I am working in a software consultancy company, and our job has a good deal of direct interaction with clients. We are a very international bunch of people, but we are based in Germany, and all our clients are German. From the professional point of view, we not only have to be good technically, but look business-like.

There is a new colleague, let's call him Bob, who is a motivated person eager to work and technically quite good. But he is very timid and quite a nerd - he is not interested in sport at all, his posture is really bad, shoulders sloping, arms always hanging alongside his body and not moving while he walks. He dresses OK, somehow, but the most disturbing is his hair. He hasn't cut his hair for ages, washes it rarely and never combs it, same with facial hair - very patchy beard, and he has a nasty habit of twitching his hairs when he's bored. In short, he looks like a hobo, although in nice clothes.

The boy is actually nice, he is young, new in the city and would like to have friends, one can see that. But I really can't see that shabby look at all, I always avoid him, but we have to work in the same team. He goes to the client with us, and I am ashamed of the image we produce as a company when he looks like that. I also think that if he changed the way he looks and realized that he can look much more likeable, it will also help him feel better about himself and get more friends.

I have noticed that most of the questions in this forum can be answered by very direct communication. It's that easy. But unfortunately it is not an option in this case. If I talk to Bob, even very nicely, he will definitely just get offended, and that will make our teamwork worse. My colleagues agree with me about his looks, but no one wants to talk to him in fear of him getting offended. I have already talked to my boss who also said it would be weird if he as a boss did it, then poor Bob will get scared to death. The boss presented me with an option to talk to one common colleague who works remotely, let's call her Alice, she's a very friendly lady and they are almost friends with Bob since they started together - the suggestion was to ask her to play a role, telling Bob that she has a couple of girlfriends who would like to meet new people, but before she can organize a meeting for him with them, she would like to go to a hairdresser's with Bob and pimp his style. Although the idea is interesting, I seriously doubt that Alice will be happy to do it, and that it might work at all.

So. I understand the easiest option would be for one of us to talk to him. The question is, who and how. Let's try to get creative here. As I said, being direct will damage our communication. I would normally be very direct, but that does not always work for all people. All of the other colleagues I see take care of how they look, and I want this one to do too, I want to have a pleasant team, have a good image before the customer and maybe help this guy understand it's nicer for everybody if he takes care of himself.

What's the best way we can ask/motivate Bob to clean up his hairstyle?

Edit: Information collected from comments:

My boss agrees that the guy looks bad, and that it would be better if something was done about it, but he himself is indecisive for now how to handle this.

Our HR department is kinda "separate" from us and the decisions about hire are mostly made by our technical employees, so they won't help us in this case. We generally strive to have a "family" atmosphere in the company, we are relatively young, but growing fast, and it's becoming hard, but we are trying to leave it like that and it's of utmost importance to our boss, that's why he said it would be inappropriate for him to do it.

I understand my boss as a person, but I guess as a boss he is still probably the most appropriate person to do it. I don't think he thinks this as important. But he does not work with Bob. I agree, this is not something that will ruin the entire career of our company, but for me as a team-member it is something I would really like to change.

We are actually going to have a "review" meeting about assessing the job we do in a week or so, just came to my mind it could be a good time to mention this. Review is going to be done by the boss and one other colleague.

Alice once asked him why he wouldn't trim his hair and he said something along the lines of "I'm too lazy".


I have had a couple of talks with different colleagues, they understand me and some of them also get frustrated because of this, the HR department also complained to us this is inappropriate, but the customers Bob works with so far haven't worded anything yet. He might be transferred to other customers soon. The managerial part of the company have decided they will leave this as it is until the customers make remarks - then this will definitely be addressed. Meanwhile, the guy who manages Bob's work has somehow taken Bob to a sports facility and has a plan to go to a hairdresser's and take Bob with him=)

