contacting a fired employee to see how she’s doing, when a coworker claims you smell, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Should I contact a fired employee to see how she’s doing?

I am in the middle of a very difficult dismissal of a probationary employee. She was well liked for the most part in our office but she did have some interpersonal issues and, more importantly, she just wasn’t able to perform her job at the level we needed. She tried really hard though and I liked her, which is why this is so difficult. We’ve done performance reviews and she knows it’s coming and HR is being very helpful. She is probationary, so the dismissal is somewhat easier from a procedural standpoint and she’s eligible for rehire, etc.

My main concern is that I really do care about her well being and I know for her in particular it’s probably going to be hard to find a new job, and she really needs an income. I feel awful. After our meeting where she’s officially dismissed, is it okay to follow up with her via text to check how she’s doing or is it kinder to leave her alone? I don’t want to appear that I don’t care, but don’t want to rub salt in a wound either.

I’d leave her alone. It’s just too likely to sting, and it’s really not your role to do that. It’s possible that she’d appreciate it, but it’s at least as likely that she wouldn’t. She’s not likely to be annoyed that you don’t, but there’s a good chance it will be salt in the wound if you do.

Look at it this way: You do have a way to support and help her, and it’s actually something that you alone are uniquely positioned to do — and that’s making sure that you handle her dismissal and the process leading up to it as kindly and as fairly as possible. Other people can play different roles in supporting her, but this is the part that’s yours. Focus on doing that well, and limit your role to that.

2. When a coworker claims you smell

I have a question regarding claims of bad hygiene in the office … but not in the usual “my coworker smells bad” way. A few weeks ago, my husband’s bosses asked him to stay after a meeting. Someone had complained that he “smelled like unwashed ass” repeatedly. My husband has never been approached by anyone previously about smelling badly. He showers daily, uses personal hygiene products, brushes his teeth, etc. Even the bosses in the meeting said they haven’t noticed any objectionable odor coming from him, but because this complaint has been made multiple times, they feel that it must be dealt with. His immediate coworkers have all claimed that he doesn’t smell badly. We think it may be one coworker in particular who has decided she doesn’t like him.

For now he’s added cologne to his daily ritual to further mask any B.O. he may have and is using scented candles at work, both of which carry their own risk for causing problems with coworkers. What do you do if someone is using B.O. as an excuse to cause trouble for someone?

His bosses are really messing this up. First, passing along the “unwashed ass” wording to him was totally unnecessary; if they felt the need to address it, they could have simply said “a noticeable odor.” Second, if the complaint is only coming from one person and they don’t notice it themselves, they shouldn’t have passed it along at all. They’re risking the possibility that they’re themselves to be used as a conduit for deliberately unkind treatment from someone else.

If your husband is doing everything you list above (and is also washing his clothes regularly) and his managers continue to bring it up, he should say this to them: “I’ve audited all of my hygiene practices and spoken with many others. I’m confident that, as you yourselves both say, there’s nothing to smell. This seems like the complaints of a single person who has some other issue with me. At this point, continually being told that one person thinks I smell when no one else does feels like harassment, and I want to ask that we declare this resolved.”

(One thing to note: After writing this, I realized that I’m not positive if the bosses have confirmed the multiple complaints are coming from one person, or whether your husband concluded that after talking with coworkers. If it’s the latter, be aware that it might not be true; plenty of people wouldn’t feel comfortable telling him face-to-face that they complained that he smells. In that case, it would be worth him talking to a doctor to see if something might actually be up.)

3. Coworker calls us all Mr. or Mrs. when he’s mad

I have a coworker who will call people by their first name most of the time, which is the norm in our office. But when he is mad or did not get his way, he reverts back to Mr. and Mrs., saying he is just trying to be respectful. He has been asked numerous times to just use first names and has been told it’s actually disrespectful and limiting to him when he reverts back to Mr. and Mrs. Or he will call people “boss” instead of just addressing them by their first name. To me, it is the same as addressing someone by their first name when you should use a formal Mr. or Mrs. — disrespectful. I know that this is childish behavior, but I am not sure what else to do. Should I tell people to just ignore him when he is acting this way? Address him by Mr.? I am at a loss when a grown adult has such immature behavior.

Assuming you’re not his manager, there isn’t really anything you can do. He’s been told to cut it out, and he’s not. It’s not a big enough thing to warrant battling over.

That said, someone who’s mad or petulant at work with any regularity is a problem, and that’s something that his manager should be taking on.

4. I hate my new job’s email culture

I started a job six months ago, and while I’m happy enough, I’m really struggling with the culture. I’m at the point where I feel it may make me leave. The issue is the email culture. Emails are sent in place of having meetings, and if you miss or didn’t read an email, it’s the worst thing in the world! They also have a “reply all” culture, which means you receive lots of meaningless emails. Also they send blame emails to other departments and continue the argument copying all on each reply. It’s unprofessional.

One more thing – employee grooming is really substandard, from managers to employees. I report to the top manager but I’m afraid to bring this up to him as I feel it would be a criticism of him. This manager is one of the main email offenders.

Is the above enough or good reason to leave?

That’s really up to you, but it doesn’t sound like a deal-breaker to me. If the things bothering you most are too many reply-all’s and email arguments, I’d consider that annoying and eye-rolly but worth living with.

5. I’m qualified for the jobs I’m applying for, but I can’t get an interview

For the past several months I’ve been applying for similar positions I’m qualified for. I keep getting pulled from further contention. I haven’t worked for over a year. Could it be that I don’t have recent relevant experience and because I’ve applied too many times? This is a city position and I think the HR analyst purposely pulls my application from consideration.

It could be that, or it could be that your resume and/or cover letter aren’t as strong as they need to be, or it could be that other candidates are just stronger (which is very common). Your resume and cover letter are the best places to focus when this is happening, and there’s advice on doing that here.

{ 306 comments… read them below }

  1. Mando Diao*

    OP2: Does your husband floss daily? That’s the sort of thing that can make a big difference to the people around you, even if you personally can’t tell the difference yourself? Does he smoke? Do you have pets?

    These are just some things that might help you pinpoint an odor, if it exists at all, and if you even decide you feel like adjusting your lives around it. The “unwashed ass” comment makes me think the coworker might full of it. Generally, if someone has bad breath or smells like armpits, other people will be clear about what they’re smelling. This coworker isn’t being clear because he/she’s likely making it up.

      1. OP2*

        Hi, yes, he flosses daily and washes his clothes daily. We don’t let them sit because his required work shirts are synthetics. We don’t smoke. We do have pets, but they are regularly bathed, and he doesn’t touch them in the morning before he leaves for work after he showers.

        1. kcat*

          This is probably not it, but be especially careful with the pet smells. They have a tendency to become the kind of thing you get used to and can’t smell on yourself and can cling even to freshly laundered clothing. I had a friend who always smelled like cat (vaguely litterbox-y), even though her house was clean and she was always clean. She couldn’t smell it herself at all. You could ask a close friend if they ever notice anything. As someone with 8 pets at home I’m particularly sensitive to this and am always asking people if they can smell anything.

          I agree with others this is probably just a case of one person being a jerk, though.

      2. OP2*

        He eats in the breakroom, and then his foods aren’t usually malodorous. I pack his lunch the way I pack mine. I work in an office full of women with sensitive noses, so anything remotely stinky is out the window.

        1. fposte*

          Random question–is it possible he’s a coffee drinker with coffee breath? That isn’t necessarily something that would persist when he got home. I think that’s something most co-workers shrug off because it’s so workplace inevitable, but maybe she’s not willing to do so anymore.

          (Though I still think this is in the co-worker’s mind, or at least in her hostility.)

          1. INTP*

            Ooh this is a possibility. It’s also something that can be overwhelming to specific people for whatever reason when it isn’t a big deal to most. I know when I’m super hormonal I can’t even walk near the break room because the smell of fresh coffee makes me want to puke, let alone coffee breath. (I don’t report my coworkers to HR of course, but I might end a conversation quickly on one of those days.)

    1. Artemesia*

      Usually the kind of bad breath that clears a room is noticeable to others including the wife; that sulfury smell can be characterized as ‘ass’ but one person isn’t the only one who will notice. It is the kind of breath that is aided by scraping the tongue and brushing the tongue — usually it is from bacteria on the back of the tongue.

      I would agree that asking co-workers won’t get honest answers. But managers should be able to observe — if they meet with him after a complaint and don’t notice anything then this is a malicious employee issue. But first step is careful attention to any possible hygiene issue — none of us knows when we personally smell bad — olfactory fatigue or nose blindness masks even fairly heinous odors. Usually the wife notices however and certainly the manager should if complaints are being lodged.

    2. RKB*

      The problem I immediately saw is that OP and her husband are neutralized to his odour. They wouldn’t smell anything noticeably different if it had gradually come about.

      1. Liane*

        But OP states the husband’s managers are explicit that they don’t smell anything. Since they presumably don’t live with the couple, I find this highly unlikely.

      2. OP2*

        We do have friends and family that live close by that we see regularly. I can assure you I don’t think his guy friends or family would hold back on telling him he stinks.

        1. AMT*

          Yeah, I’m leaning toward the “coworker is crazy” side. Surely someone, his mom, a friend, SOMEONE would tell him that he smells bad, especially if he asked them to be honest.

          1. AMG*

            That really is what it seems like. The only other thing I can think of is to have him brush his teeth and floss after every single time he eats or have a cup of coffee, but that still shouldn’t be cause for complaints.

          2. RVA Cat*

            This. I think he’s this co-worker’s personal BEC.

            Given the (grossly unprofessional) way the odor was described, could he be having some issues with gas?

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Something else to consider for those concerned about odor is mold/mildew in your clothes washer. I have had a couple of coworkers who had that smell about them, and I thought it was body odor until I finally identified it. I can imagine that if it’s in all of your clothes and your linens, it’s so pervasive that you never really get away from it,and so olfactory fatigue, as Artemesia mentions, keeps you from ever really noticing it.

      1. Allison*

        Yup, my parents have one of those newfangled high efficiency washers, and it’s pretty awesome how you can customize the load and then it has load-sensing technology on top of that, BUT it smells funky. I know a lot of people my age will often take laundry home to do for free, but I rarely do this because their washer makes my clothes smell weird.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Heh. I have one of those. To keep it from smelling funky, I was advised to always leave the door open when not in use, and also to clean the drain and door area regularly. Which works, but which makes me want a top-loading one instead. :P

          1. danr*

            Even top loaders can get the mold/mildew smells. Running a short wash cycle with hot water and vinegar will clean the machine. Do it once a month and you’ll smell the difference. A Google search will show various methods.

            1. Analyst*

              Or a bleach load. Clears it right up. But it is still important to leave the door open so the machine has a chance to dry out.

          2. Chinook*

            I was always taught to leave open the lid of a top-loading washer at all times as well. The one time it was left closed (by DH who had just moved in and was doing laundry in his own home vs. a laundromat for the first time), the smell was unmistakable. The only advantage of the top loading one is that you don’t run the risk of running into the open lid when you walk by.

            1. Wendy Darling*

              I was always taught to leave the lid closed because leaving it open was a good way to get a cat in it. :P

              1. Anxa*

                Haha, I was about to comment on this!

                I like to keep mine open, but my kitty loves to walk around that area of the house. The washer is about a foot away from our kitchen counter, and he’s always leaning forward to sniff our dinner and sometimes forgets about balance if there’s something really tempting him. He’s had a few close calls.

                So I try to remember to close it during meal prep (plus I don’t like the idea of extra cat hair getting into it.

