During my days as a contact center manager, there were always a few agents who pushed the boundaries when it came to business attire and personal hygiene. With many agents returning from a work-from-home environment (where not showering and wearing pajamas wasn't a problem), these issues are once again coming to the forefront.
While the dress code in most organizations has taken on a more casual feel, there will still be times when it must be addressed along with the issue of personal hygiene. Like most managers, it was one of my least favorite things to discuss with an employee.
Addressing matters of attire and personal hygiene in the workplace can be delicate, but it's important to handle these conversations with sensitivity and professionalism. Here are some steps you can take to speak to an employee about their attire and body odor without offending them:
1. Choose the Right Setting:
Find a private and quiet place where you can have a one-on-one conversation with the employee. This will help them feel more comfortable and reduce the chances of embarrassment.
2. Focus on the Impact:
Approach the conversation from the perspective of how their attire or body odor might impact their professional image and interactions with colleagues and clients. Frame it as a concern for their success and reputation in the workplace. For example,
"I appreciate your dedication to your work, which is why I want to make sure that you present yourself in the most professional manner possible. Recently I've received feedback from a few team members about an odor concern. I want to address this with you to ensure it doesn't impact how you are perceived by others in the office."
"I wanted to chat about your outfit choices. Last week, you wore a Grateful Dead t-shirt and shorts to a department meeting. It's important that we project a professional image during these meetings, as they involve cross-functional teams and senior leadership."
3. Be Specific and Objective:
Use specific examples of situations where their attire or body odor may have caused an issue. Stick to factual observations and avoid making personal judgments or assumptions. Something like:
"I appreciate your individual style, but I wanted to bring up the issue of appropriate work attire. During our meeting with the VP last week, you were wearing cut-off shorts and ripped sneakers. It's important that we present a polished and professional image in the workplace as it affects how others perceive us. That doesn't mean you have to wear a suit, but it does mean something more in line with business casual."
"I wanted to discuss a couple of matters related to your workplace presence. Firstly, I've noticed you've been wearing very strong cologne, which can be distracting for some colleagues -- particularly those who may have allergies. Additionally, there's been some feedback about body odor. Let's work together to find a balance that ensures everyone is comfortable."
4. Use Neutral Language:
When discussing the topic, use neutral and non-judgmental language. Avoid using negative or critical terms that might cause offense or damage your relationship.
5. Be Respectful and Empathetic:
Show empathy and understanding towards the employee's feelings. Acknowledge that personal matters can sometimes be sensitive and assure them that your intention is to help them succeed in their role. When it comes to appropriate business attire, be conscious of the fact that many agents working in call center environments have lower wages.
"I noticed that you've been wearing flip-flops to the office lately. I wanted to remind you that our dress code requires closed-toe shoes for safety reasons, and as we often have visitors in the call center. I know that you are saving for a new car, and that money can be tight. Is it possible to pick up some inexpensive loafers you can wear in the office?"
6. Offer Solutions:
Instead of simply pointing out the problem, suggest potential solutions. For example, if it's about attire, you could offer guidance on the company dress code or suggest appropriate clothing options. If it's about body odor, you could recommend using deodorant, maintaining personal hygiene, or even adjusting their diet if relevant.
"On a couple of occasions, I've noticed that your clothing choices have been more casual than our company dress code suggests. For instance, yesterday you were wearing ripped jeans and a tank top, which is not in line with our business casual policy. You have some lovely clothes. Do you think you could pull together something that is less casual and more in line with our dress code like the black pants and shirt you wore last week? "
7, Listen and Ask for Input:
Give the employee an opportunity to share their perspective and any challenges they might be facing. This can create a more open and collaborative atmosphere.
"I have received a few comments from your colleagues about an odor issue. I understand that there are likely many factors involved, but it's essential that we address this for the comfort of everyone in the office. Is there something you'd like to discuss or any support you might need?"
8. Maintain Confidentiality:
Assure the employee that the conversation will be kept confidential and that your goal is to support them in a positive way.
9. Offer Support:
Let the employee know that you're available to help and support them as they address the issue. This could include providing resources, advice, or assistance.
"I wanted to have an open and frank conversation with you about a couple of observations. Your choice of clothing has been a quite casual lately -- short skirts and tank tops -- and there have also been a few instances where your perfume was strong and distracting for your colleagues. I want to make sure that everyone you come in contact with has the most professional perception of you. Let's review our corporate dress code and see if we can find a look that is professional but also let's your personality shine through. Alright?"
10. Follow Up:
Check in with the employee after the initial conversation to see if any improvements have been made or if further assistance is needed. This demonstrates your ongoing concern and commitment to their success. When you see the employee dressing appropriately and/or making a change to their personal hygiene, take the time to let them know you noticed. It doesn't have to be over the top but rather a simple nod and smile or comment about how 'professional' they appear.
Remember, the key is to approach the conversation with empathy, understanding, and a genuine desire to help the employee succeed. By focusing on the impact and offering solutions, you can address the issue while minimizing the risk of causing offense.
Sharon Oatway is a 20+ year veteran in the areas of Customer Service, Sales, and Relationship Marketing. As the President & Chief Experience Officer of VereQuest, she has been instrumental in helping companies of all sizes elevate their overall customer experience and optimize multi-channel contact center performance. The knowledge gleaned from analyzing literally millions of customer interactions for renowned brands across North America is the foundation of this work. Since its inception in 2002, VereQuest has provided organizations with a comprehensive range of tools specifically designed for the contact center, including well-regarded contact center quality monitoring solutions and resources, robust soft skills and coaching e-learning library, and customer journey mapping facilitation. With a unique perspective on the ever-evolving customer landscape, VereQuest assists businesses throughout North America in navigating the complexities of customer engagement.
For more information, contact Sharon directly at email@example.com.