how do I talk to my coworker about her body odor?

A reader writes:

I’m close with a coworker and happen to know that she’s suffering from very bad depression. I’m very proud of her for getting through it as well as she is.

Here’s my dilemma – in the last few months, she’s developed a definite problem with body odor. I think it’s likely to be related to her depression, since I know she has trouble gathering the energy to do even basic tasks. I’m concerned that it may damage her professional reputation – I know some of our coworkers have already complained about what they think is her flakiness, and the fact that she’s not been as put together as is expected in our industry (visibly rumpled clothes, that kind of thing). Should I say anything to her? And if so, what would you recommend I say? (As a side note, I don’t think this is due to cultural differences in diet or anything like that.)

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • When you didn’t meet all your goals for the year
  • Old owner keeps dropping in
  • Our boss keeps taking holiday gifts meant for the whole office
  • If I get an offer, can I ask if I was the first choice?

{ 186 comments… read them below }

  1. Elena vasquez*

    Oooh this is a tough one. I had to have that conversation with a smeller too, leading to later social awkwardness. The smell vanished for a while, then returned. Someone else must have called HR because I saw the smeller sitting with HR in a conference room. After that, the smell was gone for good.

    Let HR do it. It avoids a lot of awkwardness.

    1. SJ*

      I’ve been the person pulled aside by HR for this, and I would much rather a coworker approached me directly and discreetly instead of knowing that it had been a multi-department point of discussion. But this is one of those things where individual reactions will vary so much that it’s hard to say a blanket best-thing-to-do.

    2. Lena Clare*

      Let HR do it. It avoids a lot of awkwardness.

      Yikes, it doesn’t avoid awkwardness for the employee! Talk to the friend first.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        The problem with telling somebody to address the other person directly is that it assumes that the first person can do that discreetly and graciously, and that the two people are on good enough terms that it won’t go over like a lead balloon. But if that’s not the case, it might be taken better coming from HR as a neutral third party.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        “Yikes, it doesn’t avoid awkwardness for the employee!”

        Yeah, but the employee is the one committing the offense, so the non-stinky employee isn’t the one that has to take the awkward hit here.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            Even if it’s unintentional, you’re still doing something pretty unpleasant to your coworkers.

            1. Quill*

              But unlike, say, gassing your cube farm with febreeze, it’s both part of a natural process and stigmatized. I wouldn’t worry about an unrepentant febreezer’s awkward feelings, but in this case the first line of attack should be the more compassionate one.

              1. BasicWitch*

                HR can still be the compassionate route! In fact, the company may even direct the employee to mental health resources. Many companies have employee assistance programs and the like.

            2. Blueberry*

              May you never have an illness that causes body odor, including hot flashes leading to excessive sweating.

      3. New Job So Much Better*

        And you can softly suggest they try a chlorophyll tablet supplement called Body Mint. Works wonders for whole body. (But you will poop green!)

    3. Amethystmoon*

      The person probably needs to get treated for their depression. If they barely have energy for their daily tasks, how is telling them they need to shower/bathe more often going to give them the energy to do that? Honestly, I’ve had depressive thoughts in the past when I was going through some stuff, and if someone had told me on a bad day nicely but still essentially, “you smell badly, please shower more,” that would have put me into further of a spiral and I probably would have gone off and cried somewhere they wouldn’t have seen me. I would think their manager has probably spoken to them already about their work quality if it’s been poor for quite some time.

      1. fposte*

        I think there can be a stage where people think they’re getting by, though, and would put in the hygiene effort if they realized they weren’t.

        1. Quill*

          There are a *lot* of stages where people think they’re getting by only to find that there’s one thing they just. Can’t. Get. To. Or they are getting by now but they’re so behind on the one thing that they can’t seem to break even. Things like laundry and dishes – tasks that accumulate every day and are never entirely *done* are pretty notorious for that.

          Treatment will probably help but additional strategies may be needed to bridge the gap.

          1. fposte*

            I agree with that–I’m not sure where this means you’re standing on the intervention on hygiene, though. I’m still pro on it.

            1. Quill*

              Gotta let them know about the hygeine and gotta tailor the approach as well as you can, because the right approach is very individual. Some people are going to be mortified that other people can tell, some people are going to find a strategy to bridge the gap, but it’s always better for someone coming from a friendly place with some understanding of how depression actually works to do the telling than, say, HR.

          2. Sparrow*

            Oof, yes. When my depression is flaring up, I’m picking where I spend the minimal energy and motivation I can muster, and it’s rarely on laundry. But if someone kindly told me that my poor clothes-upkeep was being noticed and becoming an issue at work, I would reevaluate how I was dividing my energy. And telling me might not be fun for either of us, but it’s not like I wasn’t already aware that I was neglecting that aspect of things and feeling like a failure because of it, so it wouldn’t really change much on that front!

            I doubt the larger issue would be addressed without treatment for the depression, but I think it would be a kindness to let her know about this immediate problem in the meantime. I think many people in this position (though not all, admittedly) would prefer to know that they aren’t getting by as well as they’d hoped.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I agree with this. A pretty common theme is:
          Letter: I am struggling with a personal problem but have completely walled it off from work.
          Update: Apparently I was wrong about that; my boss called me in the next week to talk about the problem and its impact on my work.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        You don’t have to shower. Just wash under your arms with soap and water over the sink, wipe down with baby wipes or stridex, and remember to pull out a clean shirt every day. The internet is full of hygiene tips for depression.

          1. Dahlia*

            They’re talking about when the option is “sink bath” or “nothing”. Pick which you prefer.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          There are shower wipes now you can buy from Amazon and other retailers. They’re designed for people who go to gyms or otherwise exercise and have to go somewhere, like work, where you can’t shower. They’re ok in the in-between times you can’t get to a shower or bathtub, but I wouldn’t use them daily and never bathe or shower. I buy them for the spring/summer months when I walk to and from work, mostly because I don’t want to totally stink at work. You can use them places besides pits, they’re big enough you can take a couple and use on the rest of your body. Yeah, a sponge bath will work in a pinch if you don’t have time or energy to take a full bath or shower. However, eventually hair needs to be washed.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Yeah, they’re like dry shampoo! You use it in a pinch or to get by before you can go home and shower.

      3. 3DogNight*

        Having been the person in this place, I have a couple of thoughts.
        First–treatment requires leaving the house, traveling to the therapist, the treatment time, then travel back home. Then, the car might need gas, or for whatever reason you have to talk to other people. This can be overwhelming. Many people just hop in their cars and go do…whatever, with no second thoughts. Depressed people, and people with anxiety aren’t able to do it. Right now, for me, anxiety holds me hostage. Depression only visits every couple of years (thank God).
        When I was in a black pit of depression, having people reach out to me, and invite me out to do something low key, but fun, outside of my house, really helped. I got excited, that someone cared enough about me to include me in something. That got me into the shower, and into clean clothes. Going to work doesn’t do that. Work can be another prison.
        All of that said, I would have been uncomfortable in the moment of the conversation, but would have appreciated knowing. So, maybe not at work, maybe meet for coffee or go for a walk on break or something.

        1. Amy Sly*

          Not to mention the hassle of trying to find a therapist or even an MD to just get an antidepressant prescription! The motto of the mental health care system seems to be “If you weren’t crazy when you started this process, you certainly will be by the time you actually see someone who can help you!”

