update: my coworker told me I smell

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose coworker told her she smelled? Here’s the update.

I ended up going to the doctor and getting a prescription for an antiperspirant. In addition to taking my shower in the morning, I also took a quick one on my lunch break (I lived 5 minutes from my job and always went home on my lunch break so it wasn’t a big deal.).

I also opted to change out of my smock on my lunch break, which may have been overkill but made me feel better.

I was still feeling really anxious about my interactions with coworkers. I was in my last semester of school (had went back the previous year to finish my BA and was in the home stretch) so I just blamed being tired and stressed from juggling school and work on why I wasn’t as animated.

Then, there was a fire at the house my roommate and I were renting. We were fine but had to find another place to live (which we did within two days but it was hectic) and my coworkers were AMAZING. They made me food, clothes to make up for what my roommate and I both lost, bought gift cards, and a whole other host of things. All of which reminded me that they really truly care about me as a person and it was easier to frame their previous comments as concern and not gossip. (Something I left out of my original letter is that I have a history of anxiety and depression and, in the eight or so years I’d worked there, I’ve had three very bad periods where my work ethic and personality took a nosedive for a bit so there was a basis for “hey, is she okay?” concerns.)

I ended up finishing the semester even though Covid prevented me from the traditional graduation. I applied for and accepted a year long fellowship in Washington, DC and that’s where I am now.

They threw me a surprise going away party (which broke protocol since that usually only happens for retirements or promotions that move someone to another store). The regional and district manager even stopped by to congratulate me and thank me for all my years of hard work.

I still talk to most of my coworkers and am proud of how they’re keeping each other as safe as they can while being essential workers and serving the public.

{ 18 comments… read them below }

  1. Manana*

    Congratulations on all your success both professionally and personally! Clearly you are a very lovable person and I’m so happy the people in your life let you know that!

  2. EPLawyer*

    This is so wonderful. I’m glad it all worked. I know it must have been horribly embarassing to hear that you smelled but based on their other treatment of you it sounds like it came from a place of concern rather than malice.

    With all the bad workplaces we hear about its nice to hear about a lovely one. I hope your internship is just as lovely. And every place else you ever work.

    Best of luck in the future in ALL you do.

  3. Twenty Points for the Copier*

    This is such a nice update to see. It’s really depressing how being in an environment full of gossip and bullying (whether at work or in middle school) can color so many interactions going forward. Sometimes concern really is concern and it’s nice to see that’s the case here and that the coworkers really did care. In retrospect with this additional info, I can see how a couple of laundry issue type smelly days could lead them to worry that you were really struggling.

  4. Fiona*

    This is a lovely update. I think the context about depression and other mental health issues would have been important to include in the original letter. For some people, depression takes the form of not bathing, changing/washing clothing. So the coworkers may have linked these events, even if it turns out they were just coincidental. Really nice to see a situation where the coworkers were genuinely trying to help. Best of luck to you, OP!

  5. FormerStaffing*

    We had a young 20something male work in our mailroom who was the equivalent of a human skunk. No exaggeration. When he came in our department to distribute mail, and walked out, his scent lingered. It was that bad. However, he was a really sweet guy, very clean and well kept, and no one had the heart to say anything to him but there were plenty of complaints to management. Management had a talk with him about his body odor.

    He then disappeared, and we all felt horrible, wondering if the embarrassment led him to quit. He did come back after a few weeks, didn’t smell at all, and slowly we began to socialize with him more. I got to know him well enough after that to eventually have “the talk,” and it turns out he had NO IDEA he smelled. (Okay, even if you had a defective olfactory system, surely your close friends and family would have said something?)

    He went to a doctor, and through trial and error and lots of tests, they identified his condition (super rare, and long name I can’t recall), and were able to finally get it under control with medication and diet. I feel sad that he was probably wondering why people were standoffish and avoiding him like the plague, but I’m glad it got sorted out and he didn’t have to spend the rest of his life like that. I hope he’s doing well now.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      I’m glad for this happy ending and the LW’s too! As for the guy’s friends and family not saying anything, if he has some sort of condition that was making him smell bad, maybe more family members have it and are kind of inured to it. Or his family are just not very hygienic people – it happens, there are families that don’t teach or model their kids the importance of hygiene (or, yikes, tooth brushing, which leads to HUGE problems down the road).

      As for friends, it’s very possible nobody wanted to be the first to say something “Fergus, I think you should know you have really bad BO” for fear of hurting his feelings or because “Jane probably told him already” or whatever.

      1. allathian*

        Hygiene wasn’t the problem here, because he was clean, he just smelled bad. Some people do. I’m just glad that the smelly coworker was able to go to a doctor, get diagnosed, and ultimately get the help he needed.
        Some rare disorders that cause strong body odor are genetic, though, and therefore run in families. Nose blindness is also a thing, people get used to the way their homes or clothes smell, and to their own body odor as well.

  6. Letter Writer*

    Thank you guys for all the well wishes. It’s certainly been interesting moving so far from home during a pandemic (thankfully working remotely) but its been wonderful so far.

    And, my former company had its flaws but I always felt like I was valued by upper management and I genuinely adore my coworkers.

  7. Uranus Wars*

    OP, I hope you see this but this update is so great! Congratulations on your fellowship and what an amazing group of caring, co-workers; while I am sorry you lost so much I am glad you were able to see their care and concern. And thank you for the update.

  8. Ketchikan*

    Congrats on your fellowship and graduation. I am so glad that you coworkers stepped up and supported you when you needed it the most. Best of luck to you.

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