Dear style & substance:
I have a co-worker who has an issue with personal hygiene. While it is something that we can put up with in the office, we do have clients in and out of the office all day, and she is to the point that she reflects very poorly on us as a company. I’m not in management, but our management doesn’t seem interested in dealing with the issue. I know that she would not take kindly to me mentioning something to her. Any ideas?
You are spot-on in realizing that this issue is a direct reflection of your organizational values. At the heart of this situation is respect: for self, others, and the organization providing for one’s livelihood.
You are also correct in your sensitivity to your colleague. Resolution will occur when all parties are in alignment to the greater good, being a pleasant workplace that includes satisfied customers. Confronting your colleague about her personal hygiene, or lack thereof, may lead to hurt feelings and anger, both non-productive in seeking a solution and bringing about necessary change.
Although we recommend that getting too involved in coworker’s personal lives can lead to distractions and less productive environments, we would venture to say that this lack of hygiene is in large part due to depression or an unresolved emotional situation. Excellent communication and sensitivity are needed by the leader to privately discuss the need for improvement and possibly provide some guidance in whatever the underlying barrier to cleanliness might be. In a general sense, some issues can be addressed with a nudge or gentle reminder by other employees and could include something like, “we feel it brings morale and professionalism down when everyone is not following the dress code.” Even asking the question, “How do we appear to the outside world?” can be a non-threatening way to introduce sensitive topics.
If the Management at your organization is not taking action to address this situation, try beginning with structures you have in place….do you have staff meetings, or some other manner to share concerns or suggestions? If so, add Customer Service to the regular agenda. Customer Service as a point of focus is broad and can encompass the topic of how the staff is perceived by customers. Share examples of other places of business where the staff are courteous and professional, and foremost, where staff present in a professional manner. Encourage other staff to share similar stories, which can become the foundation for clearly articulating a vision and mission for how your organization can move forward in creating a stronger model for success. Review your employee manual and what the dress code section states. Maybe this can be revised from a customer service standpoint.
If your organization does not have a formalized way of connecting, suggest to the management team you begin holding staff meetings as a way to improve business – all businesses want to generate revenue and no matter what your business is, customer service drives productivity.
Check in with yourself as well. Do you dress the part? Are your briefcase, work materials, office and car organized, clean and neat? When clients and colleagues look at you do they see someone who takes their work and themselves seriously? Does your look make the statement that what you do is important? You can lead change by example.
Trust your client base. Another suggestion you can make to the management team is to conduct client surveys. These surveys should be easy to complete and meaningful in identifying areas for improvement. Most customers/clients are happy to be asked their opinion, especially when your organization wants to offer a better product or service.
If you don’t see any of this as possible…share this column with the staff….and then YOU be responsible for YOU, others may follow suit. “Tightening up” on the details is what sets you and your business apart; it gives the employees the feeling of success, which definitely radiates to your customers; giving them confidence in you and your delivery of services. Good luck!
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