          Another part of the problem is that even seeing a therapist you actually find helpful or getting on the perfect medication and dosage on the first try (neither of which are guaranteed) doesn’t immediately mean improvement. Depressed coworker, if she’s admitting to coworkers that she is depressed, is likely getting some treatment already. She just hasn’t healed to the point where personal grooming is something that comes with normal effort.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            Mmmm… due to some life stuff, I probably could use talk therapy right now. After struggling to find a therapist and pay for a therapist and argue with my insurance, I decided just to use the money to buy a yoga pass to a local studio. It’s not as good as talk therapy for alleviating the anxiety, but I just… couldn’t deal with the process anymore. At least I know that I can go to a yoga class whenever I want to.

          2. JustaTech*

            Last time I tried to find a therapist I went through my insurance’s website and it was a comedy of errors. People had moved away, changed practices, and one had even died! But they were still on the list.

            It’s the sliver lining to changing insurance again next year: if I need to find a therapist at least it will be a new list of people.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I’m pretty “meh” on the fact that they’re leaning more into digital healthcare, so the good news is that sometimes you can find a therapist that you can speak to remotely! Sadly again though, you have to have that motivation and speaking personally, even having the motivation to change the channel on the tv or log into a website is just too much energy to spend.

      4. yala*

        ” I’ve had depressive thoughts in the past when I was going through some stuff”

        Gonna be honest, that’s not really what depression is. It’s not being sad about going through some stuff. It’s a whole lack of…everything. Some sadness, but mostly a lot of Nothing.

        I can’t say I wouldn’t be mortified, but for me, it would probably push “shower” up to the top of the priority sheet (it can slip during bad episodes).

        1. Amethystmoon*

          You don’t know what I went through. I actually did have suicidal thoughts. Said battle is actually why I am no longer religious, but that’s quite a long story and I don’t really want to get into it. There were times I was seriously considering taking the sleeping pills and not waking up the next day.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Depressive thoughts are more than being sad.

          They are thoughts of hopelessness and despair.

          Honestly if someone told me I was smelly when I was depressed, I would just shrug at them. Because honestly, when I’m depressed, I don’t care because depressed.

          Thankfully my depression doesn’t manifest into slacking on showering, nothing overrides my self consciousness of my facial hair so I have at very least take care of that issue, which means showering. But if it was just a stink factor…I come from an area notorious for their “hippies”, so everyone has smelt worse.

      5. JSPA*

        It’s so individual! Time slippage can occur early or late; for people who lose track of the passage of time since bathing, a heads-up can remind them to track the issue. For people who know they smell but can no longer find the energy to care or remedy it, any comment will land worse. Some people have water aversion as an early symptom (or sense of chill, which can add up to the same thing). I’ve wondered if that’s a tip off about serotonin, melatonin, adrenal function, thyroid function or what.)

    4. Detective Right-All-The-Time*

      I would not recommend asking HR to handle this – but definitely ask HR for guidance on how to have the conversation. That’s what a good HR department is going to do anyways. I have some serious side-eye for your HR department pulling an employee into a conference room like that. How humiliating for that employee.

    5. Zil*

      Hard disagree on going to HR. Knowing that an anonymous coworker “reported” me to HR for my smell would be so much worse than hearing it directly from a coworker who I have a warm relationship with.

      IMO if you are not close enough to the coworker to tell them directly, you are not close enough to get involved at all. Leave it alone.

      1. Amy Sly*

        That’s a good rule of thumb. Given that they are close enough for the coworker to tell OP that she’s struggling with depression, I would say they’re probably close enough for OP to do at least the first line of intervention.

        1. Frannie*

          I am surprised a manager wouldn’t notice a general decline not just on odour but work performance. Other commentators that admit to depression have said they can just barely get by let alone shower. How is this employee even making it to work? It sounds you should get HR involved right away and get this person the help they need to be fully functioning at work.
          I previously have had depression (no one cared enough to bother with me though) and it took a lot to pull myself out of it but I did it. I would have liked if someone had intervened though in the rough stage.

    6. Nesprin*

      I had to have this conversation with a junior coworker too. No one had ever told him that he had to shower after going to the gym… and he hadn’t realized how much he was sweating. It was awkward as all get out, but I’m glad that I spoke up directly and that I didn’t have to involve anyone else.
      Especially if your coworker is in the throes of depression, being direct and forthright seems like a kindness.

  2. TootsNYC*

    I think the fact that OP knows she’s struggling actually makes this easier.

    Because you can approach it from an “I’m worried about you–both for your emotional well-being and also for your reputation in the industry.”

    Sometimes having someone outside us that we’re semi-accountable to (if they’re someone who feels like an ally) is a way to create structure for ourselves.

    So Alison’s scripts are good.

    1. Naansi*

      Agreed. As the person who struggled through grad school while dealing with crippling, dangerous depression, having that context would be helpful for someone talking to me. When even getting out of bed to pee is an exhausting amount of effort, having someone being gentle, as in Allison’s first script, probably wouldn’t have been sufficiently motivating enough for me to coax up the energy to fix it. But being blunt and also acknowledging that it’s likely tied to this health issue, shows a) that the OP isn’t blaming the coworker but instead understands the side effects of depression well, and b) would be blunt enough to actually cut through the fog and realize that it would be somewhat that would have to be taken care of. Additionally, on days when I did end up showering, having done so made me feel much more comfortable in public, allowing me to walk around town and be part of the world more.

      Mind you, everyone experiences depression differently, but I can definitely imagine that Allison’s second script might have worked and maybe been beneficial to my mental health when I was in a similar state to the coworker.

      1. Quill*

        My worst year ever was in college, and I definitely needed the friends who said “no judgement, but we’re staying here to make sure you eat a real meal and take a break from your frankly self destructive class schedule for half an hour. Have a ramen and an anime episode.”

        There were a few attempts made before anyone got the right balance of bluntness to gentleness.

      2. Amy Sly*

        Yeah. Depressed coworker needs to get the message that the lack of grooming is a problem, so there’s no point in being so gentle the message doesn’t get through. But OP#1 is coming from a place of genuine concern, not nasty disgust, and that needs to come through as well. As I mentioned below, offering an emergency stash of dry shampoo, wet wipes, deodorant, or even Febreeze might be a way to help move this from “You feel like crap, so you smell like crap, and you should do something about it!” to “You feel like crap, so how can I help you not destroy your professional reputation and career prospects until you feel better?”

      3. Zil*

        I struggle with depression and have previously been depressed to the point where I was not showering or keeping up with basic hygiene and I would absolutely have wanted someone to tell me if they noticed a bad smell.

        I remember when a friend of mine compassionately told me that my unwashed hair was very noticeably greasy. It felt bad, obviously, but I was also a wake-up call. It was months afterwards before I could seek treatment in any meaningful way but I did manage to get my hair situation under control in the meantime.

        Sometimes you think you’re keeping it together well enough when you really aren’t and you NEED someone to let you know that.

        1. Zil*

          Whoa, this did not nest under the comment I intended to reply to. Sorry! Not sure what happened but I was not replying to Naansi.

    2. Cookie Captain*

      It’s also good to add something like “if you ever notice me with BO or spinach in my teeth, I know you would tell me.” It makes the conversation feel more reciprocal and less accusatory.

  3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    With the old owner that keeps dropping by, maybe check on the paperwork that covers the sale and see if there are any passages that cover the rights of the old owner to stop by or continue to be involved in their former business. It could be that there is something that you can used to help you in supporting the “please stop coming by” message you want to give.

