Perhaps one of the most difficult things I ever had to do as a manager of staff was to talk to someone about their 'body odour'. Can anyone think of a term to use and appropriate language in which the subject might be introduced in a private conversation?

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    Funny and tragic at the same time, and interesting!
    – Neeku
    Jul 1, 2014 at 8:38
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    You might suggest to the individual concerned that their 'personal scent profile' is 'disharmonious' with that generally prevalent in the office. Or just be direct and say 'I'm as embarrassed about this as you're about to be, so I'll be blunt: you're smelly.' I imagine that if I were ever on the receiving end of such a talk I'd actually appreciate being spared the clumsy tip-toeing, as a direct 'sorry mate but you stink' allows for the quickest resolution of, and thus exit from, an awkward situation.
    – 568ml
    Jul 1, 2014 at 8:48
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    Body odour is about as good at it gets, even if you use the medical term bromhidrosis you'll have to explain it to most and it doesn't just mean smelly due to bad hygiene. Body odour doesn't only mean bad smell but if you have to talk to someone about it I think they'll know you don't mean a pleasant body odour.
    – Frank
    Jul 1, 2014 at 8:53
  • B.O. is less direct...
    – Mou某
    Jul 1, 2014 at 9:26
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about manners, tact, and delicate personal interactions, not English language as such. Jul 1, 2014 at 14:55

3 Answers 3


I am a teacher, and I have had to bring that up before. There are two strategies.

  1. Address a group during a meeting, gently pointing out that being in close quarters, this is a reminder we all have to be especially aware of our personal hygiene habits, such as showering, deodorant. Trust me, he or she will get the message and you haven't specifically mentioned odor. You might assume this will cause sensitivity and feelings of self-consciousness in your non-odorous employees, but quite the contrary. Most likely they too have observed the odorous employee and will recognize and appreciate your efforts.

  2. Discreetly take the odorous employee aside and speak directly to him/her, again, gently pointing out that being in close quarters, we all have to be especially aware of our personal hygiene habits, such as showering, deodorant.

Regardless of strategy, it really helps if you are soft-spoken and respectful and you treat the matter with sensitivity.

Good luck....

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    Off-topic, but because this is English Language and Usage: I believe that using "discrete" to mean "discreet" is usually considered an error in formal writing, although the desired meaning can usually be gleaned from context. At my job, I encounter the word "discrete" quite frequently, so its substitution for "discreet" is especially jarring for me, and I imagine I'm not the only one for whom it reduces readability.
    – Vectornaut
    Jul 1, 2014 at 10:43

Depending on the make-up of the group, such as a room of young men, one can facetiously refer to the "manly funk" permeating the room and mention that though they may each be as physically imposing as King Kong, it does not mean that they need to smell like him.

In a group of mixed ages and genders, it would be collectively embarrassing to mention body odor so maybe it could be addressed by saying that the room seems "stuffy" (as a euphemism) and suggest that a window be opened or someone pop for a bottle of Febreze air freshener to be sprayed before the day begins (with special concentration on the offender's workspace...surreptitiously, of course!)

  • @WS2, good thing it worked! I knew someone who had to arrange for an employee to work from home due to an odor problem stemming from hair that smelled strongly of curry. Yikes! Jul 2, 2014 at 13:15

To discuss the topic delicately, I'd enquire about health, using a dialog on the order of "Mr. X, are you alright? I've noticed a body odor around you that suggests to me that you might want to consult a physician. I'd feel badly if your you had a health condition, and something happened because I didn't say anything."

  • I find this approach cruelly misleading. As far as I can tell, the OP was not concerned about the staff member's health. I think it's generally bad to tell a person you think they may be ill when you actually don't think this, and even worse to encourage that person to make an unnecessary medical appointment.
    – Vectornaut
    Jul 1, 2014 at 10:37
  • Moreover, I read into the OP's description the subtext that they wanted the staff member to change or reduce their odor, perhaps by wearing deodorant or bathing more often. As a genral rule of thumb, I think the best way to ask someone to do something is to ask them to do it, rather than asking them to do something else and hoping they'll guess your true intention.
    – Vectornaut
    Jul 1, 2014 at 10:38
  • Utilising phony concern is just lying, and disrespectful too. You're not actually interested in their health, you'd just like them to pay attention to their body odour by being more hygeinic. No matter which way you dice it, you're telling someone they stink and although there are ways to do it gently, your suggestion is bizarre.
    – Pete855217
    Jul 1, 2014 at 14:09
  • Vectornaut, OP was asking for a delicate way to discuss the topic of body odor. In my view, raising the issue of body odor in the context of the health implications it can have accomplishes that. It serves the function raising the issue with the person with some degree of delicacy. If the person was not aware, it may be a sufficient motivator to the person to improve personal hygiene. But, it may not be a matter of personal hygiene, because body odor is sometimes a signal of health issues.
    – brasshat
    Jul 1, 2014 at 19:19
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    Pete855217, Why assume that a co-worker or supervisor would not be interested in the health and well-being? Maybe I've just been lucky to have had co-workers and supervisors who were genuinely interested in my health, so that I don't assume that raising the issue of body odor would have been "phony concern" or "disrespectful.
    – brasshat
    Jul 1, 2014 at 19:25

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