          3. GreenTeaPot*

            I have one, too, and leave to top open as well, but also run a bleach cycle ever two weeks. Wiping the inside of the wash barrell with a white vinegar spray may be helpful.

      2. Meg Murry*

        And sometimes the moldy/mildewy smell seems to be gone when the clothes are dry, but flares up again when they get wet and/or sweaty. This could be why OP wouldn’t notice her husband’s smell – if he only has an odor when a little sweaty, but he is dry again by the time he gets home. Some synthetic fiber clothing (especially athletic clothes that are supposed to wick) can have this problem even without a mold/mildew problem – the clothes smell clean enough when dry, but as soon as they get even the tiniest bit damp from sweating they reek as if you hadn’t washed them at all after your last wearing. Apparently fabric softener can make this much worse – it basically coats the fabric in a thin waxy layer so the soap can’t get the smell out. There are detergents meant to be low-residue to combat this effect (one is Sport Suds, made specifically for athletic apparel, Charlies Soap is another low-residue option), and vinegar is a good rinse aid instead of fabric softener.

        Or does the husband have to wear work shoes, and any chance that those are what smell unpleasant? Or any other article of clothing that the husband wears only at work, and leaves at work or in his car so his wife doesn’t even notice it?

        However, I also think the “one grumpy co-worker who is super sensitive to smells or has reached BEC stage” hypothesis is a definite possibility, in which case OP’s husband should continue his good hygiene practices but skip the cologne and candles.

        Is there any chance there is a cultural/ethnicity component to this? For instance, do OP and her husband eat or cook with a lot of onions, garlic, cabbage, curry, etc? I’ve known racist coworkers to make horrible remarks about a coworker who’s clothing had a lingering odor of a food that was common to his culture – and while the odor was in no way overwhelming or offensive, the person was racist enough to shift it into “all X people stink” instead of the reality of “some people of X origin eat Y, therefore sometimes their clothing has a slight smell of Y, but it’s not offensive so get over it and move on”.

        1. OP2*

          e don’t use fabric softener, and we do use bleach. particularly because between athletic clothes and his synthetic work shirts- I have been trying to monitor this closely. He doesn’t have specific shoes that he must wear to work, but he has favorites. I’m checking on them tonight. He doesn’t wear any additional items because he gets hot easily, so I don’t think it’s a sweater, etc. He hates curry but we do eat onion and garlic. I wouldn’t think it’s necessarily more than the average public… but I could be wrong.

          1. TootsNYC*

            re: shoes:

            the Peet shoe dryer is awesome! My teenage boy had the stinkiest shoes, but drying them out each night w/ this killed the environment that the bacteria needed.

          2. tegula*

            A 1/2 cup (or so) of vinegar added to the wash works wonders for smells in synthetics. My field work and workout clothes would be unusable otherwise. I’m of the opinion that your SO is not smelly at all and the co-worker is the problem, so this is just a general tip for everyone.

      3. OP2*

        We do have a front load washer… but I wipe down the seals quarterly with bleach to clean them and we leave the door open so it can thoroughly dry between uses

        1. Rat Racer*

          OP – it sounds to me like you have a very hygenic household. I am totally on team “It’s the crazy co-worker” and she sucks.

          1. RVA Cat*

            Does he wear a cotton undershirt beneath his synthetic work shirts?

            Also, hate to say but I knew a guy who solved his sweat-related BO problems by shaving his armpits. Just an idea.

        2. The Cosmic Avenger*

          By the way, I mostly posted that just in case anyone was dealing with it — my hunch after reading your letter was that it was a complaint made to harass your husband.

          1. Biff*

            I was thinking the same thing.

            I have a front-loading washer and yeah… if you don’t keep after it you can get some funky odors, but OP is describing the best laundry room hygiene I’ve ever heard of…. wow. And it sounds like her husband is ridiculously clean.

            The only non-nefarious thing I can think of now is someone who really, really, really does not like dog smell, clean or otherwise. Some people claim to me that even the cleanest, best-fed dog smells impossibly rank to them. I’m not sure I really believe them tho, since they don’t seem to mind being around me until I mention I have dog…. but even if it is psychosomatic, I suppose it could be *real* to them.

        1. John Cosmo*

          One more thing about those high-efficiency washers. Pay attention that you don’t use more than the recommended amount of detergent. If you use more than what is recommended, it leaves a soapy residue on your clothes that can have a funky smell.

    4. Sadsack*

      This is not meant to be offensive and I apologize for being gross, but does he always wipe completely clean or does he get what I have heard referred to as “swampass”? Does he wear his pants more than once before washing? Some people have issues in this area that they don’t realize and it may only be noticeable when he moves a certain way, or when he goes from sitting to standing, or when he is standing beside someone sitting at her desk. Smell his pants on occasion and see what you think. Someone close to me has this issue and it is difficult to discuss because no grown person wants to be accused of not wiping properly.

      Otherwise, he shouldn’t be dousing himself in cologne to go to work because oh god that is awful.

      1. Katniss*

        Wait, I’m supposed to wash my pants every time I wear them? I hope this doesn’t include jeans!

        1. Allison*

          Not necessarily, normally you only need to wash your pants after 2-3 wears, maybe 4, but it really depends on a few factors, like how active you are while wearing them. It can be tricky to determine when your pants (or blazers, or sweatshirts) need to be washed and sometimes this leads to people smelling weird.

        2. Goliath Gary Willikers*

          Maybe it’s the wiping context, but I assumed Sadsack was British and was talking about underwear.

          1. Sadsack*

            No, I am American and was talking about jeans or slacks or whatever pants he wears to work. Some people can get more than one wear out if pants, others shouldn’t.

        3. Lynn*

          “Pants” is Brit for American “underwear”. Speaking American, you don’t need to wash pants after every wearing, but you do need to wash underwear

      2. OP2*

        He’s not dousing, but he’s doing the cross body spray. I get migraines, so I’m trying to keep him away from AXE and that stuff because it is so strong as to be offensive to a lot of people, including me. Right now he’s using L’occitaine orange cedre. It’s not strong. I’m trying to figure out a line for him to walk to mask this odor but not send people out with migraines, etc. Likewise, I’m trying to keep the candles light and citrusy.

        We wash his pants every wear too. Although most of his job is deskwork- his preferred pants are synthetics and he has to frequently lift and carry items (The perks of being the big guy in the office.) Better safe than sorry!

        1. Sadsack*

          You are being a good sport about all of these very personal questions! I hope you figure it out!

          1. OP2*

            He really likes where he works. the owners and bosses have generally been good to us, and I know this had to be immensely awkward for them as well! I think this is the case where one long term employee has decided to do anything she can to be nasty to another. The other employee is prone to walking around dousing everyone’s office with disinfectant spray, so I’m kinda surprised she can smell anything anymore. We are just trying to ensure that we aren’t making anyone’s day more difficult than it needs to be!

            1. Allison*

              Sounds like that employee is either really sensitive to smells, or thinks that anyone who isn’t completely shower fresh at all times is “gah-ROSE!” Maybe it’s both.

              1. Ellie H.*

                Yeah and it’s also possible she’s someone who is very sensitive to his personal smell (like the distinctive smell that each individual has, some people much more pronounced than others, and not everyone is especially perceptive of these). A lot of this can be just pheromonal in my opinion. My honest opinion though is that she is making it up or that she can smell his “individual” smell (not an offensive smell, just the one that most people have) and bc she doesn’t like him she’s habituated to being more and more annoyed by it. But probably just that she is picking something to complain about him.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        I had a coworker with that at an old job, and believe me, everyone knew and for him, it was because he only washed his clothes once a week because he had to go to the laundry mat on the weekend.

    5. Officer NoName*

      Could his office chair be retaining smells? Maybe have him check, and either ask for a new chair or do a Friday evening Febreze session.

      1. OP2*

        That’s possible. He works next to a mechanics shop. His chair is all mesh, so there’s not much to be done about that. As far as trying to offset the smell of the mechanics- that’s beyond his control!

        1. fposte*

          I’m still skeptical that there is a smell. However: if there is, I’m betting it’s his office that smells, not him personally, and she doesn’t know or care about the difference.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            This happened to me once, from the coworker’s side. I work on the 3rd floor, and I had one guy working for me on the 2nd floor. I think there was a water/mold issue near his desk, and I went to his desk about 3x before I realized that it was his floor, not him personally. I thought it was a mildewy clothes issue at first (recently divorced guy, seemed depressed, was separated from the job a few months later, so the pieces kind of fit for personal hygiene issues).

      2. TootsNYC*

        I wondered about his work environment as well. Are people smelling it when they come to talk to him, or when they encounter him other places?

        1. AMG*

          If he’s near the mechanics area and his clothes absorb that odor and then he goes to speak to someone else away from that area, I wonder if that could cause it? Do his clothes have a mechanic’s area scent when he gets home?

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Back when my husband was a mechanic, and when I did machine shop work during college, we would bring that smell home. I would smell like cutting fluid. He would smell like ink, because he worked on printing presses. Now, when he works on bikes at home, he will smell like gasoline or exhaust.

            However, none of these smells are particularly ass-like. If the coworker is complaining that the mechanic’s shop smells like ass, she is a very bad judge of odors. I also don’t find those types of odors offensive, but I’m willing to concede that some people, particularly people who aren’t mechanically oriented themselves, would.

    6. OP2*

      Hi, yes, he flosses daily and washes his clothes daily. We don’t let them sit because his required work shirts are synthetics. We don’t smoke. We do have pets, but they are regularly bathed, and he doesn’t touch them in the morning before he leaves for work after he showers.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Synthetic shirts + front load washer + your comment below that he always runs hot makes me wonder if it isn’t an issue of buildup on his shirts like I mentioned above.

        Could you test my theory by taking one of his work shirts after he’s worn it, getting it slightly damp and then smelling it?

        If his boss doesn’t notice anything and it’s just one coworker, I’m willing to bet he gets a little bit sweaty at work due to always running hot, and she’s in BEC mode where she is inflating “tiny bit sweaty, like all humans smell when they get hot” into “unwashed ass” – in which case your husband needs to just make sure he keeps up with good hygiene (maybe refresh the deodorant at lunchtime if it isn’t lasting?) and then ignore her.

        1. Ad Astra*

          OP2, if you discover Meg Murry’s hypothesis is correct, I recommend washing the synthetic shirts with a little less detergent (like, less than what the bottle recommends) and adding a Downy Ball of white vinegar to the load. It’s the only thing that’s gotten the odor out of my husband’s gym clothes.

          1. A Non E. Mouse*

            I second and third the white vinegar! Especially synthetics – they can smell fine when dry but if they get wet at all, from sweat or even spilled coffee, BAM.

            Add it to the wash instead of fabric softener, or for things that are especially groddy, you can soak on the soak cycle with vinegar added, then wash as normal.

            {Side note: It’ll also make your towels super absorbent and soft again, if you wash them with vinegar.}

            As for other possibilities, any chance he’s changed vitamins or added a medication to his daily routine? My husband added a prescription med and it definitely changed the smell of his sweat. He has a desk job as well and is also a big guy, so if there’s something to be lifted, he’s called upon to do it. Until we figured out it was the new medicine, I would have honestly sworn he was running a marathon on the way home!

            1. OP2*

              We use cleaning vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser in our machine with every load already.

