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I work in a small consulting company. I love what I do and I love to work with my boss who is a kind of genius in our field. He is a quick thinker and can be very technical and smart. He is good and we manage to be complementary when working together.

Everything would be perfect if he had good hygiene. He always has big sweat stains under his armpits (every. single. day.), he has bad breath and his laptop is REALLY nasty.

All of this disgusts me to a point I find it very unpleasant to be near him. I can't think about him without thinking about his sweat stains, especially because we have a project together and I always need to sit very close to him and sometimes write things on his laptop. Plus, we meet lots of clients and I think he loses all his credibility with this bad presentation.

Maybe I am being too critical and I know I have a problem with hygiene but I think I need to do something about that.

I need to find a smooth way to help him understand that he needs to do something about this. Last time, I tried to say this in a natural way :

Wow, it's so hot in here, I'm sweating so much.

I was thinking that maybe he would consider his own sweat, but he answered :

I know right ? Wanna turn on the A/C ?

I failed miserably :( and now I can't find a good way of telling him about this... I'm afraid we will both be in a very awkward and embarrassing situation if I talk about this.

How can I tell my boss about his lack of hygiene without making it awkward?

  • Not to be rude or anything, but is your boss on the heavier side? I'm slightly overweight and because of it I tend to sweat a lot. Also how hot does it get in the office? – TheRealLester Jun 18 '18 at 18:50
  • @TheRealLester not at all ! he has a "normal" weight – I am bored Jun 18 '18 at 18:58
  • Interesting. Also can you be more specific on what you mean when you say his laptop is really nasty? – TheRealLester Jun 18 '18 at 19:01
  • @TheRealLester it has small crumbs (or whatever it is, i dont really want to know) and hairs on his touchpad and on his keyboard keys. The screen is the same. – I am bored Jun 18 '18 at 19:12
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    Whether you should tell him or not isn't very on-topic for this site. Although that would be a good question for Workplace SE. How to phrase it is also off-topic, but we could answer the question of how to convey your concerns to him with the goal of helping him realize the tangible negatives of his hygiene. However, you should really think about the sweating issue. There is a very real possibility he cannot control that. – Clay07g Jun 18 '18 at 19:23
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The big problem here is that both sweating and bad breath can have a medical cause and your boss might have no control over it. Antiperspirant deodorants are not as powerful as you think. Since the brain ignores constant input, he is most likely not aware whether he has bad breath or body odor.

Additionally, you didn't say anything about his general appearance. Does he actually smell sweaty? Does he often have greasy hair? Is he wearing clothes for many days, even with stains on them? Are his shoes dirty and uncared-for? If the answer is "no", he is probably not as unhygienic as you think. Seeing him in a different light may make it easier for you to work with him.

As to a solution to your problem: (since you stated you are working at a consulting company, I assume you interact directly with customers)

  1. Don't expect him to change overnight. It won't happen.
  2. Don't address the issues concerning his body (sweating, bad breath) directly. Worst case you damage your professional relationship long term.
  3. Act as a good example. If you want him to clean up, start cleaning up yourself and ask him to join. If you want to do something against his breath, take a mint or gum and offer one to him.
  4. Don't make it about you or him, make it about your customers. After all, the customer is king.

The best plan of action is to start with the issue you can fix the easiest: his laptop. Considering points 3 and 4 that means both your laptops because a customer looked weird at them. Your customers expect a clean screen when they are presented with information on a laptop. Make sure there are suitable cleaning supplies available before addressing the issue so there is no excuse to delay the cleaning.

Next is the bad breath. Please consider that it might have a physical cause in his stomach that can only be corrected by an operation.

You can make a habit of eating a mint or chewing gum before seeing a customer and offering one to him. If he refuses every time, you could address his bad breath on a particularly bad day. Look apologetic, smile a little and say

Maybe it would be better to take one. To be honest, you don't smell very fresh today.

I'm afraid you have to live with his sweating. If he has big wet spots under his armpits every day there is literally nothing he can do about it but a painful operation. No amount and no kind of deodorant will stop his glands from producing sweat.