    1. TootsNYC*

      yeah, if I were buying a business from a one-person owner (as opposed to from a larger company), I’d have a clause in there that said he wasn’t supposed to be coming by at all.

      And I also think the OP should be contacting whoever is over their head to share the problem and get advice on the solution.
      Having the new corporation’s lawyer or president call the old owner and tell him not to come by would be a lot more powerful.

      of course, one of the problems is going to be the staff that still feels loyal to him. But many of them would probably just as soon not feel torn between the past and the future, so many of them would probably like him to stop.

      And if you don’t want to confront directly, then just leap from your seat to greet him and ask him if there’s anything he wanted, did he want to buy a car or schedule a repair? Never leave his side, never let him interact with anyone alone, and also kind of shoo him away from people who are working; when he starts chatting with Jeremy in the parts department, interrupt to say, “Well, Jeremy has some things he wanted to wrap up; he really doesn’t have time to chat. We’ll let you get back to work, Jeremy.” Treat it as “him entering the business,” and not “him visiting old friends.”

      And maybe wrap it up after just a couple of minutes by saying, “Well, I’m going to send you on your way; I’ve got work I need to finish. Have a safe drive home” and walk to the door and hold it open. If he balks, “Was there any other business you needed to transact?” or “It’s not a good week for a social visit.”

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I also just thought if something else, do you know if selling was the former owners idea, or didn’t he have partners that possibly overruled him into a group decision (sort of he wanted to not sell, everyone else did so the majority won if he didn’t have the resources to buy the rest of the group out). That may also play into the reason behind the former owner stopping by as much as he seems to be doing.

    3. Gumby*

      Getting all legal about it feels confrontational as a first step. Since he was a sole owner it is likely he was even more involved than many people are in their jobs and retirement is difficult for lots of people. It’s hard to let go. He absolutely needs to, but this might be a situation where some understanding and kindness will be more effective than, essentially, a restraining order.

      I’m envisioning that the old owner sold the business because he had to due to age more than because he wanted to. It may have been his only or main social outlet so stopping by is filling some social/emotional need for him. If, instead, he was pushed out for some other reason and is stopping by to *try* to cause problems, that would be a different story – in that case, sure, wave the contract in his face and have him escorted from the property. But if he’s just lonely and connecting the way he is accustomed to, I’d have a much gentler conversation and, perhaps, encourage him to pick up other activities – maybe even going so far as to suggest specifics depending on the relationship.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I wasn’t implying being legalistic, but can see how that could be misunderstood. I was thinking more in terms of checking to see if there was a transition period where the former owner still had rights and obligations to fulfill as part of the sale. If he does then it would be unkind at a minimum to push him out early.

        But it could also be that he was getting the majority of his social outlet at work and didn’t realize just how much selling would bother him and is hanging around from a lack of other things to do with his time, and not realizing he’s causing a problem by doing so.

  4. lost academic*

    I really do not think I would tie the coworker’s mental health into this if you bring it up AT ALL. Many things can contribute to new body odors – new medications, problems with washers/dryers, etc. If you’re going to bring it up as a friend, focus on what you want the outcome to be and how you want the message to be received and consider avoiding saying things that will detract or obscure that message. Be helpful, keep it short, and don’t bring it up again.

    1. Dahlia*

      New vitamins can cause really funky body chemistry, too. I also had a body wash that I used a few times that smelled great in the bottle and then turned foul when it actually was on my skin. Took a bit to figure that one out.

  5. TootsNYC*

    With the boss taking the gift baskets, I’d be SO tempted to get everyone to start saying to the people who give them (if they’re there), “Oh, Bob will just take this home anyway, but thanks.”
    And find ways to drop it into any conversation.
    “thanks for the gift basket. Oh, how did we like it? Well, the staff didn’t get to eat any of it; Bob always snags them the moment they arrive.”

    The other thing I might do is find a way to immediately open and distribute them. “Oh gee, Bob, it was addressed to the staff.”

    1. merp*

      The second one is what I was thinking! The minute it gets dropped off, rally some coworkers to ooh and aah over it together, open it up, take something for yourself, email staff in other areas in a big group email, “so-and-so just dropped off a basket, come enjoy!”, that sort of thing.

      1. Just J.*

        I suggest this as well.

        But being only 14 people, do you all have a receptionist / office manager / greeter that can run this level of interference? Or is Bob the office greeter and thus he takes off with the goods before you all even get to see them?

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        That was my thought. “Oh, thank you so much! I’ll just go open this up in the break room right now!”
        Of course, this is assuming you have a chance to do that before Boss gets his grubby mitts on it, but even if it just gets a couple of them distributed out, then it’s at least better than nothing.

    2. Narise*

      I would encourage everyone to open the gifts and take something when it’s delivered even if they don’t eat it until later. However I would add that if the boss is known for being difficult or retaliating when things don’t go his way it may not be worth it.
      It’s too bad there isn’t a day that the boss isn’t in the office or time when he is always tied up in meetings and he wouldn’t be there when the gifts arrived.

      1. Chatterby*

        I was just about to recommend immediately opening them!
        Then, even if boss takes the left overs home, everyone got something, and he can’t regift them.

      2. alienor*

        Same, and especially if it’s dropped off in person by a client or supplier, I’d open it while they’re still there. “Oh thank you, Alice! I’ll open this and set it out right now!” Bob would have to be really shameless (not that some people aren’t) to snatch the gift away in front of the giver.

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      If the OP has any contacts at the vendors, she could discretely let them know ahead of time and see if they either stop altogether or maybe get a small-cost item delivered to each person — like a branded water bottle or nice pen set — that can’t easily be grabbed unless he goes desk to desk and takes them.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I would have zero problem confronting boss about it. “I’m not sure if your realized this, but that basket was brought in for the whole office to share?”

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I was thinking something along the lines of, “I didn’t get a chance to grab a chocolate from the gift that Acme Co sent over. Were you planning on taking all of it or can I have one?”

    5. Artemesia*

      This guy is a total jerk. I’d be very tempted to literally disassemble the thing immediately on delivery and distribute the pieces to everyone or if it is not lots of little pieces, then open up the box of candy or the box of cookies or whatever and put it out on a platter for everyone to enjoy immediately. Let the boss tell people that gifts meant for the office really belong to him. And yeah — let givers know what happens to their gifts — you might find they direct them to individuals that way. Some of the clients in my husband’s firm would send give baskets and those were put in the break room with everyone invited to take something; some clients though would have things delivered directly to the homes of people they worked with. We got a honey baked ham delivered to our home every New Years for many years.

    6. Ah, yes, I remember it well*

      I had a boss who did this. I found out when one donor asked me why none of us were coming by his gym (the donation was free passes). I said we didn’t get any free passes. He said he gave them to my boss for all of us.

    7. Dagny*

      I like the idea of immediately opening and distributing the gifts. Just pounce on them like normal people!

    8. Aphrodite*

      Before she died, the dean used to steal the boxes of See’s candy that were brought to the WHOLE STAFF by a couple of students for Christmas. She was paid in the six figures but stole it anyway. (I ain’t mincing words here; she was rotten to the core and I never, ever once missed her.)

    9. Jeanne*

      I worked in an organisation where a manager did that – but she was even worse, because she would invite particular staff in to participate in her little cliquey soirees.