        2. Artemesia*

          My husband is one of those people who in addition to the daily shower just never smells very bad even when working out BUT his t shirts are black and thus not bleachable and over time get a buildup of sweaty odor (it is not the ‘unwashed ass’ thing which sounds like a washer must smell). The only thing I have found that gets rid of that odor in older shirts is to do a soak load in our front loader with an enzyme pre-wash like Biz. This stuff to my surprise really does work. I don’t know about synthetics but it really works on smelly cotton. And synthetics hold odor. And I agree that the front loaders are nowhere near as good as the top loaders but we are required to have HE machines and there isn’t room for a top loader anyway. Even our laundromat in the building has the HE machines.

          Hope he can resolve it soon as this must be really demoralizing for him. If a few laundry tricks don’t change it, he needs to ask his manager to investigate immediately when there is a complain or move the complainer. Take obvious steps to make sure it is not a real issue and then get a little aggressive back about not being harassed.

    7. LCL*

      I know somebody who was complained about in this regard by his co worker. It turned out that he was the third male sharing her workspace that she complained about. So management passed on the complaint to him but he didn’t change anything.

    8. MissDisplaced*

      I would also add to check your washing machine/dryer. Some of the new front loaders have a “musty” smell that could possibly transfer to clothes. But I agree that this seems it might be a “one employee” type of thing based on the nature of the comment.

    9. Stranger than fiction*

      There’s actually a manager here with horrific breath. You’d never know it to look at them, always dressed nice, clean hair, etc. but once you’re sitting near them in a meeting, holy moly. But in this case, if it was bad breath, I’d think this coworker would say that.

    10. Emmy*

      Has he changed any of his products lately? Or has one changed without him knowing it? My husband’s shaving cream changed suddenly and smelled to me of mildewed washcloths. I was searching the kitchen and bathrooms for some damp washcloth that I’d missed…. no nothing! Where was that coming from? It took a few days for me to realize when he kissed me right after shaving, “It’s YOU!” It was really loving and supportive. Then he had to get rid of it as it made me nauseous. He’d been using that brand for years, but they’d made a subtle change. If that were the case though, I think you’d have noticed it before some random co-worker with a possible grudge.

      1. OP2*

        I don’t think so. He usually has a beard, so unless he randomly chooses to shave it all off he doesn’t use shaving cream. his deodorant and such don’t smell differently at all to me. The only other things that I can think of is that someone got him an AXE gift set for Christmas (separate from the B.O. issue she’s his former boss and I trust her) but that just makes him smell like he’s wearing too much cologne.

  2. Yikes*

    #2- Is your husband a big guy at all? If yes, he could smell that way in small places. My husband sweats during the day and if I sit down where he has been, it smells like unwashed ass. It slowly fades away and it’s not a blatant, room filling smell. But it IS noticeable to the person right there.

    If he’s bigger, suggest wet wipes during the day. Blot that area dry, then use some Gold Bond powder to help with the sweat/smell.

    1. Irishgal*


      I second this. We had a guy turn up in our practice with a similar story and when we examined him it turned out he wasn’t cleaning himself adequately after using the bathroom for a bowel movement. It’s very rare that someone will maliciously say ” you smell” once your over 5 years of age so although understandable to feel defensive such complaints usually have some truth to them. I’d suggest a trip to the doctor for a physical.

      And I second Alison; asking colleagues is never a good idea.

      1. Koko*

        For a moment I interpreted your story to mean you had a coworker at your practice, and then did a double-take when you said you examined him!!

      2. Artemesia*

        One can get individual packets of body wipes that can be kept in a hip pocket and used for cleansing after paper when using the toilet. This is the kind of thing I would do if this complaint were being made so that he is sure he is very clean. If you can’t find boxes of individual body wipes, they also make the exact same thing marketed for women like ‘Always’ which can be tucked in a back pocket and used when appropriate.

        1. GreenTeaPot*

          We keep a supply in each bathroom, as well as in the car glove compartment and work desks.

      3. OriginalEmma*

        It could also be the, ahem, completeness of wiping while standing vs. while sitting. Apparently, according to an eye opening Reddit I read, some people wipe their bums while standing and that does not lead to a complete cleansing.

        1. Sadsack*

          Oh wow, I read that thread. It never occurred to me before that some people stand. And it never occurred to many of them that other people sit. It was one of the funniest and enlightening things I have read online.

          1. OriginalEmma*

            That’s so crazy we both read the same one! The internets are too small.

            Yes, it was a very amusing “how the other half lives” tale.

    2. F.*

      I would also suggest that he make sure his office chair is clean. Odors can seep through clothing and lodge in the upholstery and padding of a chair making it smell bad even when the person sitting there is currently clean.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I’m wondering about a pair of shoes. I once smelled stank following me around for a few days, couldn’t figure out why since I was keeping up on cleanliness and all. Finally figured out it was my new boots. They were synthetic and didn’t breathe at all. I only wore them to work, so the smell only happened at work, so my partner wouldn’t have smelled it. That said, I’m sure all my coworkers smelled it and not just one.

        1. OP2*

          He wears the same shoes at work and home. I get leather shoes for him, but I’ll double check them and make sure they are properly deodorized.

        2. MissDisplaced*

          Yeah I’ve had that happen with a particularly stinky pair of shoes. It was the leather dye and it would not go away. But it did smell like “chemical” not “swampy ass.” At least, I’m guessing “swamp ass” implies more of a musty smell or BO smell.
          OP you’re really being a good sport for your hubby! I would be bothered by this too… and try to examine anything unusual that might be causing it (hygiene or medical/dental/meds), but I agree that having ruled those out or taken normal human proactive cleanliness steps, at some point you might have to say it is the coworker.

        1. Editor*

          Could he be letting a little gas escape when bending or lifting, and could that be a source of transient odor? Maybe the solution is to change what he eats or drinks for breakfast for a week or two to see if that is the source of the problem.

          Also, does his work mean that he has to bend over a lot? If so, maybe he should monitor to see if he is bending over or standing in ways that put his rear closer than usual to someone’s face. Maybe that proximity/perceived discourtesy is the source of the complaint.

          I am so sorry you are both going through this. I had a difficult time when my husband went months with very bad breath and his dentist and doctor could never find a cause for it. Eventually it went away, and I have always been suspicious that a change in medications solved the problem. He was taking several, and I wondered if it was a drug interaction or a side effect of a statin or a change in one of the generics he was taking.

          1. OP2*

            He’s pretty far away from the other desks in his area, and not really near anyone when he needs to bend over to lift something.

      1. Bee Eye LL*

        It also doesn’t hurt to add a little powder to the morning routine. As a friend once told me, “powder your folds” and it’ll make you more comfortable but also help with sweat absorption.

        1. Sarianna*

          For AFAB folks, though, you want cornstarch-powder, NOT talcum powder. Talcum powder use in the genital region isn’t recommended due to a link to ovarian cancer.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I didn’t read every reply here, so I hope I’m not duplicating, but another mysterious odor sources could be infections. I’m assuming you both would know it if that was the case, but my dog had an eye infection a few weeks ago, and I didn’t really notice it until I got in there. If he has any type of skin condition, that could be a potential cause.

        I also recently bought a pair of jeans that just smelled once I washed them, before I even wore them. It was an acrid odor. It went away after a several washes, but in the interim, it would smell if they got damp.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          One more thought: Ketones. Since you mentioned he is a big guy, if he’s on a ketogenic or even VLC diet. I used to be a much better fat burner and would get this ketone odor after running. It was gross.

          1. AnonT*

            Some protein mixes can also have the effect of making you smell just awful whenever you sweat. I had a gym buddy who started out of nowhere to smell like public toilets and cat pee every time he worked out. Turns out the protein shake mix he had started drinking made his sweat smell absolutely horrible. It might be worth looking into dietary triggers like that as well, just in case.

      3. voluptuousfire*

        If he’s a bigger man and doesn’t get all the crevices, it can breed moisture and odor. If he can get some areas with a hair dryer, it should help.

        I feel bad for your husband. It sounds more like he has a jerk for a coworker.

  3. harryv*

    Disagree with #1. I laid off two employees around Sept and at Christmas time, I gave them a phone call just to see how they were doing. They admitted were struggling to find a job but was really glad I called to check up on them. They felt someone actually cared and eventually it helped them get motivated to get interviewed and found a job shortly that Spring. To #1 OP, do what you feel is in the best interest. Just make sure you don’t put any false promise in bringing them back in another role.

    1. Missy*

      How do you know what they felt? All you can go on is what they said to you, and it’s not like they’d be honest in that position if they felt you were being intrusive and hurtful.

      I’d have been polite and outwardly grateful in their shoes, but inside I’d have been furious and hurt.

    2. MK*

      I think it might have made a difference because it was Christmas, because even people who don’t celebrate them are used to receiving “hey, I was wondering how you are doing” phonecalls from people they don’t normally have contact with. A call like that was probably one among many from distant relatives, old schoolfriends and possibly former co-workers. But receiving it at a random time would stand out uncomfortably as “my old boss calling to see that I haven’t collapsed after they fired me”, especially if it was soon after the firing, which is what I think the OP wants to do.

    3. anon for this*

      You’re discussing employees that were laid off presumably for reasons neither you nor they had control over and I’m guessing they’d worked for you awhile and you had a good relationship with them, so they probably were glad that you cared. However, OP1 is talking about someone who’s worked for them a very short time and is getting fired because they aren’t working out in the role. As I said below, I’ve been in that situation before and it was mortifying. After I left, I didn’t want motivation or approval or anything else from that boss; I wanted to focus on the future instead of the huge career mistake I had just made. OP1’s employee would probably appreciate that too.

      1. Florida*

        I might appreciate the call if I had been laid off. If I were fired for cause, the call might come across as smug (even though that’s not OP’s intent).

      2. Pick a name*

        Agreed. I was fired in September and my circumstances were quite similar to the person in the letter (except I wasn’t on probation and didn’t “see it coming” in the sense that I got my termination notice at the meeting where we were supposed to be discussing my next steps after a negative review).

        Much as I like the people I worked with and miss them, I’m trying to move on, similar to a relationship break up. If my ex-boss wants to know how I’m doing, he can check LinkedIn.

    4. F.*

      The last time I was laid off was on a December 18 (one week before Christmas), and I was a struggling single mother with two children. Had my ex-manager called to check on me, I’m afraid my response (at least in my head) would have been along the lines of “What the hell do YOU want, you heartless (w)itch?!

      OP, I am not implying in any way that you are heartless or a (w)itch. I am now an HR manager and have had to deliver the bad news myself, and I know the difficult feelings that come with that. I just think that a phone call may come across less as concern for the person who was laid off and more as a misguided attempt to assuage your own feelings of guilt. Unless you are calling them to offer them a job or a hot lead on a job at another company, I believe it would be best to stay out of the situation.

      1. K.*

        Yeah, I was laid off last spring and if I’d gotten a call from the VP afterward, I wouldn’t have cursed him out but I definitely wouldn’t have appreciated it. (Partly because he would have found a way to make the call all about him. When he laid off the team he talked the most about how hard it was for HIM to do.) I would have wrapped up the call very quickly and offered little information, and I absolutely would not have been happy to hear from him. At all.

        1. esra*

          Ugh, I’ve been in two rounds of layoffs and both times they talked extensively about how hard it was for them to do. Don’t care!

    5. Granite*

      If the employee is just generally not a great employee, I’d leave it alone.

      If the employee has marketable skills, just not the right ones for that job, I wouldn’t call, but I would do two things. In the conversation when you let the employee go, let her know you’re happy to give her a positive reference for jobs that emphasize skills X, Y & Z. Further, (if you are willing) offer to meet with her for coffee in a few weeks to give resume, interview, etc. advice and talk in more detail about what you could recommend her for.

