The 3 Most Awkward HR Conversations You’ll Have with Employees

Jun 27 2017

As a company leader, you’re no stranger to having difficult conversations. In today’s world, you’ll see some really interesting behavior in the workplace. But nothing is more uncomfortable than these 3 topics that you may have to address, especially during the summer months…

1. Body Odor
Telling an employee that he/she has body odor is a daunting task. You don’t want to cause undue embarrassment or add a new layer of stress—possibly leading to more B.O. and a bigger problem. When it’s time to address it—probably because others are complaining—try to avoid using accusatory language like “you” and be supportive. For example, “I know we’ve all been working a lot of extra hours lately, but I wanted to remind you how important it is to take care of yourself physically. Sometimes that just means remembering to shower, put on clean clothes, and use a long-lasting deodorant. What can we do to get you the time you need to take care of these important habits?”

2. Overpowering Perfume
This is something that I’ve had to discuss with people pretty frequently. Many people have allergies or are prone to migraines and strong perfume or cologne can trigger the onset of these ailments. Preface your feedback by saying that this is in no way a reflection of their performance. And don’t mention the person (or people) who have complained. Simply say that, while they may not realize it, their cologne/perfume is very strong and it’s causing some discomfort to others. Ask directly if they would be willing to either spray a little lighter, or to refrain from wearing it altogether. Vague doesn’t work in these situations and although your employee may feel embarrassed, you’re doing her a favor to raise her awareness and prevent a life-long problem with colleagues.

3. Inappropriate Dress
Employee handbooks typically outline what is (and is not) appropriate attire for the workplace. Casual dress is a great benefit, but there is usually someone who takes liberties that just go too far, especially when it’s 90 degrees outside. As the summer heats up, it’s a great time to review the policies with your whole team. If you find one person who is still not dressing appropriately, it’s time for a private discussion. Again, it’s nice to preface your conversation by saying that this is not a reflection of her performance, but rather a reminder of the company’s dress code. If you have to point out specific infractions, do so with sensitivity and avoid accusatory language like “the way you dress” or “you’re violating our dress code.” Instead you could say, “I’d like to review the company’s policy on acceptable dress at work. I know this is a little awkward, but the policy doesn’t allow people to wear [shorts, shirts with slogans, or sleeveless tops, etc]. Could I get your agreement to dress according to our company’s guidelines going forward?”

In all of these conversations, great managers are discreet, avoid accusations, and respectfully ask the employee to agree to change his behavior. If you were doing any of these things and had the office aflutter with gossip, you’d want someone to tell you. That someone, great manager, is you!

If you need help figuring out how to address an awkward HR issue, reach out to one of our HR consultants via the online chat tool in the lower left corner of your screen. We are passionate about helping companies hire, develop, and retain smart employees and we love to share what we know!


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