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    Does your company have an official dress-code? And does I am ashamed of the image we produce as a company when he looks like that imply it's just you, or are you getting signals from the clients as well? Who hired Bob, and how did he look at that time?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 13:55
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    You make a point that you are an international bunch. Is this related to the question? Do you think it is relevant where he is from? If so, could you state his cultural background? If not, that information is a bit of a red herring?
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 14:16
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    This question is being discussed on meta.
    – Em C
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 2:04
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    Related: academia.stackexchange.com/a/100754/32436 Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 4:29
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    Is it part of your position within the company to address Bob's appearance? Are you his supervisor or the like? I'm also a little confused on whether you want to address his appearance as a coworker who is concerned it will negatively effect your job, or an acquaintance who wants to help him be more popular. Those specifics would have very different answers.
    – user61524
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 8:06

11 Answers 11


Edit 2:

Thorsten S. Has mentioned that German culture is different. I will note that my response may be more applicable to most Canadian (in my experience) business/services/companies.

If the company has a certain image to maintain then it's up to management to handle this. If the expectation was not conveyed at the time of hiring then it should be brought up now.

Wording like this may help your boss open that conversation:

Bob, I would like to talk to you about the company image. If it was not mentioned at the interview then I'd like to update you now. While we do not have an official uniform, everyone is expected to maintain a level of professionalism and grooming. I've noticed you've let your hair and beard grow. This is not an issue but it needs to look tidy and clean.

Do not use another coworker to address his grooming. If this conflicts with the company image then management should deal directly with it. You, as a colleague, should not do this. A supervisor or someone in a higher position must do this. Your boss is wrong and does not want to be confrontational but because he's in a role of superiority in the workplace, issues like this should only be dealt with by someone above.

Involving another coworker is so inappropriate, I cannot stress this enough. It's bad enough you're being asked to do this. If you don't have an HR department then your boss should intervene.

Now, this answer does not exactly address potentially damaging communication but (for example) you don't go to the gym in a suit or you don't show up at a formal event after 3 days of camping. Appropriate office wear and grooming is generally expected.

Edit: To expand on the interpersonal aspect. Damaging communication can be caused if you (a co-worker, someone who is on the same level) addresses his appearance. It's not your responsibility or mandate to do this. The boss (in a position of superiority, and generally respected) talking to him about grooming is coming from a non-personal view. If he got the job then clearly he's capable of cleaning up.

Assume the worst case: he's been going through a tough time and now his appearance is taking a toll. Clearly something in his schedule or life style changed for him to lose track of grooming.

I still stand behind the fact that your boss or HR take care of this. This is exactly what HR is for if your boss won't handle it.

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    I completely agree with this answer, and I add that the sentence in the original post "...I have already talked to my boss who also said it would be weird if he as a boss did it..." shocks me. It looks as if he wanted to wash his hands of the issue, when he is actually the one that should be dealing with it.
    – Alicia
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 14:51
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    what doctordonna and djclayworth want to get across is that you don't get a say in this matter. Either your boss/management does not agree on his current look and they will deal with it themselves, or they don't care and let him come to work like that. Either way, it is not your position to care about your company's image.
    – kscherrer
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 16:07
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    This is an absolutely correct Workplace SE answer but not as strong in the Interpersonal skills category. Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 18:03
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    @Arandomlady You can be motivated to make your workplace appear with the dignity you want to portray but it really isn't your place to be implementing the rules because it's not what you're paid for. I think that's all that's meant here, and why consensus is that your boss should really be the one to handle this. He is paid to manage his employees, not to tell his employees to manage each other.
    – Jess K.
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 21:14
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    @Arandomlady Crossing the line by telling Bob anything from yourself is likely to be offensive no matter what, because you have no authority over Bob and don't speak for the company. You'd just end up sounding rude. Hopefully this makes sense what's meant by "you dont get a say"... You do... But to your boss (who should take action if enough complaints are made)
    – Jess K.
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 21:15

There are two points here.

First, if you are concerned because of impact on the company, for example because clients react badly to him, then this is a workplace issue. Your boss should take care of it, and the question should be on our workplace site.. If your boss isn't handling it you should go to the boss and explain why you think Bob's image is hurting the company (being very careful to put it in those terms and not 'why I don't like Bob's apperance'). But if the boss disagrees it's his call.

However if this is just the fact that you don't like Bob's dress, then guess what - you don't get to control his dress. Unless you are his boss you don't get to 'tell' him to do anything. If the workplace considers it acceptable, it's acceptable for you. There doesn't appear to be a sanitary issue here.