      And then in a few weeks, send an email follow reiterating your willingness to be a reference (and meet, if applicable).

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        And reiterate what skills they need to work on in order to be successful in their next job.

      2. AnonT*

        I love this idea. It’s a perfect mix between helping out and not being too pushy if they’d rather not deal with you again for whatever reason. I especially like the thought to offer resume/interview advice. I know I would like to hear what about my resume or interview style worked well to land me that job, and what I should consider working on for next time. I feel like candidates don’t often get that kind of advice.

    6. Jerry Vandesic*

      Probably better to have a colleague of the laid off employee to call rather than you do it yourself.

    7. Artemesia*

      Laid off and fired are two different experiences. I have been laid off in a merger and would not have been insulted by a colleague follow up. But if someone fired me, especially when I was working hard to succeed, I would probably hate them with the first of a thousand suns. I would not want to hear sympathy from the person who trashed my life. I have fired people and always tried to offer resources and suggestions during the firing conversation, but I would have felt a follow up call would rub salt in the wound because that is how I would feel.

    8. Steph*

      Disagree with you. Three jobs ago, I was shocked to be laid off (along with four other people from my department). My manager, who I really liked and who I know didn’t want to lay me off, texted and emailed me a few months later to check in on me. She was literally the absolute last person I wanted to hear from at the time.

      And you have no choice but to be polite and nice in that situation, so I would take those responses with a grain of salt.

    9. Batman's a Scientist*

      I was fired once. I would have been livid if my ex-boss had called to check up on me. Or anyone in a position of power there. I’d err on the side of not calling.

    10. Anna*

      Agreed. I was laid off a couple months ago with zero communication from my boss about it beforehand (her boss was the one who laid me off). So I really appreciated it when, about a week after I was laid off my boss messaged me via Facebook (yes, we were FB friends) to see how I was doing and ask how she could help. She wasn’t much help because the one job she sent me was one I’d already applied for, but it was still a nice gesture that I appreciated. She also had several nice comments about my work in her note that I’ve able to use in interviews when people ask “what my supervisors would say about me”. My former boss and someone who wasn’t a boss but did indirectly manage me all reached out as well and I appreciated all of it, largely because I wanted to hear from them but felt it was too weird to reach out on my own.

  4. {kh}*

    OP#5 – I would go over your materials (cover letter and resume) with a fine toothed comb and make sure that your grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word use are spot on. I say that, because in your letter to Alison, you used the word “contention” when I think you mean “consideration”. Contention means something completely different. If your resume or cover letter contain similar errors, you might be removing yourself from the selection process without even knowing it.

    1. Middleman*

      I’m not trying to start anything here, but I once wrote in to Alison and when she published my question with her response, she edited what I had written and ended up inserting several spelling and grammatical errors that I was not responsible for. Based on my own firsthand experience I can’t assume that the OP was the one who made the mistake you bring up.

      (With that said, Alison’s advice in my case was spot on, as it usually is.)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Really? How mortifying — I make typos all the time while typing too quickly, but that’s a different thing than actual spelling or grammatical errors and I certainly don’t want those in posts. Can you give me a link to the question (either here or in email) and I’ll get it fixed? Anyway, in this case, nothing was edited in the letter.

        1. Middleman*

          Sure. I’m heading to bed since it’s past 2am for me, but when I get the chance I’ll send you an email and highlight what I’m referring to.

          At this point it’s a several month’s old, archived post so nothing urgent.

          1. Middleman*

            Oh boy, and now after mentioning that I threw an unnecessary apostrophe in there…whoops! Yup, definitely my bedtime.

            1. JessaB*

              There is a rule, once you start talking about grammar and typos, you will surely make one.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      If you’re going to correct letter writers’ word choice, you should know that 1) that’s not something we generally do here, and it’s in Alison’s commenting guidelines and 2) “contention” is used appropriately in this case.

      I would encourage you to consult with a dictionary before you critique word choices. Merriam Webster lists one definition as “a situation in which you have a chance to win something that you are trying to win” which is fully appropriate in this case. Further, using the word “consideration” would have risked being repetitive since OP uses it a couple of sentences later.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        Yeah, and being in contention for something is usually a phrase used to refer to a contest, which job searching can usually feel like. I had no problem with the word choice, though consideration would have been stronger even with the repetition.

      2. Dan*

        Most of the time, I fully agree with leaving word choice alone. That is, unless the critique is helpful for whatever reason. This poster was rather polite in his criticism, and his general advice is fair — make your cover letter and resume top notch.

        TBH, I read plenty of letters that make me think, “if this is a style or tone you are using in your communications with others, it’s understandable why you’re having a problem with X.” Not pointing that out is doing the OP a disservice.

    3. BananaPants*

      There’s nothing incorrect about saying you were taken out of “contention” for a job rather than “consideration”. Maybe check a dictionary next time before criticizing a letter writer?

      My husband’s resume and cover letters were very well done, with no typos, grammar errors, or punctuation and spelling problems. It still didn’t result in interviews, and as you can imagine that’s very frustrating. Sometimes a local job market for certain fields is very competitive or there aren’t many jobs available – that’s reality. Not everyone is able to just waltz into interview after interview once they start putting their resume out there.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Unfortunately, in this case, they may be experiencing some prejudice towards people who’ve been out of work forms while. There’s several large corps in this area that won’t even hire someone who’s not currently working. If they can find some volunteer work or even consulting work for a friends business (I did the latter last time I was looking and Bam, suddenly started getting calls like crazy) that would probably help get things going.

  5. Collarbone High*

    I think some people just have … clashing body chemistry? I have an acquaintance who, to me, has some undefinable odor that makes me nearly throw up if I’m within five feet of him. None of our mutual friends seem to have noticed, and he’s had several long-term relationships (I doubt many people would move in with someone who constantly makes them gag), so I guess he only smells that way to me.

    1. NutellaNutterson*

      I agree on this – if the complaint is real, though handled badly, the complainant could legitimately be smelling something unpleasant. One of my best friends has a personal odor I really can’t stand. I know it’s not hygiene or food related, just their smell.

      However, this causes zero problems in our friendship because I have not tried to pin blame on them for my nose-chemistry-sensors! Coworker clearly needs to dial it back. The phrase they chose is just unprofessional to begin with, let alone to have it repeated by management.

    2. shep*

      I knew someone whom I couldn’t stand to be around for the same reason, and I’ve often thought it was down to biology too! I liked her well enough, but if she got within a few feet of me, I’d have to hold my breath. It wasn’t B.O., and none of my other friends noticed. It was just…weird.

    3. (different) Rebecca*

      Oh my god so true. My ex-roommate smelled like…a dog. There’s no other way to put it, I just couldn’t brush my teeth without gagging on the doggy smell after he’d been in the bathroom. *shudder*

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Now I’m picturing you as a supporting character in a family-friendly sitcom where you roommate really IS a dog, cleverly disguising himself as a human being so he can pursue his dreams.

          1. (different) Rebecca*

            I would also watch that, so long as I could have someone of my choice playing me. *grin*

      1. Ellie H.*

        Oh yeah I kind of alluded to this above. I’m one of those people who has a pretty sharp sense of smell and the way others smell is very very important to me, especially in romantic partners. Sometimes you meet someone who you just don’t match up with pheromonally, I think.

  6. anon for this*

    I’ve been the fired employee in #1 and I agree, don’t call. I was so embarrassed by the whole situation I just wanted to forget it ever happened, and any sort of contact from that employer would have been very awkward and uncomfortable.

    1. Not My Usual Name*

      Same here. Basically I never want to speak to that boss ever again. I have bumped into former co-workers when out and about (the local supermarket is amazing for this) but I know I cannot spend too much time thinking about it.

    2. Alanna*

      Agreed. I was fired from my first full-time job and a check-in or whatever would have made me feel awful. I did have a former co-worker (not manager) call and say how much she’d miss me. That was genuinely nice.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I had coworkers with whom I was friendly message / connect with me on Facebook after I got laid off from Exjob. But my managers? No way Jose. Though they handled it pretty well, I did not want to have anything more to do with them after the job was over. Not because I resented the layoff, but because I didn’t like them in the first place. A severance and a decent reference was all I needed, thank you.

  7. Abby*

    #4: while this might not help with the types of e-mails being sent out, maybe you should suggest using an app like Slack or Basecamp for your communications instead.

  8. Uyulala*

    # 2 – Does your husband (and you) follow a low carb diet? That can cause body odor and probably wouldn’t be noticeable to someone else who follows the same diet.

    1. AMG*

      That’s an interesting point. I heard once that there are cultures who can smell the grease on Americans from their diet. I also heard of someone who could smell the fragrance-free soap on clean, rinsed dishes. I never put a lot of stock it until I tried being vegetarian and could smell the dish soap on clean dishes, and the way food smelled to me totally changed. If he tried to drink more water, maybe that would help? But if you are at that point, it would have far more to do with the person with the sensitive nose than with your husband.

  9. Middleman*

    #5 – “I haven’t worked for over a year” – That alone will adversely affect your efforts to find employment, unfortunately.

    And at least in my experience, municipal government jobs generally receive hundreds of applications (presumably many from people who have better qualifications than the letter writer and who also don’t have the stigma of long-term unemployment to worry about). Meeting the posted qualifications doesn’t necessary make someone competitive relative to other candidates.

    1. Sunflower*

      Yup I agree with all of this. Even if you are working, it’s really really normal to not get calls back for jobs you are 100% qualified for. Just the way this stuff works.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yep. I get (literally) hundreds of resumes for the entry-level jobs I post. I’m sure many of the people who apply do meet every single minimum qualification listed (which is HR’s starting process for identifying candidates for me), but, after that, the qualifications of the people called for interviews can vary a lot based on the applications received. In prime hiring time (last semester of college), every person I hire far exceeds the job requirements. Hiring off-peak means I have fewer candidates and the competition is less, and people who meet but do not exceed the requirements are more likely to get an interview.

        I had a position that called for a specialized degree a few years ago and had two exceptional candidates apply. In any other hiring cycle, one candidate would have gotten a job offer immediately, but, this time, was edged out by the other candidate who had a year of relevant experience on top of the degree.

    2. Artemesia*

      In my experience municipal jobs go to those with insider connections; this is not always true but mostly true most places.

      1. Joline*

        In my municipality a large number of the jobs are union. So although the job is posted externally as well it is also a union requirement to interview all union members that meet the required qualifications (education, experience, etc.). If they feel they have a deep enough talent pool with the resumes they receive from that group they may not even be interviewing external people.

        Which is kind of an insider connection, I guess. :P

        In the area that I work getting in usually involves lucking out and getting in in a temp position and then trying to get to interviews as a union member for perm positions (or additional temp terms to tide you over until something perm comes up).

        1. Creag an Tuire*

          Not to mention, even if you are the perfect candidate for the job, you may not have been called because the City Council abruptly decided that we’ve clearly gotten along just fine without this position so far, and it’s an election year so let’s reallocate that money to property tax relief.

    3. INTP*

      “Meeting the posted qualifications doesn’t necessary make someone competitive relative to other candidates.”

      Yes, this is SO true. In my experience, people consider themselves qualified for a job if they meet most of the on-paper qualifications in some minimal way. But it’s better to look at your experience and ask if there is something about you that actually makes you stand out as exceptionally qualified for the job. Being qualified isn’t just about meeting the minimum requirements, it’s about rising above the minimum requirements in some aspects that are relevant to the job. What about your background says, “I am better equipped to perform this job than the vast majority of candidates in my field and experience level”?

