunting.

Holding the meeting

Some managers feel it beneficial to role play these discussions, but sometimes it’s better just to go straight into it and ‘rip off the plaster’.

Find a private meeting room where interruptions are unlikely – the best time to hold the conversation is towards the end of the working day so the employee can go home immediately after and does not have to work feeling self conscious.

Choose your words. Be clear, but try to avoid being insulting. Be empathetic and allow the employee to talk, don’t try to fill the silence or rush through the conversation.

You might wish to ask the following questions:

  • Are there any problems you should be aware of?
  • How are they?
  • How is their health?
  • Is everything okay at home?
  • Are they getting up in time to prepare for work?
  • What can you do to support them?

Explain that you have some concerns with the employee’s hygiene and it is important that all employees are positive representatives of the practice.

Bear in mind, where disabilities are involved, practices are required to put in place reasonable adjustments to support the employee – this may be allowing them to store roll-on deodorant at work, alter working hours or wear a different uniform where possible. You can also refer to Occupational Health for further support.

It is also worth taking a similar approach to considering adjustments where religious requirements are involved.

The employee may become upset or embarrassed, so reassure the employee that you’re not here to judge or criticise, but you have a duty of care to the employee and do not want them to receive any mistreatment.

Explain that you will have another meeting (agree when) to check everything is okay.

Where matters are relatively straight forward and matters do not improve, in the follow up meeting you can explain that a failure to improve could result in disciplinary action, however this is rare and where potential medical conditions are involved, advice should be sought.

For more information on how to deal with poor hygiene in the practice, FPM Members can contact advice@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk.


© First Practice Management, 2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


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