If Bob had expressed a desire for you to help him with some personal issue, and a change of dress might help, then feel free to help him. But without that, you should leave well alone. Who knows, maybe you will get used to his style.

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    +1 Hits the nail on the head - this is not something for OP to deal with at all. Either it is a business problem, and management need to deal with it as they see appropriate, or management have deemed it not a problem - and OP needs to accept that.
    – user10883
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 15:25
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    @Arandomlady the line between "I don't like the way he looks" and "bad hygiene" is pretty big, actually.
    – Erik
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 15:49
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    Very good answer. To me it sounds like Bob is on the brink of getting harassed just for his looks. #meeto
    – user2848
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 15:57
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    @Geliormth Yes. A Random lady might want to think about how she would feel if Bob came to her and criticized her appearance Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 16:16
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    @Arandomlady if that's the case, and you can accept criticism, then I highly recommend listening to the people here who are stating that it's none of your business what he looks like. It is up to your boss to decide if he is detrimental to the company image.
    – user6818
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 21:12

I hope that I am still in time because as a German I can tell that several answers here are inacceptable for German culture.

  1. The social contract here is that once a person is accepted and he does not disturb others by dirt/hygiene/smell etc. etc., his clothing and style are off-limits, including the company. There is no "company image" to defend and the company has practically zero influence on what someone does outside working time. I cannot stress this difference enough. It is a remainder of two dictatorships that Germans really do not like something which could be judged as interfering. Walmart tried to incorporate US behavior 1:1 here and reaped well-earned fury. Naturally there are many branches like gastronomy and banking where grooming and style are expected and followed, but if it is not, there is not much you can do. If you do not like how someone behaves or looks without objective reasons (dirt/smell etc.), tough luck.

  2. This answer is even worse. As many know, Germans are often very...direct in their communication behavior and prefer honesty. Asking a man out for a coffee means that a woman is interested. As we know now, the OP is not interested, but wants to manipulate him to fit the own expectations...this will really go down in a completely wrong direction. aparente001, moving someone in a direction may succeed if you are friendly, like people and are very capable of social interactions, but if the mentor is not adept enough or the person finds out what you are doing, the social status of the mentor with this person moves into the doghouse, if you know what I mean.

So for the actual solution, the OP cannot do anything interpersonally because in German culture it is not her business. It would be another thing if he asked for help or if he wants to talk about to increase his social profile, but as long as he does not ask for that, keep your hands away.

AllTheKingsHorses pointed to the legal possibilities of the boss, but IPS is not about what people can do, but what is appropiate to do. I try to explain. If you and and your boss start a working relationship, here in Germany you also start a silent, invisible contract. This contract says that your appearance at the interview is ok for the job you are doing, otherwise you would have been rejected. This contract can only be changed if there are objective or intersubjective reasons for the change, opinions or the idea of an projected image are not remotely sufficient. So:

  • Has Bob's appearance triggered remarks or complaints from a customer?
  • Is the success rate for every contract Bob negotiated too low in comparison?

If that would be the case, I think the boss would have already intervened. Now it sounds that it is not the case, only that the OP does not like the outfit. And how do you get objective and intersubjective reasons? By speaking directly, brutally honest and asking "Why?" and getting an exact answer. Germans do not want to know what someone might think, they want to know what someone is thinking. If nobody complains or no failure can be detected, there is no problem, talking about firm image and professionalism is hunting ghosts for a German mind.

Also the idea of fairness pervades German culture. If you set up a new contract (e.g. only suits at workplace), everybody must adjust, including the boss. Singling out only one person is frowned upon.

There are also several other problems relating to German culture. Speaking negatively about your coworkers behind their back is highly frowned upon (The people will normally know if it is only a short, specific rant and not a condemnation). It is also expected and seen as a sign of maturity that you always try to solve problems in a personal meeting before running to the boss. If now the boss really intervenes, everybody will now know who is responsible for the intervention. If Bob is really having a good heart and tells under tears truthfully that OP never said a word, the OP will suffer massive social damage. Untrustful. Cannot handle problems. Backstabber.