      People also tend to misinterpret the listed requirements in job descriptions. If they want 5 years experience in Excel, the fact that you learned excel in high school 15 years ago and have been using it intermittently ever since doesn’t meet that requirement – what they really want is a very high level excel user. Generally the experience requirements mean that they want you to have been using that software or performing that task as a major part of your job responsibilities for the required number of years, and preferably the most recent years.

      My experience is in private industry FWIW but I think this probably goes doubly for the public sector with the volume of applications they get.

      1. pope suburban*

        If you wouldn’t mind, could you tell me how you’d suggest that people who haven’t had opportunities for professional growth tackle a resume? Basically, I’ve been badly underemployed for most of my career. The short story is that my paid internship was axed in late 2008 after the firm had not had billable hours for months. I tried valiantly to get back on the horse, but got no nibbles; unsurprising, given the state of the economy and that I was green as grass. Since then, it’s been temping or very low-end, unskilled front-desk jobs (As in, professional AAs or receptionists could do them in their sleep). Although I always get really good reviews from managers, and have positive relationships with clients, there hasn’t been much in the way of improving systems or attaining metrics that has been open to me. I have made improvements where I could, but these roles are narrow, and currently, I am dealing with impressively dysfunctional management that is resistant to change. So while I am a good employee and I am capable of more, I don’t have anything to point to. I want to make the jump out of dead-end work (That I don’t like at all, in any way), but I understand that people might not feel confident in trusting my capabilities. I don’t want to lie, obviously, or seem to be camouflaging anything in buzzwords, but…is there anything in particular I can do to show that I have ambitions and skills?

        1. seisy*

          I was in a similar sort of position (damn you, great recession!). Even down to the seriously dysfunctional management. But after a year (well, 3ish sort of, but mostly just one) I have finally landed a really, really good well paying job in a field I want to be in. It can happen. Though I did have to move to an area with a hopping job market to do it.

          I don’t know if it will help you, but I tried a bunch of different things, and I can tell you the strategies that got me the best responses.

          It help me to a) switch to a blended resume (that is, skills/relevant examples of said skills, then job history) which allowed me to target exactly how I’d be good for a job . Another thing that really helped was crafting the right kind of personal narrative- the right way of framing my experiences to the interview. (Or phone screening, usually).

          So, for examples: The first half of my resume became skills/evidence of things relevant to the position (I sometimes changed these for jobs, but usually most of the skills applied to most of the jobs). I broke it into three sections (one of which was further divided). So it was like:
          * Research & Analysis
          – researched thing for company y, with x outcome (“Outcome” doesn’t actually have to be measurable. For example, like: identified relevant information that was used by [such and such job title] to complete [project]. Or ‘compiled lists of eligible candidates which was used by HR to streamline recruitment’. Whatever. You certainly are doing something in your jobs that allow other people to complete theirs.)
          – Analyzed data for thingy, discovered thing, developed strategy.
          * Communication
          – Wrote manual about y to support y
          *Third General Skill category relevant to job.

          Then an “Work History” or “experience” section, etc etc.

          I honestly started getting a lot more responses when I did it that way, because I could draw attention to things might otherwise be missed if someone just looked at my job history and saw just the last thing I’d been doing. And before you start thinking that this isn’t relevant to you, because of the lack of metrics or other things to claim let me say that I was also in that boat, until I started thinking creatively about it. And by that, I don’t mean lying.

          Part of it was that most of my experience was in a company so massively dysfunctional that it was having a high enough rate of turn over even during the great recession that it was constantly hiring, which is how I ended up there. I felt like I had no victories, and the only metrics that came to mind were ones that would make me look bad, even if they were the product of other circumstances. Part of it was that I didn’t have enough perspective on the job I was doing to realize which tasks actually did count as experience doing whatever or demonstrated a skill in some other thing. Breaking the resume up into the skill sections actually helped me a lot with that, because I’d look at a job that I wanted and knew I could excel at, think about which skill categories should be on a resume for that job, and then thought about anything I did that could apply.

          So that was the resume. Another thing that helped me was finding out more about where the jobs I wanted actually were posted (not craigslist, it turns out). That bumped up the response rate a lot. Talking to people in the field helped me with that.

          On the talking about myself bit in the interviews- I got a lot of opportunities to practice, as it turned out. (and I had about 60 phone screenings this past year, nearly all of whom were using Greenhouse and its suggested questions, so it literally was the same pitch every time, which did let me polish it.) For me, I basically framed it as:
          1.What I wanted and was trying to get to [basically: the job I was interviewing for, but more generally than that], where I started, the obstacles I’d faced (hello, great recession), and then

          2. the strategies I employed to find my way around them and

          3. finding a way to put a positive spin on the dumb dead end stuff I’d been doing. Like: I talked a lot about temp work as a ‘working tour’ of various industries and about how even when it wasn’t something I would do or want to do forever, how I learned interesting things in the position. Not even job related, necessarily. One job I had was working the front counter in a warehouse, so when I talked about that, I talked about how interesting it was to get the backstage look at the challenges faced by [clients’ industry] and how much I learned about [product they were buying] just through osmosis.

          If I learned anything from the process, it’s really all about making sure you frame things in the way you want them thinking about them. I wanted them thinking of my potential, just waiting to blossom, and of my resourcefulness in the face of adversity, and my curiosity and positive attitude. If you don’t, they make up their own narrative, the one that’s just based on the most reductive reading of your job history. Of course, the story I was spinning did not at all reflect how I FELT about my situation – my own inner personal narrative was pretty bleak- but it wasn’t a lie. It was just the sort my best friend would tell it.

          Anyway, I don’t know if that is any use to you or if you’ll even see this, but having been in your position and having felt really, really hopeless about it, I wanted to share my experience just in case it can help.

  10. Daisy*

    Allison, I’m having trouble with ads on mobile. On the front page it always takes me away from AAM and then cycles me through loads of addresses, and won’t let me go back to the page. It’s too quick to see what they all are but one I just noticed was called It’s only this site (so I don’t think it’s my phone).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve asked my ad network to turn off ads on mobile altogether until this is resolved, but it may not happen until late in the day Monday.

      1. OldAdmin*

        I have to agree, it’s difficult to read AAM on my Android phone.
        I get the rapidly cycling through ad URLS with no return, too.

        Also, once the ads load, the browser (Firefox only) on my phone will frequently crash.

    2. eemmzz*

      As a temporary measure I had to disable JavaScript until they’re switched off as I’ve been having the same problem

      1. Andrew*

        I’m glad I’m not the only one. Was afraid I had gotten a virus for a while, but it only happened on this site.

        1. Miko*

          Same, I’ve also been experiencing this. Thanks Alison for being so prompt to address ad-related issues.

  11. Nico m*

    #1 Hell no

    #2 identify then hand the complainer a clothes peg

    #4. Your second complaint is silly

    1. Rio C*

      I can understand the grooming thing in #4 if substandard is something like a black t-shirt and black gym shorts every day, like one of my coworkers gets away with daily despite a recent HR announcement that this wasn’t appropriate work attire (doesn’t help that no one has called him out on this, this was only a recent announcement, and HR is in a different state). Applied office wide, that probably could be unprofessional looking.

      If substandard is more like jeans, t-shirt, and tennis shoes however, and little to no interaction with clients is involved, it just seems like a really petty thing to bring up, especially to managers who are dressing casually themselves. I honestly probably wouldn’t even bring it up even if many people did roll into office with gym shorts daily.

      1. Roscoe*

        Even if it is a black t-shirt and gym shorts, as long as its clean, I don’t see why colleagues would care. Now if HR has said no, then thats on his manager to deal with. But I just really don’t care what people wear to work (as long as they aren’t offensive sayings or something like that)

        1. Allison*

          To a point, I don’t really care in that I don’t judge what others wear to work, BUT if people are adhering to the dress code and this one guy isn’t, and seems to get away with it, it might seem unfair to everyone else.

          1. Roscoe*

            That’s fair. But in that instance the problem still isn’t what the guy is wearing, its that management is enforcing the rules differently.

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            Yes, this is really bad where I work. It’s not fair for some people to have to maintain a business casual wardrobe while other are wearing baggy t shirts and tennis shoes.

            1. Allison*

              It might be fair, depending on who has to get dressed up and who gets to be casual. I’d be fine with an office where certain departments like sales, marketing, finance, even HR has to adhere to higher standards than, say, the IT or engineering folks get to wear jeans and t-shirts. But if it’s just favoritism, then yeah, not cool.

      2. Kittymommy*

        Lol, what’s funny is when I read “employee grooming” I thought the oyster meant grooming as in mentoring, etc. You’re way makes more sense!

        1. Doriana Gray*

          That’s what I thought too! So the comments about clothes were weird for me until I got it.

        2. pieces of flair*

          I originally read it as “personal grooming,” then decided that was such a weird, petty thing to complain about that OP must have meant it in the mentoring sense. Now I don’t know what to think!

          1. Meg Murry*

            I read it as personal grooming, not mentoring, but I wonder if I would have read it the same way if the 2nd letter wasn’t influencing my thoughts first.

    2. INTP*

      I don’t think it’s nice to call the LWs “silly” but I agree that #4’s second complaint is absolutely not something worth bringing up in a new job. You can’t go complain to the top manager that he isn’t grooming himself to your standards. You just can’t.

  12. Matt*

    #4: Maybe they are a bit over the top, but I’d vastly prefer that kind of email culture over my places’s phone (or personal drop by) culture where emails are almost exclusively sent for something “official”, while everyone calls or visits everyone about everything (unscheduled) and it’s expected to always answer your phone.

    1. JustAnotherHRPro*

      No Kidding – I can’t count how many times I have sat in a meeting thinking “this could have been accomplished with a well-written email”. And repeated that thought an hour later as I was finally leaving.

      As for the reply-all, I often will just delete those who really don’t need to be in the know….

      1. alice*

        It’s the same in my office! My boss and coworkers hate emails, which means I get to attend numerous meetings every week, most of which don’t require my input (on Friday, I showed up at the office at 10. I did not start actually working until 4 due to meetings). I would kill for an email-heavy culture right now.

    2. MoinMoin*

      Agreed. My listening retention isn’t great also, so if given the choice I’d always rather have a nice email I can file away and refer back to.

  13. MK*

    OP4, maybe it would help if you refrained, even in your mind, from dabbing things you don’t like about your company culture “unprofessional”; or at least try to consider them objectively. The e-mail culture is obviously not your preferred style of communication and may even be objectively not the most streamlined method, but it’s not inherently unprofessional. Also, being required to read the e-mails sent to you is not an unreasonable expectation.

    As for the grooming, surely you realised that they had a very casual dress code before you started working there? When you say substandard, whose standards are we talking about, yours, your field’s, your previous company’s? In any case, this is really not something a new employee can try to change six months into the job.

    1. Purple Dragon*

      When I read your question I wondered if you really are happy with *this* job. I may be mis-reading you but it sounds like you like the work well enough but the environment is driving you to a bitch eating crackers level of annoyed.
      If you are getting to that stage then you may need to either start looking – or if that’s not feasible- reframing it in your own mind. When I get what feels like a billion emails from particularly aggravating people I read them (silently) in cartoon voices, or something silly to reduce the aggravation/stress.
      Like I said I could be totally misreading what you meant (it wouldn’t be the first time).

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Actually, OP4’s company does sound somewhat unprofessional to me, and it really has nothing to do with email.

      The reply-all arguments and emails blaming other departments (!!!) sound to me like a lack of management and guidance in how to work together and solve problems effectively. Those feel like huge red flags to me that this company doesn’t know what effective, professional work looks like, and so it may even be a culture where the person who best represents themselves is considered a top performer, regardless of results.

