A blog post about telling someone they need to look more professional at work got me thinking about the best way to handle sensitive issues in the workplace. (You can read it here http://askamanager.blogspot.com/2009/03/telling-someone-she-needs-to-look-more.html) A while back there was a company that got lots of media coverage about a service they provided. You called them if you had a workmate or friend with body odour, bad breath or dandruff and they would anonymously call the person and tell them. I’m not sure if the service ever took off or not, but there is probably still such services around.
I think I’d prefer someone to just tell me rather than hire an anon service. I suppose if an anon service called me I’d be paranoid that there was a group of 100 people that were horrified about my problem and got together to hire the service.
An example of a sensitive issue not handled well I’ve seen is that of an untidy, unpolished business owner telling a staff member that they desperately need a haircut. They were instructed to get one ASAP “because they are making the place look scruffy”. The staff member was really mad because this woman’s appearance was very scruffy and un-manicured. If she was well dressed and presented, he figured he would have got a haircut no problem and not been offended and annoyed. Instead it made his blood boil that she had the nerve to criticise his appearance when hers was so much more undesirable. (FYI his hair wasn’t the long messy look guys do these days – it was a normal ‘man cut’ that was obviously half a centimetre too long for her liking).
When I worked for a bank, there was a very regular customer whose body odour was so intense it smelt like pizza and would linger for hours after she left. It was truly, truly eye watering sitting with her. I can’t imagine how it could be addressed if she had of worked with us. It was obviously something medical and I don’t know if anything could have been done about it anyway.
Perhaps you have a problem you’ve identified with a staff member (or another member of the team brought it to your attention) that you need to address. If it’s a personal thing, you need to tread carefully. Plenty of bosses in this position before you have tried so hard to be tactful but instead really put their foot in it! Maybe make google your friend – it may offer some advice. Also, perhaps when mentioning the issue do so very casually.
I think this topic needs further exploration. Please share any experience you have of handling sensitive issues in the workplace – done well, done badly or just ignored. What tactics do you think bosses in this position should use?