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    Plus, if somebody might hint Bob by placing a shampoo container on his desk, this might be viewed as harassment.
    – michi
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 21:12
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    @doctordonna Yes, I know exactly what you mean. No, it was not the vest (German only). It was the greeters and the packers at cashpoint (Germans hate it if they get the impression that people are forced to do demeaning work), it was the morning muster (are we in a cult or what?) and the final straw was the "ethic rules" prohibiting flirts/relationships at work (That was an extreme violation of Not your business, company!). I could count much more, but it was total culture blindness. Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 2:31
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    And no, the certain standard at work is not the same for software consultants as for hoteliers/bankers. If OP and the guy are coming in a room, my thoughts (which I would hold for myself) would be: "Ah, she is the representation face and he is the tech guy.". In fact this is quite common because you need someone who knows what to do if a problem occurs (You know, presentation curse) and if he is polite and good at the job, we are pragmatic and ignore his odd style. The OP already recognized that the German colleagues are very reluctant to do anything precisely for this reason. Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 2:41
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    @NotThatGuy Imagine someone asks the question: "If I am thirsty, where can I drink a beer I bought in a supermarket?" A perfectly acceptable German answer would be: "On the street?". An US citizen may see that and say: "Don't do that here!" for a very good reason. According to your complaint this should not belong in an answer because strictly speaking it is not an answer? Sorry, I do not accept your complaint. Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 3:02
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    @ThorstenS. The thing with your answer is... Bob is (at least I read that from the question) a client facing consultant, not a backend dev who can hide in his office all day. And in that case German Arbeitsrecht has a few things to say about what an employer can do (anwaltauskunft.de/magazin/beruf/angestellt/…). IANAL but I would assume that the boss would be well within his rights to ask Bob to take better care of his hair and beard (in a polite way). For a consultant, it's important to leave a professional impression after all. Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 9:14

Speaking directly to Bob is the best way. Other options just seem like they will backfire and make you look sneaky. Let's be frank - Bob isn't going to be happy when he finds out that 'Alice' hasn't really got any girlfriends that want to meet him and it was all a trick to get him to get a haircut and shave. You should have called her 'Delilah'.

If you have to give negative feedback, you can always sandwich it between two bits of positive feedback. Some managers call this a 's*** sandwich':

Bob, you've been working here x months now. You're doing great, seems like you've really settled into this work.

I think you've got potential to go further in the company, but you know that image is very important when dealing with clients. Could we ask you to tidy up your hair and beard please?

Got to say though - love the suit, very snappy.

It really ought to be the manager delivering this, or someone responsible for staff appraisal. Good managers have regular 1-to-1 meetings with their staff rather than just once-per-year appraisals.

  • We are actually going to have a "review" meeting about assessing the job we do in a week or so, just came to my mind it could be a good event to mention this. Review is going to be done by the boss and one other colleague. I will talk to that colleague and ask his opinion. Thank you. Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 15:44
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    I was with you pretty well until I got to "Got to say though - love the suit, very snappy" -- if I were Bob, that would make me cringe. Clearly, this guy is not a clothes horse and prefers to concentrate on other things besides personal appearance. Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 4:27

I've worked in companies that had strict appearance policies from dress code, to hair style, to even shoe style. Such policies are standard in client facing or customer service businesses. I've handled these types of situations often from the position of a front-line employee ranging to senior management.

The best course of action in a professional setting, especially one of a team, is for the manager or team leader to issue a new policy. This is your manager/leader/supervisor's responsibility. The manager should make it known that this new policy encompasses the entire team and that it is not meant to point fingers or put a spotlight on anyone.

The policy should include:

  1. a brief vision statement, from the company or manager, about what it hopes to achieve with this enforcement,

  2. reasons why it is being enforced (concern for negative impact on company image, client complaints, etc.),

  3. bullet points of what the expectations are (suit and tie, closed toed shoes, no baggy pants).

  4. and lastly, a deadline for when the policy will be strictly enforced.