      I know I went out on a limb there, but I wanted to make a point why the content and tone of the emails was a much bigger issue in my mind than the way email was being used.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Yes I’m with you. But maybe after some time the Op may have standing to suggest some improvement in that area? There’s countless articles online on the subject.

      2. Kimberlee, Esq*

        Eh, I’ve definitely heard of company cultures where reply-all and lots of cc-ing happens because they highly value transparency; you don’t put something in email that you’re not OK with every person at the company reading. It also maximizes learning in an easy way; some of those same business cultures value calling out mistakes to minimize the chances that others will make them. I wouldn’t mind any of this at all, and I suspect part of working there means developing both a thicker skin and an appreciation for the transparency it all creates.

    3. starsaphire*

      OP #4 does have me wondering what sort of office they’re working in, though. Is it a startup? Is it tech? East Coast or West?

      I admit a bias because I work primarily in tech and I’m in Silicon Valley, but I’ve rarely had a job where I couldn’t wear jeans and athletic shoes. But I’ve never worked, for example, in law or finance in the City, and frankly I couldn’t afford the wardrobe transition if I did.

  14. OP #1*

    Thanks Alison and commenters so far. I hear loud and clear that calling is not a great idea. I hadn’t loved it myself but wondered if I was wrong. I realize that I’m struggling with the open, supportive, friendly, family away from home vibe our office has and this decision that I super difficult (but which I know is right and isn’t a surprise to the employee). Basically no one has ever been dismissed in our office and I’m the one doing it, to someone that many like. So this is more my guilt around a difficult task and I like Alison’s framing that I should focus on doing my role in this fairly and professionally. Also I really do like her so if calling would be hurtful I would never want to do that. Thanks!

    1. Aussie academic*

      It sounds like you’re doing all the right things, and just the fact that you were open to feedback about this shows you care. If only all bosses were like this!

    2. Wehaf*

      One option (if this is true) might be to follow up with her via email – not to see how she is doing, but to mention or reiterate that you are willing to give her a good reference. Obviously only do this if you are willing – if the job was a bad fit but you can speak to her work ethic and general demeanor that can be helpful, and actually is part of your professional role as opposed to going beyond it into personal territory.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Seconded. Discuss with her during the dismissal meeting what kind of reference you can give, maybe emphasize what you see as her strengths.

      2. OP #1*

        This is something I willing to do and planned to mention. I am thinking based on the comments here it’s best to leave that said at the final meeting and let her ask for the reference if she chooses.

        1. Dan*

          I don’t know what you mean by “let her ask for the reference if she chooses?” There’s two (maybe three) different types of references. There’s:

          1) People you put down who can speak highly of your work, completely at the discretion of the applicant
          2) Your past managers, of which the applicant has some discretion over
          3) People who you’ve worked with/for who know people at your prospective company, whom the applicant has no control over

          When she no longer works for you, the only way a potential employer will not contact your company is 1) If she says “don’t contact” (which raises red flags) or 2) The company doesn’t bother with reference/background checks.

          You will very much be doing her a favor by telling her (at her termination meeting) what you will be telling reference/background checkers.

    3. Nobody*

      It’s really kind of you to care, but no matter how well you handle the termination, it’s pretty likely that the soon-to-be-ex-employee is going to have some hard feelings towards you (the person firing her), and is not going to want to hear from you. A call from a former coworker might be welcome and appreciated, because she might like to keep in touch with a few work friends and not feel forgotten, but your relationship with her as her manager is different.

    4. Artemesia*

      Is there any way that in the firing discussion (or has that ship sailed) you could provide some help resources for her in her job search? Is there a temp company locally that you have familiarity with that she might be able to get a short term position with while she searches? Is there any sort of out placement function with your HR? Even a copy of Alison’s book on job searching. That is the moment to be helpful if you can be. The second to last person I fired, I arranged the process so she could transfer internally; it wasn’t her basic secretarial skills that were the problem and I believed she could be a good employee elsewhere but I could not have her in our office any longer for good reason.

  15. Former Computer Professional*

    I have… concerns about #4.

    Email is one of the biggest distractors in the workplace. When you’re trying to get your work done, it’s hard to constantly have to take a break just to read a pile of email unrelated to your work.

    At a former job (in the late 90s/2000s), in crises we would use something like AIM (actually a secured XMPP) as a group chat to keep each other updated on the situation. It let us communicate without having to be in the same room and it let the discussion stay on topic and less of a distraction. (We’d also use it during the day for brief communications not worth a full meeting.) The boss loved it because he could (virtually) stick his nose in and get a prompt update from someone, without waiting for email to be read. There are better tools available today to do something similar.

    While OP #4 doesn’t say specifically that s/he is having issues with getting work done, the fact that coworkers are getting upset if email isn’t promptly answered is a big red flag for me.

    1. PizzaSquared*

      For some jobs, doing email IS work. The complaint that “I can’t get work done because I’m handling all this email” is missing the point, if work-related decisions are being made over email.

  16. Doriana Gray*

    OP # 4 – Is there a way for you to turn off your email notification and set aside small chunks of time throughout the day to delete the useless ones and read the ones that pertain to you? That may help to calm your nerves about the very annoying reply all deal.

    Meanwhile, I’d give anything for my office to switch to emails only for all levels instead of having endless meetings. These people love their meetings for management – it’s so hard to get any approval for anything in a timely fashion when all the managers are constantly gone.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      There’s also a setting on outlook that lets you group incoming messages by subject line, which is really helpful in a reply-all atmosphere.

      We’re a reply-all kind of place too and I don’t mind it.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      You would love the way we handle email and the OP would hate it. We’re proficient emailers. There’s a lot of them but it’s a very efficient way to conduct internal business vs meetings meetings meetings. Plus, searchable! I don’t have to remember what Gloria said or walk away with a different interpretation from Glen, it’s all right there in writing.

      I kind of smiled (but sympathetically!) at the OP’s part about missing or not reading emails being the worst thing in the world, because …. it is. Somebody can say “OMG, I must have missed that email” and we’ll all be like “oh wow, no worries”, the *first* time. Somebody who can’t keep up the way the rest of us can? Not a good fit.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        Plus, searchable! I don’t have to remember what Gloria said or walk away with a different interpretation from Glen, it’s all right there in writing.

        I love email for this reason. I mean, I have a pretty good memory anyway, but I love having directives in writing so that if there’s ever any question as to why something was done, I can just forward along the original response.

      2. Meg Murry*

        While I think email is more efficient in place of meetings that are otherwise just announcements, there are definitely times when decisions need to be made that it makes sense to just put all the decision-makers in one room, lay out the situation and make a decision, instead of going around in circles via email. I have definitely seen companies where people use email in situations where a face to face conversation or a simple phone call would have cut out many of the rounds of email.

        I think email is good for announcements, and good for sending out information that requires a lot of reviewing – but it can’t 100% take the place of a few necessary, well run meetings.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          We use meetings (usually) for strategy or brainstorming vs details. Example, we have an insane 2016 fall calendar of marketing projects so two weeks ago we had a How The Hell Are We Going to Accomplish This meeting with the project leads and support. Sat around the table with *printed* calendars (on paper! paper calendars!) jimmying dates around to establish deadlines.

          This would have been impossible to accomplish through email.

          After that, though, the details of the projects go through email until such time we hit a point where we need to round table again.

          1. Meg Murry*

            Yes, your company sounds like a place where email is used when appropriate, but that will also have meetings when they are more efficient – basically overall balanced. I’m wondering if OP’s workplace has just gone too far into the “email for everything” side, vs past companies I’ve worked at that had meetings for all kinds of things that could totally have been communicated via email.

            Maybe I’m reading too far into the letter, but emails instead of meetings + casual grooming reads to me as if OP might be coming from a very buttoned-up corporate culture to a laid back, startup type of culture full of introverts and very casual dress, and that it just might not be a good fit for him/her. The reply-all, throw other departments under the bus messages sound like either 1 or 2 badly behaving employees or a culture of blame shifting.

            OP, are you included in the emails as an FYI, or are you in a position where you can say “Hey, enough mud-slinging via email, lets all get together in Conference Room #2 and work out where things went wrong and how we can avoid it happening again?”

      3. TootsNYC*

        I worked at a place that was really good at using the subject line! And communicated SO much via email.

    3. PizzaSquared*

      Yes, #4 sounds like paradise to me. A huge proportion of my meetings could much more easily be handled over email. Not only does it give a written record of what was said, but it also allows me time to formulate my thoughts before replying. I despise it when a productive email conversation is happening, and someone says “instead of continuing this thread, I’m scheduling a meeting.” Yes, meetings have their place, but a lot of them are unnecessary.

  17. Mookie*

    Commiserations but no real advice, LW 3. That is a lousy, passive-aggressive, obnoxious tactic (especially when delivered with a sneer or a mock-respectful voice) and I’d be tempted to get my own back but it wouldn’t solve the problem and would only make the atmosphere more charged. I know that he’s been spoken to about it, but if you’re really keen to do something or feel in the moment that your tongue can no longer be bitten, I’d stop him mid-sentence and ask him to address me properly and cut it out with the Ms / Mrs business and then don’t resume the conversation until he acknowledges the request. Probably can’t do that more than once or twice before it disrupts the flow at work, but that’s where a manager is meant to slide in and do some proper managing.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Yep, every single time, with an icy stare.

        Like training a dog, except they can’t help themselves and don’t get the icy stare.

    1. Poohbear McGriddles*

      A while back there was a letter from someone whose coworker insisted on being referred to as “Mrs. So-and-So”.

      Sounds like a match made in heaven for this guy.

    2. fposte*

      While I confess I probably wouldn’t care that much about the Ms. business (though I might amuse myself by calling him “Master [name]”), I would directly address the fact that he’s using a hyperrespectful form of address to try to make himself bulletproof. “Bob, I’ve made it clear I’m to be addressed as fposte, and it’s disrespectful to insist on another form than the one I’ve indicated. Can you tell me why you’re nonetheless doing it?” And then let him tell me.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Or focus on the concept that what’s going on is that he’s expressing how angry he is, and don’t let him wiggle out of it.

        “I can tell that you are angry, and so I’m going to let you figure out how to get over that on your own. Come back and talk to me when you’ve regained your equilibrium.”

        Because that is the problem–he’s expressing his anger, and it’s not cool no matter what form he takes. It would be better if he was just testy for a little while.

        1. Artemesia*

          I like this. The second time he did it, I’d probably shift to ‘I can tell you are having a hissy fit’ or ‘I can tell you are in a snit’ But ‘I can tell you are angry’ is the first round. What a toad.

    3. TootsNYC*

      Find out his middle name, and when he does this “Miss Jones,” thing, start calling him “James Richard Anderson.”

      Sort of like the kid who doesn’t stop pinching people until someone pinches him back and he figures out how much it hurts. (or the kid who hits people too hard w/ the foam sword and is shocked when he gets hit just as hard, because he hadn’t really thought about what it must feel like)

  18. AvonLady Barksdale*

    OP #4: I’m intrigued by this statement. “One more thing – employee grooming is really substandard, from managers to employees.” The email issues are annoying, but this stood out to me for some reason. What is it about grooming at the office that you find objectionable? Not saying you’re right or wrong, but could it be that a casual office isn’t for you? Or that you came from a really corporate, buttoned-up place and you still haven’t adjusted (which I think is perfectly normal, but would require you to work harder on adapting if you want to stay)?