  6. many bells down*

    My son just got his very first job. He struggles with hygiene and often smells very bad. We tell him to shower, but we can’t force him to use soap and deodorant.

    I feel for the managers who are going to be taking this conversation on with him.

    1. Trek*

      How old is your son? I had a friend that had a 13 year old that was having issues with body odor. Finally they sat him down and told him that he was responsible for his hygiene and he couldn’t leave the house and be offensive. For the next month the kid sat at home most of the time because the parents wouldn’t let him go to friends house or to activities because of his hygiene. They viewed it the same as him not completing chores except in this case he was grounding himself.
      If your son isn’t willing to use soap and deodorant he may not be ready to have a job however maybe if a manager tells him that he has to do something about his hygiene he may hear it.

      1. WellRed*

        If your son isn’t willing to use soap and deodorant he may not be ready to have a job however maybe if a manager tells him that he has to do something about his hygiene he may hear it.

        Yes, to both points. Part of being a good employee is basic grooming and hygiene. Sometime kids will listen to absolutely anyone that isn’t their parent.

        1. many bells down*

          That’s what I’m hoping. HE can’t smell himself, so he thinks we’re being unreasonable. He’s going to need to hear it from other people.

          1. Glitsy Gus*

            Yeah, sometimes having Mom and Dad tell you something isn’t going to fly isn’t enough. Kids need an outside source occationally to show them Mom and Dad actually DO know what they’re talking about.

      2. many bells down*

        He’s 19, on the autism spectrum, and he has some executive function problems. He’s extremely intelligent but daily routine things are super hard for him. Plus his ASD partly manifests as skin sensitivity: the feeling of water on his skin has always been unpleasant for him, whether bath, shower, or pool.

        1. Muriel Heslop*

          I am teacher who works with a number of ASD students and your experience is very common. Often the message is heard better from someone outside the home with whom the person has a good relationship. Good luck! That is such a hard situation, especially with the water sensory issue and executive function part.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            One of my children is on the spectrum, and he attends a special needs-focused school. They are covering personal hygiene in health class for this reason – it’s someone other than mom and dad delivering the message.

            They also have them bring body wipes for post-PE wipe-down. They’re not a complete replacement for bathing, but might stretch it out a few days longer without the smell.

            Weirdly, my kid on the spectrum is fine with hygiene stuff, for the most part, but my tween daughter is killing me. I am waiting for CPS to call since it does not appear she knows how to wash her hair, pick out clothing that don’t have holes/stains, or wear a weather-appropriate coat. It kills me that my husband lets her out of the house that way, and she thinks I’m meeeaaannn because I told her if she couldn’t comb her hair, we were going to cut it shorter. This was after detangling half her head and finding two to three mats that had to be partial cut out.

            1. alienor*

              My daughter was the absolute worst about hair brushing when she was 9 or 10, and nothing I said or did would change her mind. I finally ended up taking her to my hairdresser, who spent an hour and a half unpicking all the tangles and talking to her about how to brush her hair the right way, and after that she did much better. (Hairdresser earned a giant tip.)

            2. Princesa Zelda*

              Good lord, you have my little sister 10 years ago. She grew out of it, but not until after some difficult conversations from teachers. Here’s hoping yours learns easier!

        2. Not today*

          I’m on the spectrum. One of my “rules” is to shower every night. I am often working outside and get dirty and smelly. I also struggle with depression and sometimes showering seems like too much effort – but pretending to be okay is part of my masking process, and showering helps with that. Making it a rule means my brain pushes it forward and so I do it.

          1. Muriel Heslop*

            This is so smart! Great idea making it a rule for yourself.

            My students are enjoying reading all of these comments. I have a section of ASD students and it’s so helpful for them to read about “real world” adult issues that they struggle with as students.

    2. Lucky*

      I worked with someone like your son and unfortunately for me the ventilation system blew his nasty stink from his cube directly into my cube all day long. It was very difficult to deal with this rancid BO aroma and get my technical work done.

      I talked to my boss about it. who initially shrugged it off and slthought I was exaggerating until he met with Felix in his office to talk to him about it. He told me later he had trouble not gagging due to the aroma. Felix said he was not bathing or using deodorant as frequently as he should and things eventually improved.

    3. President Porpoise*

      My brother, as a young teen, was asked by a friend “Do you wear deodorant?”. Embarrassed, (because he did… but only sometimes) he said “yes”. His friend looked at him, and said “Dude, not enough.”

      Harsh bluntness from someone outside your family can be a blessing.

      1. Muriel Heslop*

        As a middle school teacher who has a version of this conversation more regularly than I would like, I applaud this friend. Direct and said with love. (Also made me laugh out loud.)

        1. Dahlia*

          Please be very careful doing that with children. You never know if a child is being denied deoderant, clean clothes, and access to frequent bathing.

          1. Muriel Heslop*

            Obviously. It’s also why we communicate with parents, school counselor and the child’s case manager (if it isn’t me) before proceeding. I’m a special ed department chair.

          2. Eukomos*

            All the more reason for their teachers to talk to them about it, to have a chance to check about whether one of those things is happening. This is her job.

      2. SomebodyElse*

        Gotta love the blunt friends :)

        Sometimes the moment of embarrassment is worth the lifelong lesson!

      3. Chili*

        It sounds like the issue with your brother was genuinely that he wasn’t applying deodorant frequently enough, but I wanted to mention (in case it helps anyone else) that over-application of deodorant can also cause smell issues. Putting too much on at once can lead to build-up on your clothes that traps scent in some gnarly ways and is resistant to being washed out. Something I learned the hard way in middle school.

          1. Chili*

            Oo, just the mention of axe body spray brings back so many terrible scent memories for me.
            Over-application of anything comes with it’s own set of issues, but I wanted to specifically address the deodorant/antiperspirant issue because it seems to get less attention than excessive perfume/cologne, body spray, but is a fairly common source of issues. And most people can immediately tell when someone has applied to much body spray, but too much deodorant/antiperspirant can have the counterintuitive result of making it seem like the person has really bad BO.

            1. Quill*

              I can smell the metal in the formulations that have it, that made for a fun adolescence of gym classes…

          2. Muriel Heslop*

            The combination of teenage boys BO + Axe body spray should be considered a form of chemical warfare.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              I remember being in college when that Axe Body spray came out and it really did verge into chemical warfare.

              So as a promotion somebody gave a whole case of trial size axe body spray to student affairs at my university, and two idiots got a hold of it and had a body spray war in the hallway that held all the student affairs offices and also the office I and my pregnant supervisor were in (we over saw scheduling space for club meetings in the student union building). It got really bad really fast and almost half the hallway left with migraine-like symptoms, including myself and my supervisor – which meant our office closed for the day at 1030 (just under six hours early). Lots of people were very upset, I mean majorly upset because they couldn’t find people they needed to get things done (Plus the hallway reeked almost to the point of being unusable).
              At 1100ish (I think, it’s been a while) the head of student affairs found the culprits and made them sit in front of each office that was closed and explain 1) the smelly hallway and 2) why the office they were seeking to visit was closed early.
              (Really don’t know if it got the lesson home for those guys, but there were no more Axe Wars in the hallway.)

