Tuesday, December 11, 2012

You have B.O. not a Dress Code Problem

Every time I get together with my friends and HR Colleagues Ed Nangle and Charlette Stout, I always come away with a blog topic.

Today was no different.

We like to get together once per month in our HR Think Tank and talk about relevant HR issues, the future of HR and learning experiences from our clients.  It's so fun!

Today, we began talking about leadership and confronting employee issues head on.  We were discussing the fact that many leaders do not like confrontation and can't get the real issues out on the table.  Even worse, some leaders just ignore the issue thinking it might just go away.  HA!

It made me think of an experience I had as a young HR Manager:

I worked for a technology company outside of Atlanta and had been promoted to HR Manager.  I was being trained by the Director of HR on how to handle employee relations issues.  We were located in a large call center with about 200-300 techs.  As you can well imagine we had our fair share of employee issues.

I can remember my boss asking me to sit in on an employee/manager meeting one day that involved B.O.  Yes, you got it the dreaded body odor issue.  We had many complaints from other employees that one individual had a really bad body odor problem that was really offending other workers.  My boss, started off the discussion with the smelly employee by quoting from our Dress Code Policy regarding a neat and clean appearance, etc.  She hemmed and she hawed and was very nervous trying to deliver this information.  Afterwards, I knew that smelly didn't get it.  I asked my boss, "why didn't you just say, hey man, you have B.O. you need to fix that.  Deodorant, soap whatever it takes."  My boss didn't want to EMBARRASS the employee.  Well, guess what he probably still stinks today.  The whole interaction reminded me of the time when my ex and I were trying to tell our son about the birds and the bees.  He stammered and couldn't get the words out, and I jumped in talking about babies, condoms, and sex.

Months later, I was handling my own employee relations issues and my boss was observing.  My second issue was another employee with B.O.  The employee came in, the manager was there.  My boss was observing.  I said, "We have had complaints about your body odor and we need to find a solution."  My boss just about fell out of her chair.  The employee was uncomfortable but as soon as I said it, he knew it.  By the end of the week, his act was all cleaned up and he smelled like Irish Spring.

Be a leader....put issues on the table.

I know you have observed this behavior in your own workplaces.  We also discussed leaders that talk really BIG about telling an employee this and telling an employee that.  But, when the time comes the leader has amnesia and you would think he and that employee were BFF's.  What happens to the leadership backbone?

What can we do do help leaders with this issue?  I have used a real life kinda funny example, but some of these issues are way more serious and could wind up in litigation (harassment issues).  Can you train to improve a leader's backbone or are you just born that way?


paraman52 said...

While you can teach leadership and communications skills, you can't teach fortitude and inner strength. You could, however, help managers develop the confidence that they need to deliver the bad news to an employee, especially if you get them to see that getting the employee to deal with his/her unpleasant problem is good, in the long run, for both the company and the employee.

Unknown said...

Thanks for reading and I agree..fortitude is in the DNA. I do agree about confidence, it does take that to be able to give constructive feedback...thanks!