    1. Marzipan*

      I also read this part and was somewhere between confused and, honestly, a bit put out. I think it’s because it implies that there is a universal level of grooming to which all working people should aspire, and which literally everyone in this workplace is failing to meet. Whereas I assume – unless ALL the co-workers and managers have terrible personal hygiene problems, which seems unlikely – that we’re actually just talking about a more casual environment than #4 is accustomed to or comfortable in. Totally fair enough to find that very different, and to struggle with the change – but it comes across as quite judgemental to say things like ’employee grooming is substandard’, which makes me think that maybe you’re *feeling* quite judgemental about your co-workers at this point.

      1. Artemesia*

        The most productive person I ever worked with – a major superstar – wore jeans and a t shirt every day in a place where that was on the way casual end. He collected interesting t shirts (not obscene) and would wear a different one each day — but only put on a jacket if he was doing an outside presentation.

      2. LQ*

        Was it personal hygiene grooming? Or grooming employees to take the next level or be better employees? I can’t tell and feel like my judgement is impaired by the hygiene grooming kind of question. Be better employees/groom to promote seems like it fits with the maybe it isn’t a great workplace for you. The personal hygiene seems really odd like maybe the standards of this person are just different than the local culture?

        1. Delyssia*

          This! Grooming in the sense of professional development/growth is the only way I can read the grooming comment in #4 as something other than a completely unexplained non-sequitur.

  19. BRR*

    #1 don’t. I was fired last year and was personally liked but it just wasn’t the best fit. A little compassion is good but remember it’s much harder on her.

    #4 I’ve also recently started a job where I hate the email culture. It stinks but I just learned to delete quickly as most of the messages are junk.

    #5 just curious if you’re applying to other places? Government jobs are typically considered more difficult to get. You mention applying multiple times and I don’t know what that number is but it’s possible especially if you’re a good match but not a great match as it might look more like resume blanketing. It also light be that you’re out of work which is a terrible thing to hire by but at the early stages of resume screening you’re just looking for reasons to cut people.

    1. Koko*

      I wonder the same about #5. OP mentions “the HR analyst” as if there’s just one HR person handling all of the applications they have submitted. Is that because they’re applying for only jobs within a single government, and either one HR person handles the entire government’s screening or the types of positions OP wants are within a single department overseen by one HR person?

      Normally I would encourage someone to diversify and apply at many employers, but I guess I’m not sure how it works if you have a career in government – does that mean you’re forever just at the mercy of a single employer or maybe two if you live near a state capital?

      1. doreen*

        It depends a lot of the size of the government , how that government is structured, and exactly what you do. I work for a large state government and previously worked for a large city government. In both, although there was a specific agency that handled issues like administering civil service tests and maintain lists of those who passed and choosing which health plans would be offered, individual agencies had their own HR departments that would canvas people on those eligible lists and screen people applying for jobs for which there was no test. Certain types of jobs (accountants, lawyers,mail clerks) appear in nearly every agency and others appear in a few agencies, so you wouldn’t be at the mercy of a single agency or single HR rep. But other jobs ( like mine) exist in a single agency , so it’s possible that a single HR rep does all the screening. And it’s certainly possible that a small government has a single HR rep.

  20. Roscoe*

    #4 I get that people have different preferences, but you just sound petty here. I’d LOVE to have less meetings since a lot of it can be done over email. Now I agree with you on the reply all thing, but its just a thing to deal with. Then your “grooming” comment really comes off bad. Just because you would likely prefer something more formal, why do you care what others wear. If you can wear what you want, dress up then. In the summer I wear shorts and flip flops to work most days. Doesn’t make me unprofessional, just comfortable. Maybe you just aren’t a good fit for the culture there. Which is fine. But don’t blame everyone else for you being the odd man out.

  21. Ashloo*

    Emails are sent in place of having meetings, and if you miss or didn’t read an email, it’s the worst thing in the world!

    When I first read this I couldn’t tell if this was a hyperbolic complaint or the OP was actually getting in trouble for missing these emails. I think getting in trouble for missing a few important emails in an onslaught of reply-alls would be pretty annoying. That might be helped with better email management like folders, labels, starring, or flagging emails important. I don’t think one employee is going to put the brakes on overall obnoxious company-wide culture.

    1. TootsNYC*

      There are tactics for handling the email barrage (an open-thread list might be useful!), and when this is the dominant culture, if you want to succeed you’ll need to learn them.

      Inside your own workgroup, you can make a plea for useful subject lines (standardized format–I make people use the word “ready” in some routine emails, so I can find them later; short & descriptive; use “reply” to keep them grouped as a conversation; whatever works).

      You can do your part to simply never participate in (and try to not notice much) the blaming, and make sure -your- “reply all” responses are on point.

  22. Robin B*

    I know someone in the same situation as LW #1’s hubby– check his office and desk. Underneath. Strange as it is, we found an empty, smelly sardine can under someone’s desk after an inconsiderate coworker didn’t keep track of his trash. Could be that simple.

    1. Alli525*

      OP #2 – my office has a problem that comes up about once a year, where a rat or other bird/mammal will die in the airvents (typically winter), and some lucky winner will come into work on Monday to an office that smells … well, like death. It’s unlikely that only one person in your office would have noticed the smell if that’s the cause, but I’ve been reading your responses to comments and it sounds like you genuinely believe it’s possible your husband could be responsible for the smells, and based on everything you’ve said, I kinda doubt it. So maybe a rat died just to spite his cranky coworker ;)

    2. LCL*

      Since we are talking about strange building smells…
      In this facility, the locker room showers aren’t used all that often. So the P-traps in the floor drains dry out. Then a kinda skunky smell wafts its way through the second floor. We keep a pitcher under the sink so I can put a gallon of water down all of the drains when this is a problem.

  23. Allison*

    #2, there are plenty of things that could make someone smell, besides how often they wash. Some have been covered here, and in other threads throughout the years, but to summarize:

    1) How often you wash could be a problem, but it could also be the products you use; sometimes a soap or deodorant smells good by itself but doesn’t mix well with your body chemistry*
    2) The soap or detergent you use might not be doing the job, especially if it’s a bargain brand
    3) Diet can impact how you smell, as can medical problems
    4) There might be something at home making him or his clothes smell funky, maybe the towels and sheets aren’t being washed often enough or the washer itself needs to be cleaned

    Now, maybe he really doesn’t smell and it is just a mean coworker trying to bully him, but there might be some legitimacy to the complaint, especially if the complainer is new or has a heightened sense of smell.

    *I know this from experience. Anyone know the new holiday fragrance from Bath and Body Works, Be Joyful? Smells nice, right? Only it somehow makes me smell like an old, mildewy couch.

    1. fposte*

      Though if the co-worker has a heightened sense of smell, she doesn’t get to remake the world to suit her special needs, any more than people with misophonia can insist their co-workers not chew.

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      Old mildew couch!!! I LOVE it! Had the same issue with perfumes…smell great in the bottle/on the tester, but terrible on me.

      As for OP#2, this may have been mentioned above, but I wonder if hubby has a jacket or sweater that he wears regularly, but doesn’t wash often that could be causing the issue. This was an issue with a co-worker of mine. I never noticed that this person smelled despite others mentioning it, until they rode to lunch with me in “the jacket.” Good Lord….it hit me like a ton of bricks…..unwashed ass all up in my car. I personally don’t wash my sweater or jacket every time I wear it and I think it’s an often overlooked article of clothing that could gather smells over time….just another option.

      1. Allison*

        Bit random, but your comment reminded me of a smelly girl at summer camp. A lot of people were like “how can you be friends with Amanda, she stinks!” but I didn’t notice it . . . at first. Then I noticed it, and I never figured out why she smelled so bad. I didn’t exactly audit her hygiene though, since she wasn’t in my cabin, maybe she’d just started puberty and didn’t realize she needed to start showering every day and wearing deodorant.

      2. OP2*

        He’s always hot, there can be frost on the ground, but he’ll be out in shorts and a tee shirt.

        1. Allison*

          Sounds like he might have a temperature regulation issue. Might not warrant a separate trip to the doctor, but he might want to bring that up next time he goes in for a checkup.

          1. the_scientist*

            This is really not something that warrants a trip to the doctor, unless there are other issues going on, which the letter writer hasn’t mentioned. I’m a petite, young woman who almost always runs hot, especially when sleeping, and has issues with temperature regulation. It’s 100% not a medical issue. My dad is an average-sized 60 year old who is the same way, and in my anecdotal experience this is not uncommon in big guys (OP2 mentions that her husband is a large man). The only place this may be an issue is with hygiene practices- reapplying deodorant mid-day, for example, and ensuring to wash well and to dry well and completely after showering are important. Also, for me personally, my body chemistry does NOT mesh well with synthetic fabrics, despite wearing anti-perspirant. It seems like OP2’s husband has uniform shirts or similar that he needs to wear and it might be an issue of his particular biology not working with the synthetic fabric. In that case, a vinegar soak is the best bet. But in general, I’m hesitant to medicalize completely natural variations in human biology.

            1. TL -*

              Yeah, I run – normal, I guess? But I hike really hot and usually end up in 2 or 3 less layers than most people – it’ll be in the middle of winter and I’ll strip down to one long-sleeved t-shirt and roll up the sleeve. As far as I can tell, it just means I hike hot.
              (Though to be fair, I did run really cold when I developed hypothyroidism, but I was also gaining weight, tired, and never had any energy. So the running cold on its own wasn’t a big deal, but everything together was.)

      3. Chinook*

        “Old mildew couch!!! I LOVE it! Had the same issue with perfumes…smell great in the bottle/on the tester, but terrible on me. ”

        You are not alone. A friend and I spent an hour at a perfume counter once while the worker there spent a lot of effort trying to find something that didn’t smell like horse piss when applied to my skin. I swear that woman felt like it was a personal mission after the first 5 failed attempts.

        1. AMG*

          Ugh–same here. I can wear citrus-y stuff or super fresh, clean perfumes, but everything else smells musty on me.

    3. Kelly L.*

      Oh yeah, I tried a “sour apple” deodorant back during the everything’s-fruity trend, and it smelled like BO on me. As wearing a deodorant that smells like BO defeats the entire purpose of deodorant, I switched as soon as I figured it out. And that’s how I learned that “sour” scents are maybe not the best thing for a deodorant.

      1. Allison*

        That just sounds like a terrible idea, who would make that? I can’t imagine that would smell good on anyone.

      2. Artemesia*

        I always wear unscented deodorant as does my husband and once when I ran out of mine, I grabbed his which is a gel. The smell of hot deodorant on my clothes was worse than any sweat I was putting out. I think it is hard to find good deodorant. I used a michums solid unscented for years and then they discontinued it and nothing they replaced it with is any good, so I have been on a search.

        Also soap matters. I know deodorant soaps are controversial but I really notice how I smell by the end of the day if I use dial or if I use a non-deodorant soap — and the dial really does work. They don’t sell it in Europe and so when I travel for a couple of months at a time I always throw a couple of bars into the luggage although we buy most hygiene and personal care products when we are there. You might have him shower with Dial and soap himself really well in critical regions and see if that helps. Polyester clothing is the devil when it comes to smells.

    4. OP2*

      He uses head and shoulders and Irish Spring, no medical problems, his diet is that of the standard american male except when I cook, then it’s vegetarian plus meat. I wash sheets and towels weekly, and he showers every morning after he gets up.

      The person we think is the complainer isn’t new, but she’s fallen into a rough period of her life. They used to share an office space and there were no complaints from her then. Now that she’s in another office the complaints have started up.