      4. Quill*

        Where was this guy when I was in middle school? I have a LINEUP of people for him to drop this truth bomb on…

      5. Anon for This*

        I had to have this conversation with my now husband. He did not believe me that body odor was a thing…like he refused to understand it. He was never talked to about it by anyone – not his parents, not his friends. He never heard it in health class. He thought deodorant was this “extra” thing and didn’t get why children didn’t need it but he did. I feel like no one explained puberty to him. Now it’s fine but I really had to be like “It’s not YOU (because he was hurt I thought his natural smell was bad). It’s the bacteria feasting on your body. Do this as an adult.”

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’ll depend on his environment and what he’s doing. I can tell you that we’ve had some people with curious body odors and zero of them have been spoken to about it. It’s not customer facing, there’s plenty of room in between people, it’s a quirk we work with.

      But it’s also our area specifically too. We had a lot of people who are anti-deodorant [even the natural stuff]. Everyone smells like patchouli, the Grateful Dead always hit us up when they were touring, etc etc.

      We had a teacher who told us straight up he didn’t shower because it’s bad to wash away your natural oils and yadda yadda yadda. He didn’t reek thankfully, since not everyone does…

      I have had people who just turtled when they’re told they smell as well. It doesn’t lead them to do anything about it, it just makes me turn inward on themselves. But sometimes it does result in change but yeah, you just never know until it happens.

  7. MaureenSmith*

    OP#4 – I used to work for a plumbing contractor and this happened EVERY Christmas. We’d get dozens of gift baskets and the wife of the owner (who was also the accountant – another story) would grab them, display them around her desk, then take them home. The only time the rest of the staff got anything was when a duplicate basket was received. Then one of the baskets was reluctantly opened and shared in very small portions.

    Unless you have a good relationship with the boss in question, just chalk it up to holiday scroogy-ness and move on. Yes, it’s demoralizing. Yes, it’s greedy. It’s also likely a sign of poor management, underpaid staff, no raises, etc. Once you move on, you will be able to look back and laugh at the pettiness of it. Also note that when YOU become a manager, you will be very invested in making sure that gifts are shared equally with your team.

    1. Jamie*

      I agree. If a boss is being that stingy for me it’s not worth confronting it just to get a share of some holiday treats.

  8. SisterSpooky*

    I think the question about whether the boss bogarting gift baskets is a jerk has already been made clear. Another way to approach it may be for someone to ask him (in that totally earnest way Alison talks about) “can I ask why you’re taking that home? I think it was meant as a gift for the entire staff.” or even the “oh, Bob! I don’t know if you realize that Sally said that was for everyone.” Like of course you’re not taking everything for yourself, that would be rude!

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I agree, except I would eliminate the “I think” part of your first suggestion. That allows boss to dismiss her statement like she was mistaken.

  9. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    For the gift basket boss — if he’s a boss/owner, I don’t think there’s anything you can do or say even as a group; but if he’s a boss in a larger organization, there may actually be company rules about accepting gifts and how to handle them. My office gets gift baskets and other branded tchotchkes around the holidays and everything must be under a certain dollar amount and/or shared in common otherwise it’ll look like we’re accepting bribes in return for our business. You could go that route in talking to the boss, or, if you are ready to go nuclear, report it to HR.

  10. Petunia Cakes, The Atheist*

    #4 kind of cracks me up since our bosses do the exact opposite. They often get direct gifts of candy/popcorn/nuts/etc. that they don’t really want, so they’ll just stick it in the breakroom along with all of the candies and treats that are for everyone, so we end up with Way Too Much of Everything. Plus I follow a certain diet and try to avoid sugar, so I eat very little of it if any. Switch offices with me, OP!

    1. WellRed*

      Right? I’ve never worked anywhere that had these bosses that want any of this stuff, let alone HOARD it for themselves. It’s immediately shared. But then, I’ve also never worked at a place where the boss also expected pricey gifts from subordinates, either.

    2. Kittymommy*

      Mine do the same thing. To the point where I think they get annoyed by all the crap but they don’t know how to put a stop to it. And this is internal and external. Most have tried to say something, especially to the internal people, to no avail. And 9 times out of 10 they’re not here when the gifts get delivered.

    3. Third or Nothing!*

      Same here, and I also don’t eat sugar (plus dairy) so I rarely get to sample the tasty treats that overflow the break room table. The BEST baskets we get from vendors are the ones with outside-the-box items like whole bean coffee. No one else in my office wants to grind their own coffee, so it was ALL MINE YES! I hope they send that again this year.

    4. Goldfinch*

      This is my company as well. I particularly appreciate my international colleagues being so generous with their treats when they visit. I’ve tried some really interesting European and Asian snacks I would have never otherwise had access to.

      1. Meghan*

        Every time someone comes back from Japan with cool flavored Kit-Kats or Royce chocolates, it’s like a dream.

  11. Audie B.*

    When it comes to addressing socially awkward issues in the workplace (BO, we know you’re on the internet too much, get off your phones, less watercooler disruptions, fewer smoke breaks, etc.) I’ve always found that addressing it in a general way in a normal team meeting (or email) works best. I remember a manager just gently reiterating what being presentable meant and the minimum grooming required for everyday office work. It worked, spared feelings, put the onus on management, and avoided cattiness.

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      I’d find it rather insulting to be told “hey everyone, remember to use soap and deodorant on your armpits,” if I knew that HR was just avoiding talking to one person.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. And the person who practices poor hygiene never gets the message and everyone else is insulted. I have had to deal with this many times — I would get delegated to deal with dress and odor issues for women since I was the ranking woman — so fun. And often had to deal with is with internationals from cultures with different hygiene routines. My sense was that it was often a laundry issue as people who wore a lot of clothes that were not clearly washable would also not have them dry cleaned. It is a responsibility of management to deal with this though and not inflict the odor on co-workers.

        With a friend, I’d try to discreetly provide feedback. But otherwise, this is a job for HR or a manager.

      2. Elena vasquez*

        At my old job, it was actually in the employee manual. Frequent bathing and use of deodorants expected. Also, undergarments must be worn at all times. I never asked what prompted this particular advice …

        1. corporate engineering layoff woo*

          A note from my bra-wearing roommate when I mentioned this: (over)policing of need for bras could be the reason for this. And that other undergarments being the problem would be a very strange situation to need to recognize in the first place.

    2. WellRed*

      This is opposite of what Alison typically recommends. The “offender” doesn’t necessarily recognize themselves.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, and half the people will go into a spiral of anxiety that they’ve been smelling. I think this is often just a way out for the manager who’s uncomfortable speaking directly to one person, but, you know, that’s the job.

      2. yala*

        Or if they do (because folks in a depression spiral know they’ve been slipping), now they’re just extra ashamed at being called out in front of everyone (because everyone knows statements like that are really directed at one specific person)

    3. The Original K.*

      My friend is a middle school teacher so she deals with kids with body odor very regularly, and often she & the other teachers will issue blanket “You all are growing up and your hygiene needs are changing” kind of statements. Doesn’t single anyone out but does get the point across.

      1. Sunny-dee*

        That’s a little different, though, because there are a lot of kids who struggle to adapt to adult hygiene requirements, but the office BO situation tends to limited to a single person (who is also not a child and not in a leaning environment).

      2. Muriel Heslop*

        Middle school teacher and this is what we do. And we usually have a parent discussion, too.

        In 23 years, only one kid has *wanted* to smell bad. Now, he’s a computer engineer in New Zealand – he even has a girlfriend! There is hope for us all.