If your manager will not shoulder this burden, then you could meet with your team (including Bob) and request that they collaborate with you to create a new policy among your group. Cite the reasons you've previously stated (company image, client complaints), and perhaps that there have been some concerns from other team members or rumors from management that you all need to improve your appearance as a team. Make suggestions or brainstorm what the ideal team member appearance is and get a consensus from everyone. This will hold everyone accountable, including Bob.

Draft a document and have all the team members sign it. Although this document may have no regulatory standing in your organization, it makes an important impression on your team members mentally. The act of signing the "team's appearance policy" will ensure that everyone is accountable. I'd recommend informing your manager if you decide to pursue this course of action.

The key is to avoid singling out Bob and show him that you're in it together, as a team. If he has the support from the rest of his team and sees that you all need to improve your appearance together, he will quickly comply, especially if he is young and eager to impress.

  • Or he could refuse to sign it... in which case you'll get an interesting discussion. Or the act of signing it could be meaningless; I've worked places where only the people who outright refused to sign certain policies took it seriously. (Which sounds weird; but hey)
    – Erik
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 16:44
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    I have to say, I disagree about the second point being a good idea. You may open yourself up to a litany of HR concerns, especially if your "agreement" could be seen as discriminatory. Also, if everyone but Bob has perfectly styled hair and comes in clean-shaven, you can't possibly have such a meeting without him feeling he's being singled out, which may lead him to go to HR about resolving what he may rightfully feel is a hostile work environment. Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 20:12
  • @Erik: Doesn't sound too weird, actually. I've been like that before. Frankly, i wouldn't respect any policy that even its supporters won't abide by.
    – cHao
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 22:46

This is complicated, I don't think you can tell someone like this outright or quickly that the way they look isn't great.

As your boss doesn't want to get involved and you are considered peers, this seems more like a social rather than professional problem.

It might be worth having a male colleague strike up a conversation about grooming habits with him, make some suggestions along the lines of "I tried this and it really made me look nice".

Putting in some easily re-searchable tidbits like 'women prefer men with stubble' and then talking about a good beard trimmer would probably help with this.

From personal experience, discussing what works with other men makes me more receptive than being told my own flaws.

Another thing that works on me, is having someone of the opposite sex tell me they prefer men to look a certain way because of X reason. No greater motivation for my appearance and hygiene than sex and dating, sadly enough.

It might be worth having a conversation about what people find attractive around him. But make sure you know his sexual orientation first and don't look like you're coming on to him, it could detract from the conversation if you get that wrong.

The important thing is to give him hints so he can form his own sense of style, not call him ugly to his face.

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    Where I generally agree with the point to suggest things that work great and you liked when testing, rather than accussing. I fear that this answer is not in the correct context. It's a professional environment where the image of the company get's displayed by the employees. As @doctordonna already suggested it should be taken care of by HR or something like that when it has to do with work. In personal circumstances with friends etc your answer is really nice though.
    – Nico
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 14:29
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    Attractiveness isn't the same as professional appearance - they might often be linked, but they could easily not be. Discussing appearance in terms of attractiveness at work also seems like a potential minefield. Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 14:35
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    If OP doesn't want to utilize HR, this is a better route to go. Saying things like, "Have you ever thought of getting one of those haircuts where (describe a more appropriate haircut for work)? I don't think I could pull it off, but you could rock it" or other various ways of encouraging Bob to change are best. OP isn't his boss. It's out of line for him to tell Bob he must change.
    – Jess K.
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 14:42
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    I believe myself to be a fairly good looking guy. Trained, good physique, 5 days beard, long hair(groomed) But if a girl comes to me and (eg.) says i prefer people with short hair, or any other style i dont offer, i think "nice for her". I wouldnt change myself for no amount of sex honestly.
    – MansNotHot
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 14:48
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    There are a lot of people who simply don't care about looking nice (or professional), and the main way to identify them is that they don't make an effort to do so. Conversations like this are likely to get responses like "whatever, I don't care".
    – Erik
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 14:55

There are people in this world who see a problem and rush right out to... complain to their work colleagues without doing anything about the problem. Clearly you are not such a person. You appear to be someone who thinks things over, researches possible solutions, and is generally proactive (in a thoughtful way).

