ASK HR: How do I, politely, tell my boss that he stinks?

Thursday November 01 2018

My supervisor has poor grooming habits, and constantly reeks of sweat besides having bad mouth odour. PHOTO| FOTOSEARCH


Q. I am in a dilemma. My supervisor has poor grooming habits, and constantly reeks of sweat besides having bad mouth odour. How, pray, does one go about telling his boss that he stinks?

I am at a loss wondering why those who promoted him to such a role could not give him feedback on his poor grooming. Unless of course his poor hygiene started after he moved up the ranks.

If this is as bad as you put it, other colleagues as well as his peers must be equally frustrated. Not to forget the effect this might have on your clients and other business partners.

You are proactive, instead of suffering silently every time you are around him, you are aware that giving him feedback is the best action to take.

If tables were turned, you would wish that someone spoke to you openly but respectfully about this.

Many are ready to give feedback, but few think about how such feedback would be received, especially when negative. To give feedback on any sensitive matter will largely depend on the kind of relationship you have with him, though this is such a personal matter, it is best discussed with a peer or supervisor.


Your best option is to seek someone he is close to, preferably someone he respects, share with them your concerns and dilemma and request them to step in and assist.

This person is likely to be his peer or his supervisor. Peers usually look out for each other at workplace, and unless he is really a bad team player, a good colleague should be in a position to reach out to him. Speaking to his supervisor is another option you could consider.

Approach your conversation from the personal discomfort you are experiencing as you endure the situation and indeed the effect this has, not only to you, but also to clients and other work-related stakeholders.

Employees represent the employer brand wherever they go, within or outside working hours, therefore unprofessional grooming is likely to give the employer a bad name.

For this reason, a good supervisor should step in and give feedback as expected of them.

If you have a respected HR department, you could confide in them and raise this as a grievance that is affecting your productivity. As custodians of HR policies, the HR office has the authority to intervene in such matters and use suitable policy clauses to give feedback to your supervisor without breeching your confidence.

Every organisation has a policy guide on how employees are expected to present themselves at work.

Though some of these policies may be silent on certain expectations on grooming such as bad body odour or bad breath, it is expected that all employees be concerned over the welfare of their colleagues and should make every effort to minimise discomfort that may arise from grooming negligence.


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