      3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        That works for kids who are still trying to figure it out, but I don’t think it’s a great idea for adults. If I was in a meeting and that was said, I’d worry that I was the stinky one and ask all of my friends if that was the case.

      4. Dahlia*

        Is she making sure those kids have regular access to deoderant, clean clothes, and regular opportunities to bathe, and aren’t being neglected or abused with the denial of those?

        1. The Original K.*

          She teaches in a very, very affluent area, so access and neglect aren’t generally issues she sees (if anything, parents of her students tend to be over-involved). It’s that she’s dealing with kids ages 11-14, in the throes of puberty, which makes for a challenging and often smelly time.

          I have no doubt, though, that if she suspected that a student were abused or neglected, she would do everything in her power to ameliorate the situation.

        2. Bananarama*

          You seem kind of obsessed with the idea that tweens/young teens with BO issues are being neglected at home. While I’m sure that can happen, it’s far more common that a kid’s personal hygiene/grooming routine just hasn’t caught up with the reality of his/her changing body.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            It’s possible that Dahlia has first hand knowledge of neglected children who are denied access to hygiene products.

            I personally grew up with “smelly kids” who were actually abused and neglected on various levels. They used no-showers as a punishment and to keep their kids from making friends who may find out about their issues.

            Do I assume all kids who are smelly are abused? of course not but it will always cross my mind if there’s something going on at home and I’ll approach it with that idea in the back of my mind.

          2. Dahlia*

            I mentioned something that happens twice that many people don’t think of and you think that’s “kinda obsessed”? And that people being aware of a way children are abused and that poverty affects children is… somehow a bad thing?

      5. Quill*

        That’s very useful when it’s directed to a group where it’s applicable to more than one person, and everyone is learning how to deal with it, not so much when the issue is one person and *everyone but them* knows it.

        (Also I’m pretty sure that tweens smell weirder than they will at adulthood to begin with… and that the stank has permeated every molecule of every middle school building ever built to the point where even if no one smelled at a school, you wouldn’t notice the difference as the odor leached back out.)

      6. Not Me*

        Teaching children is not the same as managing adults. It’s a pet peeve of mine for sure, but managers really need to stop comparing managing adults to teaching/parenting children.

    4. FormerExpat*

      Like many others, I disagree. People who are doing something wrong almost never recognize themselves in these moments. Or they do, and ignore the directive anyway. No one ever gets the hint. An people who do get the hint, almost invariably are picking up a hint that isn’t being dropped at all.

      Being general is less awkward for the person initiating the message and that is why people do it. Not because it works. The exception would be if truly everyone or almost everyone in the office is doing something wrong. The nonsmoker would recognize that no one thinks she is taking too long on her non-existent smoke breaks for example.

    5. Not Me*

      This is one of the worst ways to handle this kind of thing. More often than not the person who is the worst offender has no idea the message is meant for them, and the people who are conscientious will assume they are the culprit. It’s a bad idea and comes from lack of managerial confidence. Or even worse, everyone but the worst offender know who the meeting is about and in front of their entire peer group is where the person realizes they have BO and an entire meeting was called to discuss it.

      If the problem is with 1 person; speak to that person. If the problem is with the entire group/team; speak to the entire group/team.

    6. Chili*

      I think it’s important to have a two-pronged approach:

      1) set the expectations for the entire team early
      2) address individual violations privately and individually as they occur

      Unless it seems like it’s becoming a group issue (e.g. lots of people are going running over lunch and not showering after), sending a team-wide update takes people’s focus away from resolving the issue and puts it on trying to figure out who the email/meeting was about.

    7. Socrates Johnson*

      Group emails are not a good way to handle things. Usually the person at fault does not realize it is them with the problem, and everyone else gets kind of insulted.

  12. Needs More Cookies*

    I think it’s endemic to small businesses that the owner/boss feels entitled to all the gifts, and if they’re that brazen about it, there’s not a lot you can do.

    I have a friend whose family-owned company received some flat screen TVs as a spiff from a vendor, meant as a reward to their sales team. The owner decided they’d be better for his holiday cabin under construction, and instead had them stored in the company warehouse, where they gathered dust for years and may never have actually been used.

  13. Amy Sly*

    OP#1, thanks for being understanding of this lesser-known symptom of depression. It’s extremely hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been there how hard it can be to drag oneself to the shower when depressed. Even when I know I’ll feel so much better afterwards, it’s just psychologically difficult to self-care in that way. Making it worse is that it’s easy to settle into habits of lesser grooming if one has been depressed for some time, even if one is no longer suffering as much.

    I can only speak to how I’d like to be told if my lack of grooming was becoming an issue (and I know it did at one job): just a quick, private conversation along the lines of “I know this is a rough time for you right now, and I want to support you. With that, I wanted to let you know that people are noticing a smell when you’re around. Is there anything I can do to help?” The answer is likely no, but trust me, a depressed person already feels terrible enough that you want to end on as supportive a note as possible after breaking embarrassing news and handing them a assignment. But having some dry shampoo, baby wipes, or Febreeze on hand might be just the rescue she needs on the bad days to at least pass for professional.

    1. Jamie*

      Your comment brings to mind one of the collateral benefits of the comment section here – when people share their struggle with things like this it really does educate others who don’t have personal experience and that awareness is an impetus for dealing with issues with far more compassion than might be otherwise.

      1. Amy Sly*

        Yeah … especially when you get into weirder side effects of conditions. People understand depression making you sad, or tearful, or even mad. It’s understandable how one might want to eat more as self-comfort or not eat because one feels too upset, how one might so lethargic they sleep too much or too anxious to sleep at all.

        But the notion that taking a shower might require serious motivation — that I can be thinking “I know I stink and my hair is a greasy mess, that I’ll feel better if I take a shower” and still have to steel myself like I’m going to talk to my boss to ask for a raise — is just hard to get across.

    2. Sally*

      I might say that “I” noticed (instead of “people are noticing”) so the person doesn’t then worry that everyone in the office has been talking about them and their odor.

    3. starsaphire*

      I really like this approach.

      I have a super good friend who was in a middle-management-level job. She was going through a rocky divorce a few years back that included filing for bankruptcy and loss of custody (the ex was a real piece of work and that got sorted eventually, but, ugh) and she just kind of let go at work. It wasn’t not-showering, but drinking to a level that the alcohol smell was coming through her pores.

      Another exec from a different group scheduled a 1:1 with her, in her office, and said, “Look. I know you’re going through a rough time, and I’m here for you, but you need to know that people are starting to notice a problem.” She was super grateful for that, because she was eventually able to turn things around at work, and she just recently got a really good promotion.

      (No, this isn’t about me, thank goodness.)

  14. SomebodyElse*

    I tend to own the awkward in awkward conversations… because let’s be honest everyone involves knows they are awkward. So if I had a stinky coworker, here’s what I would do.

    First; find or manufacture a time to be alone with them where they have an escape. For a coworker this would likely be at the end of the day, hopefully walking out of the building together where it’s quiet.

    Second; I would use a script similar to this

    “Jane/John, umm, so this is going to be a little awkward for both of us but if it were me I’d want someone to tell me. I have noticed the past few days/months I have been noticing a smell from you that you didn’t used to have. I’m sure it’s something simple like a new deodorant or an old one that doesn’t work for you anymore, or your washer not getting your clothes as clean as it once did, but it’s something you should be aware is noticeable to others. I’m sorry and don’t mean to make you feel bad or awkward, but as I said, I would hope that in the same situation you would tell me if I had a similar problem. So… umm… I won’t mention it again but thought you should know. ”

    And then I’d let that person retreat as needed, because they are going to want to get out of dodge. Then, you drop it. Don’t bring it up again unless they do. Don’t talk about it with others. And pretend the conversation never happened.