It appears unlikely your boss and your HR people will tackle this problem. If that's incorrect, great -- problem solved! If not:

I carpooled for a period of time with someone who was a bit awkward about some basic life things. I had to spell some things out for him that I wouldn't normally. It turned out fine. Just tell Bob what you need to tell him, without making a big deal about it. Use the positive approach, for example

Bob, I've been doing this job for a few months/years/decades now, and I want to give you a tip that will help you be even more effective in this job.

(Note the key word "even.") Use a matter-of-fact, non-judgmental tone and don't apologize -- just explain things to him, on the assumption that no one has ever explained these things to him, and that picking up on social cues is not his forte.

Clients get a good impression of the company and the work we're doing for them if we extend the concept of "dress for success" to include secondary things like hairstyle. In other words, it's not enough to present with professional-looking clothes. Professional-looking hair helps too.

Let that sink in. Then:

Bob, I have a nice hairstylist who makes getting a haircut really convenient and low stress. I'm going tomorrow (Saturday). Would you like to meet me for coffee tomorrow and go with me, check the place out?

This is just one possible way of broaching it. As long as you are your gentle, well-meaning self that I can see you are, you'll be fine. If you maintain your personal boundaries, it will be clear that this is not a romantic overture (and if were to misunderstand, then you could proceed to calmly tell him he got the wrong impression -- again, no judgmentalism, just give him the information he needs). Tips:

  • Be discreet. Don't talk to Bob about this in anyone else's hearing, and don't talk to your co-workers about how you handled it, due to the risk that your comment might get back to Bob in a distorted, hurtful way.

  • If you see an improvement in Bob, give him succinct, positive feedback. Again, use a neutral tone and don't gush.

  • Once the haircut issue is resolved, possible next steps: washing hair more often, refraining from compulsive twiddling with hair during meetings with clients (here it may be helpful to make available a sampler collection of fidget items).

This is a natural part of mentoring, and it will add to your karma. Others will step forward and mentor you when you need it!

Note, the upcoming performance review wouldn't be a good place to talk about this. Many people get quite nervous about performance reviews as it is, and also, since Bob is new to the job, and young, I suppose this may be his first performance review ever. Better to help him prepare for a smooth ride.

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    If Bob doesn't look to OP for mentorship, it seems like this approach is likely to cause a lot of offence and conflict. It would send a pretty clear message that you think you're better than they are, and that they're not capable of putting one and one together, and that they require hand-holding. Mentorship isn't something to be forced down someone's throat. Although it might (or might not) come across better in German culture.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 23:42
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    @NotThatGuy - Bob is new in the position and "motivated ... eager to work and technically quite good." In my recommended procedure, senior colleague does not force her suggestion on him -- she offers it. Bob is free to decline both the advice and the company going to the appointment. I've dealt with a lot of socially inept nerds and they've been fine with some gentle, kind guidance. The one person I've seen react badly to a request to wash his winter coat was an older bachelor, non-nerd. Nothing bad happened -- he just didn't wash his winter coat. Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 1:54

I have already talked to my boss who also said it would be weird if he as a boss did it, then poor Bob will get scared to death.

This is a total cop out by your boss. This is exactly the type of thing your boss should be talking to a employee about as it's affecting his interaction with clients.

If your boss can't deal with telling someone they need to sort out their appearance for their role, then I'd suspect they won't be able to deal with any other issues effectively either.

Note: In the UK at least (where I'm based) I believe an employee can be told they need to keep their clothing/apperance to company standards as long as those standards make sense in the role, and are applied to everyone equally. This may not be true in Germany.


You present an interesting challenge - how to speak directly to a person that, if you speak directly to, will be offended?

First of all, bringing Alice into the picture is not a good idea. If it's not her issue, she won't be happy if you ask her to do "your work" for you.

The question is: who is closest to Bob? Who does he respect the most? That would be the first choice of person to deal with that. If there isn't an answer to that, then picking the most sensitive person is the group will be the best choice.

