Asking For A Friend: My colleague smells of BO. Should I tell them?

Hot weather and an office job means one thing: excess BO.

In this heat, even something as sedentary as sitting at your desk will have you sweating buckets, and in turn, feeling the need to top up on deodorant a little more.

Look, no one can help having a little more body odour than usual in the summer months, but that doesn’t make it any less pleasant – particularly if you’re within close vicinity to someone who has it particularly bad. 

And while it can be uncomfortable to be around someone who smells bad, is it ever a good idea to say anything?

According to Liz Villani, Founder of BeYourselfAtWork, the answer to that question is a hard no.

‘It’s going to be innately awkward to mention someone’s odour as it’s a deeply personal issue, much like criticising someone’s outfit choices or haircut,’ she tells

‘It’s possible they’ll feel undermined and there could be long lasting consequences for their morale and confidence.’

It’s true: it’s probably best to just grit your teeth and spare your colleague a few weeks of crippling embarrassment. 

That said, Liz does think something should be said if someone’s BO is having a genuinely negative impact on their work. 

‘You should only say something if the odour is causing negative externalities,’ she says.

‘So if it is having an impact in some way on the organisation or your business outcomes, like if the person is in a sales role, then it could well be that their sales success may be affected.’

However, if they work internally and don’t interact with customers, she says, let them be.

‘There’s no point raising such a sensitive issue for the sake of it, so try and consider if the problem is as big as you think.’

If you’ve thought long and hard and still think it’s worth bringing up, Liz says the conversation should come from a manager not a colleague, and if you have to be the one to say something, do so with authenticity and integrity. 

‘Be yourself, don’t lean into a ‘management’ or ‘professional’ persona in terms of formality, be human and talk to them because you care,’ she says. 

‘Whatever the situation, adding empathy and privacy to the difficult discussions is enormously important.’

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