      1. Us, Too*

        This second paragraph is SO STRANGE. Has anything about his hygiene routine changed since she changed locations? If anything, it would seem that if he had an odor problem, being more distant should lessen the issue, not increase it.

      2. OldAdmin*

        OP#2: Since his managers can’t smell it, could your husband ask to be confronted with the complaining colleague TOGETHER with the managers?

      3. Artemesia*

        Per note above. Substitute Dial for the Irish Spring for a week or so and use lots in critical areas and see if that helps.

        It sounds like small problem coupled with difficult co-worker though.

    5. Kyrielle*

      Re #1 – oh man. Luckily for me, my scent of death is a vetiver oil, which I doubt would ever turn up in soaps or the like, but does in some fancy perfume oils. As it turns out, when it hits my skin it gets really strong with a lot of throw (distance) even if there’s only a small amount…and it smells, on me, like rotting logs. Skin chemistry can be -horrid-. (There’s a rose scent that turns into ‘who microwaved Barbie’ on my skin, too. Ugh.)

      These are all good points.

    6. Alli525*

      I hate it when fragrances don’t mix with body chemistry! In HS I bought a very expensive (well, to a 14-y.o.) perfume, and on me it ended up smelling like raw squash… which was not what I was going for. So I had to give it away :(

  24. Nervous Accountant*

    The only time I would say “Unwashed ass” or something like that would be if I were venting to someone and not willing to talk to the offender about it. If I were going to really make a complaint I’d try to be specific and respectful as possible….really doesn’t seem like it’s a group of people bc I can’t imagine multiple people speaking like this. It’s really disappointing these managers passed along such a ridiculous complaint.

  25. LadyTL*

    I had a similar problem as #2 only my manager required me to wear perfume as a result. It turned out the company provided work shirts tended to have build up on the collar which was fixed by soaking them in vinegar (they were cotton though not synthetic). The real problem turned out to be more bad management and clique attitudes on her part since even after fixing the very very slight odor problem she still required me to wear perfume and wasn’t happy about me picking ones that weren’t floral or fruity.

    So bear in mind there may be a smell problem but there could be other things going on with the complaints particularly since you do describe taking alot of care with hygiene and laundry.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Buh… what? Required perfume? That is just nuts, and I’m sorry you had to deal with that. I really hope you no longer work there.

      1. LadyTL*

        Basically she had issues with my perfume allergies and alot of ideas about how women should be. She was put out when my allergies were real and on her requirements wore essential oils of cinnamon or clove and the like instead of what she felt was appropriate scents (i. e. fruity or floral or commercial scents).

  26. BethRA*

    Regarding #4, this: “Also they send blame emails to other departments and continue the argument copying all on each reply” makes me think there’s more to the OP’s complaint that “bitch eating crackers” aggravation. That sounds a bit dysfunctional to me. It MIGHT be something OP can address depending on her position and her relationship with her manager (“I’ve noticed we spend a lot of time communicating by email, and people still miss important information, we might be more efficient/communicate better if we tried….”), but I’m wondering if the email behavior is symptomatic of office dynamics in general.

  27. Roscoe*

    I’m curious about #4. Is this possibly a mostly younger office and OP is older? If so, these issues (not necessarily your complaining about them) make a bit more sense. If you have been working longer, are used to more face to face interaction, and are used to office being at minimum business casual, then yeah, I can be a tough adjustment. But that is on YOU to make. It isn’t your place to come in and try to change the culture because its not how you have done things before, and frankly its pretty arrogant to even want to do so.

  28. Temperance*

    Re LW#2: maybe his synthetic fiber clothing is the issue. I know that it doesn’t “agree” with me, so I try to stick to poly/cotton blends or natural fibers whenever possible. I also reapply deodorant after doing anything remotely physical at work.

    I am shocked at the lack of professionalism on the part of his management team, though. I mean, “unwashed ass”?

    1. Laurel Gray*

      Since we learned management has zero filter when covering the bases, they should have responded with “how do you know what unwashed ass smells like?” OR since they admit to OP’s husband they never smelled this scent, they could have told the coworker “if no one else smells unwashed ass on him, is it possible that you are smelling your own unwashed ass?”

  29. steeped in anonymtea*

    I would counsel the employee who used that choice of words to describe the supposed smell. It was unnecessarily vulgar and disrespectful and does not belong in a work setting!

    1. Laurel Gray*

      If I am HR or management, there is no way I am not checking an employee on using that choice of words when making a serious complaint. Nor am I bringing that terminology to the discussion with the alleged smell offender. Absolutely ridiculous.

      1. OP2*

        He did ask what it smelled like so he could try to identify the smell. if that’s the only description given….

  30. KR*

    I don’t think the husband really smells. You both sound like pretty clean people, and really you shouldn’t have to go out of your way like this to accommodate one person who may or may not be lying. Also, he might have had a day in the past where he got sweaty or something, and the coworker might be using that instance as a basis for future complaints. I think Alison’s advice is spot on.

    1. starsaphire*

      I agree. I think the husband is fine, and the co-worker is the one who has a problem. Whatever that problem may be.

      *hugs* for OP #2

    2. ginger ale for all*

      I am glad the question came up though because all the advice on this letter is great. The next time I go to the grocery store I am going to get white vinegar. Having said that, maybe the cologne he wears sets that person off? I know I cannot stand Estee Lauders White Linen but they still sell it so some people like it. To me, it smells like urine and I am sure I am in the minority.

      1. ginger ale for all*

        Oh and I think that it is my problem not the problem of the people who wear it.

  31. Laurel Gray*

    I’m not buying that OP #2’s husband smells. I suspect it is all just vicious gossip and OP’s husband is the target. OP is waaaaaaay too in tune with hygienic rituals where I am almost certain she would have been the original victim of the “unwashed ass” funk if her husband was truly guilty of omitting it. This is an embarrassing thing to be confronted about and would make anyone self conscious no matter their size or dedication to personal hygiene. Also, there’s been lots of good “how not to stink” advice in this thread. Alison, you should consider a hygiene related category for the right hand side of the screen. OP, your husband has my sympathies.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Well, it’s possible… but generally I think OP would notice if her hubby did indeed have a funky BO. I notice that for sure when my husband does and have no problem shoving him in the shower or making him change. LOL! Hey, it happens and humans get stinky sometimes. As many mentioned, you can take an audit of other stink-inducing possibilities, but what if you don’t discover anything amiss? What then?
      The person in question might just be ultra sensitive, been referring to ONE hot/sweaty incident, or trying to cause a problem.

  32. Fleur*

    I’m in an office with a similar e-mail culture as OP4 and I sympathize. The blame e-mails especially are the worst part. Anytime someone isn’t happy with my response or thinks I’m not responding fast enough, there’s immediately a new reply-all, “Adding various supervisors and higher ups.” They also do this if they think you’ve done something wrong and I take great pleasure in replying all to point out their mistakes in that case.

    It’s a very CYA culture, and I have had to be a lot more responsive to e-mails and be a lot more cautious in my work, constantly ccing to keep people in the loop on case anything goes wrong and I want to be on record as having warned against it.

    For OP#4, I’d honestly say it’s worth looking for a new job due to culture clash if the reason you hate all the e-mails is because they are a symptom of mistrust and CYA in the company culture. If it’s just annoying and spammy but not malicious, I’d just get familiar with outlook filters and deal with it.

  33. ObfusKate*

    OP2: It sounds like your husband is practicing good hygiene. The smell (if one does exist) might be environmental. Some plastics emit a BO smell when they are broken or exposed to sunlight. Google “plastic smells like body odor” for examples. I had this problem in my husband’s home office and accused him of not washing his clothes, not using deodorant, etc. We finally traced it to a cracked plastic trash bin under his desk. Whew, did that thing stink!

  34. De Minimis*

    #4–I don’t think it’s worth leaving over, but I sympathize—I really hate “reply all” culture, and have to keep remembering to always, always “reply all” even if it’s for the most trivial e-mail. It goes against everything I’ve ever been taught about proper e-mail use in the workplace.

    On the other hand, I know a lot of people would much prefer e-mails in the place of meetings….

  35. OP2*

    Thanks for the support, all. I do have some ideas that might help to finalize that it isn’t him… We are aware that the immediate coworkers may not want to mention that he smells unpleasant and are trying to ensure that he doesn’t. I am starting to suspect more and more that ignorign this particular person may be the best way to handle it.

    1. OldAdmin*

      Please update us how things went!
      It’s rare to hear things from the other side, as it were. It showed me how certain how certain accusations are almost impossible to to combat, even in the face of blatant reality.

  36. Megs*

    I feel you so hard #5. As others have said, being out of work could be hurting you. I’ve applied for a couple of state jobs multiple times over the past several years. When I was working at a “respectable” job, I got interviews, even a couple of second interviews. After a year of temp/pay the bills work, I don’t get interviews anymore. It blows. I’m trying to broaden my search, but it’s so discouraging. Hang in there!

  37. OP from another post*

    #5 – There isn’t a lot of background information here, but I was wondering if you were laid off from the city and are trying to get hired back? Is it possible that they don’t really want you back, but no one is telling you that and you have false hopes of returning? Like maybe you were told you were eligible for rehire, but there are better candidates that keep beating you out because you aren’t held in as high esteem as you were led to believe?

    Maybe I’m just assuming the missing background of your post, but I was reminded of a recent post from the other end of that hypothetical situation:

  38. SunnyLibrarian*

    I can’t believe that the coworker used the phrase “unwashed ass” and the managers passed it on. I am in further disbelief that so many here are asking the OP about his hygiene habits.

  39. VintageCampus*

    #4 I once worked at a call center that had a ton of emails. 35 emails in a 2-minute window type of volume. It was intense!

    It use to really annoy me too – but I learned once I left that place that it wasn’t the emails that bothered me but the blame culture. I would suggestion you look at other facets of the work culture and see if it is working for you. If you then decide that everything else is fine for you, but it really is just emails here are a few tips.

    1. Set up rules that auto folder emails for you. For example, I would get SLA updates every 3o minutes. To keep that from clogging up my inbox, I created an SLA folder that would capture any email with the subject line “Our SLA”. Just make sure you check it periodically – because you don’t want to miss the email string of “Our SLA has tanked what’s wrong!!!!!!!” if that’s important to you.

    2. When you get “in trouble” for not answering an email. How are you getting in trouble and by who? Is it your manager saying you need to improve? Or is it an irritated co-worker? If you are concerned about your email performance, ask your supervisor how you can improve. If your supervisor says you are doing great but a co-worker is complaining, don’t be afraid to tell them how they can help you do better.

  40. Are you a former boss or friend?*

    If you are, in fact, a friend then you wouldn’t be writing in to ask if you should reach out to them.

    So, I’ll make the assumption that you are not; you are just a former supervisor. In that case, do NOT reach out to her. Yea, she might be polite and thank you for calling. But, my goodness, leave her alone. You will accomplish nothing but rub salt into the wounds of being fired.

  41. OldAdmin*

    OP#2 :
    One small medical check could be helpful – have hubby test his glucose levels (i.e. if he is an undiscovered diabetic).
    This is a cheap and quick test.

    Diabetes can cause a person to smell – the disrupted metabolism will cause ketones to be produced, which will cause a noticable smell of homeless person or even alcohol.

    Just saying.

  42. monzy*

    Sounds to me like your husband has an office bully & management is out of line by NOT addressing the bully. Your husband needs to stop focusing on it, management said something…no need to over change his behavior. I also feel management used poor judgment in stating what was said exactly. What a sorry company your husband works for.

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