    1. Joielle*

      I like this. Sharing the awkwardness sort of puts the two of you on the same level in the conversation.

    2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      I like the idea of setting it up so the person can retreat, react, and think through the issue away from anyone else.

  15. Lynca*

    For the Boss taking Gift Baskets- So I have family members that have dealt with this (managers taking the gifts they send to the staff) and you definitely need to let the clients know this is happening.

    I know with my family members they were always very, very upset that the staff were not getting what was intended for them. They’d generally put in a call and leverage the working relationship to get that changed. Most of the time that worked but I know for some smaller firms they sent things directly to the workers because it kept happening.

    1. No Coffee No Workee*

      I think addressing it as a group is bad. Considering this employee was spoken to about it before, they will probably guess this is meant for them. It comes across as a shaming to me. They may be super-conscoius now that everybody knows about it.

      It’s possible they *think* they have changed their habits. For example, they may be showering carefully but not realizing that the jeans they’ve worn 20x is the smelly offender.

      I for one have a terrible nose. They may not be as sensitive to odors as others are.

  16. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

    Good luck with the boss taking all the gifts. I’ve worked for two small business owners who did the same thing and nothing would change anything. The first would actually throw away food gifts if he was on a diet or take them home to regift if not. The second would try to take anything that came from our vendors and get really weird about us eating any of it unless it was quick to spoil or just fruit. He also had his office manager call to demand I return a gift from a vendor for doing the vendor a favor because it was supposed to be for him as well (he didn’t do anything). I declined.
    These same bosses micromanaged, paid poorly and resented every cent he had to give an employee despite making 6 figures.

  17. Joielle*

    Another thing for OP#1 – Alison’s scripts are great, but also don’t be surprised or upset if the coworker reacts badly in the moment. She will probably be embarrassed and if she lashes out at you, don’t take it personally and don’t assume your relationship with her is ruined. Personally, I really have to work to keep a lid on inconvenient emotions that can spring up when I get bad news, and I can only imagine that if you were already dealing with a mental health issue, that would be even harder. After the coworker has some time to digest the information and process her feelings, she will hopefully be grateful that you told her.

  18. Quill*

    Sometimes body odor (more often, breath odor) can be caused by medication or other health conditions, but it would still be kinder to make the coworker aware that other people can perceive it in private, regardless of the reasons… don’t send this up the chain if you have a chance to gently tip them off.

    (Of note: I’m a pretty unusually good smeller. Among other things, I can identify the smell of approaching strep throat, and the difference in personal odor when a college roommate became anemic. Medical and medication body odor is usually more subtle than plain old hygeine and laundry neglect, so this is probably not the case. But regardless of the cause, your coworker deserves a private and compassionate tip off so they can prevent it from making a bad impression on people.)

    1. LaurelBee*

      What does anemia smell like? I am also an unusually good smeller and very curious – I get anemic myself sometimes and wonder if I could smell it on myself (or maybe my clothes afterwards) . . .

      I try to look on the bright side (I can smell wonderful things that others may not like impending snow, the faint subtle smell of my cat, perfumes well after people have passed) – but I mainly think it’s irritating (bad things like musty attics/basements, garlic funk, bathrooms). How about you? I find I change my clothes a lot, and do a lot of laundry because I can smell myself well before anyone else.

      1. Quill*

        In this case it was menstruation related, and there was a distinct metalic / coppery smell around my roommate the week of that was not around any of the other women on our floor.

        It was not detectable in her laundry when no staining occurred. It was highly detectable in our room, which was poorly ventilated and the size of a shoebox, but disappated quickly after the event. Not sure I’d be able to smell it if the evidence hadn’t been escaping into the air.

        I’ve found my super nose very useful for diagnosing colds in myself and family members who I’m close enough to smell on a regular basis, but I also had a meltdown over burnt chex mix (it smelled like death) and can’t be within 30 feet of a bath and body works or lush store. I don’t have many food related smell problems but when I had braces and could smell my rubber bands collecting food particles? It was hell. I also smell milk going off the minute it starts thinking about doing it, instead of when it’s actually started to go.

        (I also had one teacher in high school whose breath was so bad – organy/meaty in a bad way – that I had to eventually tell him that maybe he had something in his teeth? Perhaps building a civilization in a denture or filling? No, he was apparently in ketosis…)

        I also smell weather early! It’s easier out in the countryside, when there’s more natural smells and you can be like “Yup, it is DEFINITELY raining soon.”

        1. LaurelBee*

          Oh so neat! You have a stronger nose than me – I can still tolerate Bath and Body Works. I’ve smelled colds in myself too. I *think* I may have smelled that coppery smell you mention on me before – thanks so much for mentioning! I do get semi-regular blood tests for anemia, but always good to have more than one way to check.

          I’m really good at detecting natural gas leaks – I smelled one at a friend’s house that she couldn’t smell. I also was in a co-ed dorm (co-ed bathrooms), and there was one guy I didn’t want to be in the bathroom with (skeezy). He had an uncommon cologne, so I could tell if he had just passed, and about how long – so if I smelled it when I opened the door, wait 10 minutes until he was out of the bathroom!

          I was thinking of what my favorite smells are – I think it is the smell of impending snow. So crisp and fresh. Or english boxwood – a controversial choice, some people don’t like this smell.

  19. Sharon*

    At my first job after college, I worked with a guy that I knew from college. We weren’t friends, but we had mutual friends. He had broken his leg towards the end of the school year (a hip to ankle break) and wasn’t able to drive. His sister was driving him to work, but then she went back to school for summer session, and since he lived kind of on the way for me, I ended up driving him to and from work every day. It was hard for him to shower (hip to ankle cast) and he would smell fine on Mondays and Tuesdays, but as the week progressed, he would start to smell riper and riper. Since I was the driver, people in the office asked me to say something. There was NO WAY I was going to say anything! The situation ended up resolving itself as he got into law school and quit the job about 2 months into our carpooling arrangement. The smell, however, took significantly longer to remove from my car’s upholstery!

    1. Quill*

      My first car – a secondhand dodge pickup that was more of “car my parents got for the purposes of carting things around and having a vehicle available for their two teenagers to arrange their own transportation” – had been previously owned by a smoker.

      It was awful. I’d just gotten a job at the local mall and my clothes and hair reeked EVERY DAY because I had to drive in that truck. Didn’t matter if I rolled all the windows down, shampooed the whole car with baking soda, turned on the air conditioning, blocked the vents, shoved instant coffeee packets into every crevice in the car, including inside the AC vent (don’t do this,) I could ALWAYS smell the previous owner’s addiction, and it always transferred to me.

      Fortunately no one at work could tell that the lingering smell of nicotine addiction was from me and my car, because enough people carrying their own smoker aroma passed through the store that they covered my tracks.

      1. Artemesia*

        We didn’t buy a great used BMW at a great price because we knew the smoke odor was permanent The dealer said something like ‘oh all you have to do is. . .’ and we thought, yeah if it was easy to do, you would have done it.’