Either way, I'd frame it as helping Bob. He probably already knows he has an issue. The big thing is to find out what matters to him and frame the discussion in that way. What does he want from the job? Promotion? Recognition? A closer-knit team? More responsibility? More opportunity? Whatever it is, improved grooming can help that. And this needs to be done slowly. If you try to fix all his grooming issues at once, that will fall flat. I'd start with washing his hair. Then beard grooming. Then tying the hair back. The important thing here is to do this gradually. And frame it positively - "Hey Bob; that cut looks good on you." "Hey Bob, your beard looks really good when you trim it that way". People will respond better to positive reinforcement than to criticism.

Does your group interact socially with one another? What is Bob's status in that group? Does he come along? Is he invited? Or is he excluded from social interactions with the group? If he is excluded, that would be a "reward" for him - when he does make small improvements, invite him with for a beer. You don't need to tell him that, but let him start associating improved grooming with increased social interaction with the team.

  • I do agree that the option with Alice is not nice. But I would like to stress here this whole thing is not "my work" since we are all colleagues, and I am just the one who writes this post. About the gradual help - I think it is a good idea, but I am unsure it will help. Alice once asked him why he wouldn't trim his hair and he said something along the lines of "I'm too lazy". Maybe it wasn't the positive position you expressed though. Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 15:41

Context: I live in Germany and I have been your Bob in my past.

I suggest you make a simple decision: Is it your business? If yes (because its hindering YOUR work, or similar) then be direct and say so. You may offend him, but that should not be your problem. He obviously has already been approached by people so it will come as no surprise to him that its bothering you.

But keep the topic along the lines of your business with it.


Hey Bob, Carl Customer recently talked to me about the Project and he said he is very worried how his management will react if they see you. This could jeopardize this and I really want to have this Project. Could you, for this situation, see a barber? Its fine if you choose a non-standard look but it should look cared for.

If he wants to discuss his laziness or other stuff don't let it pass. If this is mandatory for the job, its mandatory for the job. No further questions asked, no exceptions. We're Germans, we have rules for a reason. Don't let that Startup Grit get in the way of doing proper business.

If you find its not actually your business and you and your colleagues are not grossed out by him (If you are, say so - that changes stuff) then let it go. I can report that even though I looked run down and greasy I had plenty of friends, a stable job and a long running relationship in that phase of my life. Sure they are a different set then one finds who looks nice but its not your business - as long as you are not his friend.

I changed my looks primary because my then boss told me it was grossing out my colleagues. As I (and I'm sure Bob as well) don't want to gross out people I adopted a more clean (yet still non-standard) look and am living fine with it.

Personally, I have also met people who strongly dislike the feeling of washing their hair (due to tactile hypersensitivity). If Bob has this, its possible that he doesn't know. If you are (or become) his friend you might want to talk about it to him. If one keeps hair short, washing becomes surprisingly optimal, after about six to eight weeks the hair stops greasing constantly (what it did earlier because it was washed unnaturally often) and looks very unremarkable. Same goes for the beard.

  • Very interesting perspective in comparison to Thorsten S. Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 19:23
  • @doctordonna Throsten stated upfront that its non of the OPs business, but there are situations where thats just not the case (such as not getting a project). Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 20:59
  • I agree. I should have expanded to say that I’m glad to see more relevant perspectives as well. As you both mentioned, most other replies do not apply to German culture. Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 21:59

You're all his colleagues who possibly have much more experience in the field than he has. Instead of trying to directly come to him and speak about the way he looks, ask him or lead onto the conversation of how he can improve in the business. Before pointing out anything about the way he looks, analyse the way he approaches customers and let him know how he could improve that. This would make it much easier for you to then lead on to how he looks. Its not a lie that first impressions are everything. You don't need to say he looks like a hobo, you can say that clear and visible face are helpful when making contact with the customer, as facial expressions are much easier to make out therefore not making the customer feel uneasy or unable to see good intentions from his side. Say that it would help him to brush people well if he shaved and cut his hair so that he has a clean and tidy look.

I honestly believe Bob doesn't want to be a daily eye burden to you all. You are doing him a favour if you tell him since all of you think this. I'd hate to be working in a place where everyone secretly thinks something could be improved to make me a better employee, but no one ever says anything. Probably Bob will notice this, but what will make it worse is that he would still not know the cause for those weird eyes unless someone says something. We are animals, we have intuition, but we not mind readers.

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