If he has body odor, you could put a can of deodorant in the bathroom for everyone to use. Again, only address the issue on a particularly bad day. In my experience, phrasing your concern in a funny way will be better received. Try something like

You smell very manly today. Or: Your manly musk is quite strong today.

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Do not confront him on things that he cannot control.

Telling your boss that him sweating makes you uncomfortable will not fix anything and will probably damage your relationship

He probably knows that he sweats excessively, but there are not any ways to really fix this, I suffer from hyperhidrosis and when people bring it up I feel terrible about myself and inadvertently about them.

Things he can control can be brought up inadvertently, either by offering gum/mints or wipe down your own laptop before client meetings.

Directly bringing this type of personal attack to your boss is great way to seed an uneasy relationship with them and is frankly just rude.

  • I agree, That's why I want to find an indirect way of making him understand. It's not really about his sweat problem, I understand that. But there are lots of things you can do about it. There are tee shirts that help and deodorant that are really good for this. – I am bored Jun 20 '18 at 12:45
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    @Iambored Saying that special undershirts (like Thompson tee) and antiperspirant deodorants help excessive sweating indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of excessive sweating. – Joe S Jun 20 '18 at 13:17
  • Well you actually assumed he has excessive sweating while in any case it's just a part of the problem. – I am bored Jun 20 '18 at 15:36
  • You mentioned "He always has big sweat stains under his armpits (every. single. day.)" In your post. Since this doesn't happen to everyone, even if they don't wear special antiperspirant, I'd call it excessive. – Joe S Jun 20 '18 at 15:40
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Don't be mistaken, your boss probably knows he is having these issues as well. I used to have pretty severe social anxiety (and still do to this day, albeit to a lesser extent) and I would think about every little thing "wrong" with me during the day. I tend to sweat a lot when it gets hot and I would stress endlessly about the sweat on my armpits. Other than turning on the AC, there wasn't much I could do. My solution for this would be to preemptively turn on the AC onto a cooler setting at the start of the day.

Note: Ask your colleagues before you do this to make sure they are OK with it. I would recommend against expressing the real reason behind why you are doing it. Just say that you are too hot or something along those lines.

As for the bad breath, I would chew some strong, minty gum if I ever found myself forgetting to brush my teeth. If you can't stand his breath, take some out and chew some yourself and ask him:

Hey, do you want some gum as well?

This is less direct and in my opinion more professional than flatly commenting on your boss' breath. After a while your boss might get the hint, or he might not. In the case that he doesn't get the hint, you should be more direct.

Take him aside and let inform him of his hygiene issues in a polite way. Don't make any rude comments or spend a long time dwelling on it; just get to the point and express how you think his hygiene might be impacting your relationship with your clients. The case may be that he just doesn't realize how bad his breath smells or how much he is sweating. I would greatly appreciate it if someone told me I smelled if I didn't realize.


Edit 1

In response to your comment where you state

I really can't take him aside to tell him, I would be too much embarrassed

You could try placing an anonymous note on his desk instead of directly confronting him. This saves you the embarrassment from having to talk to him face to face about the issue.

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    I already tried the gum trick, didn't work. I really can't take him aside to tell him, I would be too much embarrassed. I'm actually scared to say the wrong words as I usually tend to mess up in real conversations. – I am bored Jun 18 '18 at 19:51
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    I would recommend against anonymous notes. If someone were to leave an anonymous note about my hygiene on my desk, I'd be livid and think it was cowardly. – baldPrussian Jun 18 '18 at 23:07
  • Heads up, The question has been edited. The part of your answer that actually adresses the question is your last paragraph before the edit part. Can you expand a little on that paragraph maybe? How does your solution not make the situation awkward? – Kaspar Scherrer Jun 19 '18 at 8:38
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    baldPrussian is right, I wouldn't suggest anonymous notes. Even more, I strongly disagree. I did something similar once for the same reasons(lack of hygiene), and the person just raised up and asked "who put this here?". He was sad, angry and ashamed in the same time. I ended up being shown as the bad guy, that doesn't understand other's problem. I was also ashamed for doing it. It is for sure not the best option. I invite you to reconsider. – lukuss Jun 19 '18 at 12:37
  • I do agree with you @baldPrussian and lukuss, I would never do that – I am bored Jun 19 '18 at 15:48

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