        1. Quill*

          If you can tell the owner was a smoker at the dealer, there is NOTHING you can do to fix that smell.

          The burgundy beast still lives, but it took nearly six years for it to no longer smell like smoke (most of the time) and it helped that I had to replace the ENTIRE air conditioner because the filters and the motor had gone.

          (My dad paid for it but we had to install it ourselves… fun bonding activity, looking up how to do that on youtube…)

    2. Close Bracket*

      “It was hard for him to shower (hip to ankle cast) ”

      Don’t people in these situations do spot cleans? Or sponge baths?

      1. Quill*

        The funk may have been coming from within the cast. My brother broke his arm before a childhood trip to florida and even though we were kids and he got a “waterproof” cast there was still a noticeable funk by the time we got back a week before his cast was scheduled to come off. The inside of the cast hadn’t fully dried at some point and the bacteria had moved in.

        1. Close Bracket*

          “The funk may have been coming from within the cast.”

          If that was the case, he wouldn’t have smelled good on Mondays.

        2. Environmental Compliance*


          I had a soft cast thing on my arm after an elbow surgery, and even after only a couple weeks, that thing was gross. I wasn’t allowed to get that area wet. I asked my (very blunt) roommate if she smelled it a few times because I was so anxious about how I thought it smelled, and thankfully it apparently was never obvious to anyone except me. The first thing I did after getting the stupid thing off was shower fully.

      2. Sharon*

        I just think it wasn’t enough and he was in that cast for months, so his attention to hygiene definitely slipped.

  20. MistorMister*

    I wonder what happened to the OP who wanted to know if they were the first choice. That honestly isn’t something I would think to ask. I wouldn’t care unless there was reason to believe I was being offered the position with extreme reluctance and only because 50 other people had said no and they felt they were scraping the bottom of the barrell with me but had no other options. Otherwise, it really just doesn’t seem important to me.

  21. Goya de la Mancha*

    I KNOW this letter isn’t about me and it’s never been an issue for me…but my anxiety kicked in the minute I read the title….

    1. Artemesia*

      I once felt guilty for days about cheating after the VP shouted at our class for 10 minutes about our dishonesty since a cheat sheet had been found on the floor after a test. I wasn’t even there the day of that test. Those of us with strong early guilt based religious training are likely to feel guilty of whatever it is anytime there is a stressful incident like this.

      1. Quill*

        Guilt is a reflex when you’re raised with any expectation that you are either already guilty or have to be perfect. (Little bit of column a from Catholicism, little bit of column b for being the “smart kid” in my case.)

      2. Marion Q*

        strong early guilt based religious training

        I am going to steal this phrase, thank you. This is a perfect description.

  22. Stinkymo*

    Some anti-depressants can make you have a body odor. I know this first hand. I have developed ways around it, like using a special soap, reapplying deodorant throughout the day. This could be the cause. Charcoal based soap has helped immensely and I can tell when I use a different soap. I shower daily, where clean clothes and use fresh towels. Sometimes stank happens.

    1. Stinkymo*

      Also I had to get rid of quite a few shirts, because the BO smell lingered on them even after they were laundered, soaked in vinegar etc. Its been really trying on me. But again the charcoal based soaps are amazing!

    2. Amy Sly*

      I don’t get that with my antidepressant, but I *hate* taking Mucinex for that reason. It feels like it comes out my pores!

  23. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    I had a job once where a coworker tried to cover up her BO with about a gallon of sickly sweet perfume every day. It was so awful. I’m allergic to perfume so I decided to try and have an adult conversation with her with no one else around. I told her, very nicely & politely, that her perfume was so strong that it was lingering for hours afterwards in places she’d been, and was triggering my allergies, which could lead to asthma attacks. I asked if she could please refrain from wearing that perfume at work due to my health issues. (I was more willing to deal with the BO than the perfume.) She did NOT take it well. She got super offended and angry, saying she’d never heard anyone else complain, and never talked to me again. About a week later I’d heard that she’d quit! I don’t know if what I said had anything to do with her decision to leave, but it sure solved both the BO and perfume problems.

    1. Pomona Sprout*

      And good luck to her on finding another job, if she shows up at interviews smelling like perfumed b.o. stank!

  24. 1234*

    “If they end up offering you the position, it’s because they’d be happy to hire you.”

    Not always the case. Sometimes, companies hire Candidate #2, 3, 4, etc. because their top choice(s) declined and they don’t want to start from scratch with the hiring process, so they make an offer to someone else they feel is “not wonderful but I think they can do the job reasonably well.”

    However, I am in agreement that the OP shouldn’t be asking if they were the top pick for the job.

  25. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    OP#4. I once fired a Sales Manager for this, among other things.
    But mostly this.

  26. Boboddy*

    OP 4: we had this happen last year. I worked in a very small department within a small business, and my team had a very good relationship with our supplier rep. In one conversation with the rep she asked how we enjoyed the gift basket, to which all three of us responded that it had never arrived. The rep was horrified and promptly had another basket sent out to us.
    Between thos comversation and the second basket arriving, I discovered that the owner of the business had in fact received the basket and hidden it away in her office. It had even had a very nice handwritten card attached from our sales rep specifically addressed to our department, which was on her desk (before anyone balks at this, it was not unusual in this job for employees to borrow this desk). I made a somewhat petty move here and took the card and stuck it up in a VERY prominent position on the door of our department. When the second gift basket arrived, we very deliberately shared the contents with everyone in the business, while loudly relaying to story to anyone who would listen about how the first basket must have gone missing in the post because our lovely sales rep was so upset to hear we never received it.

  27. BeeGee*

    #4 Shortly after the new year, I had a vendor (who I called/interacted almost daily with as past of my role) ask if I liked the expensive bottles of wine that his firm sent over for the holidays, one addressed to my boss and one addressed to me. I will note that I worked almost entirely remote for this position and in another state, visiting the main office every few months for a few days, so I know he probably just sent both to the main office. However, MY BOSS NEVER TOLD ME ABOUT THIS. I honestly wouldn’t have cared if he decided to take it for himself or regift it instead of bothering with reshipping it to me or holding on to the bottle until my next visit, but it really hurt to not even be told of the kind gesture. I don’t see why he couldn’t have said “hey George from Teapots Express sent this nice bottle of wine for you!” and attached a picture of it. It really was super demoralizing that my (ex) boss did this, especially considering how much I felt like I busted my butt daily for the firm (and the company never gave any holiday/end of year bonuses or gifts for employees).

    It’s insulting to workers at a company when a boss pilfers a shared gift because it blatantly says “As the boss/owner, I deserve all the credit and thanks for this”. It boggles the mind that bosses would take something that costs them nothing and would really boost employee morale and appreciation.

    So long, beloved red wine. I wish I knew ye…

  28. boop the first*

    The problem with reducing body odor to “showering and bathing and deodorant” is that those things don’t necessarily work. There has to be more to it than that, because everyone in one branch of my extended family had perfectly normal hygiene yet they smelled very sweaty all the same.

    Even me, since I’ve been at home I’ve found that my deodorant just… doesn’t work anymore?? I don’t know if I just didn’t notice because workplaces tend to have their own covering stinks, or if something has changed on a molecular level? I spent a day tabling at a fair and I dressed in layers that I would remove at the end of the day, and I would reapply deodorant every few hours and there was nothing I could do to avoid smelling like an armpit. It’s not hygiene. I can’t bathe in the middle of a workday, guys.

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