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No. 102 – My colleague stinks. How do we tell them they smell?

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12 April 2023

My colleague has terrible personal hygiene, and I am not convinced they wear deodorant at all. Everyone in the office talks about it behind their back but no one wants to say anything. We really like our colleague but the smell is so bad it makes it hard for anyone to want to spend time with them, and we all try and find ways to avoid them having contact with clients. What should we do?

Having to have a delicate conversation with someone about a topic like this is a situation no one wants to find themselves in, but someone is going to need to. My recommendation is to find whoever they are closest to and trust at work, and see if that person might broach the issue. If you say something like “With this hot weather, I have needed to use stronger deodorant. I just wanted to mention this because we are mates, and you might want to check yours too.” Even as I write this my stomach churns at the thought of having to say it, however, it is not fair to your colleague that people are talking about them, and it may be an issue that can be resolved. The bottom line is, if you care about your colleague, see if you can find a way to raise this with them compassionately, privately and in a way that leaves them understanding the issue but not feeling they have been personally attacked.

I have a full-time job working in a customer call centre. While some callers are great, they are rare and basically, I listen to people complaining all day. I hate my job and I think about quitting multiple times a day. I know lots of my colleagues hate their jobs as well, so you can imagine the mood in our office and our supervisor seems just as unhappy. While I would quit tomorrow, the sad fact is I can’t afford to and when I have looked around, the only other roles I seem to be offered are also in call centres. How do I get out of this situation and make a change?

Not only are you completely sick and tired of your job, but it sounds like you may be experiencing burn out as well. It doesn’t help you are not getting any support from anyone you work with, including your boss. First, please seek any support you can from an EAP provider, if that is on offer. The easy answer would be for me to suggest you get a job – any job – and get out of there. However, I appreciate financially it doesn’t sound like an option. It also sounds like you are not too sure what you would do, if you could, either. So, that is my question for you – when you are laying in bed at night dreading going into work the next day, what is it you imagine you would love to be doing? Once you start to visualise some ideas you will find it easier to make conscious and unconscious choices to get there.

I realise none of this is a quick solution and sadly, you are also not alone. In recent research, which should make your supervisor and anyone else leading teams like yours act to stem the crisis, 45 per cent of frontline workers in Australia say they are stressed at work at least half the time and 53 per cent say they feel emotionally drained. In addition, 40 per cent of Australian frontline workers consider quitting their jobs multiple times a month. We need to see cultural change in workplaces like yours. That means allowing you to continue in roles in ways that do not cause burnout or else helping provide pathways and skill development to rotate you through different roles.

When I started in my job six years ago, I loved it. I was able to experiment with new ways of working, suggest improvements and basically explore a whole new way of tackling complex problems. Now though, my job has become mundane and routine. There is no excitement and I couldn’t be bothered looking for new ways to do things. I know I probably need a new role, but it is so comfortable here it is hard to change. Any advice?

I think you already know what you need to do. It sounds like you have lost all that initial curiosity and fresh thinking that came with a new role and need a new challenge to spark that fire again. You can be reassured in knowing you are very normal in this respect. One research study showed that we lose 20 per cent of our levels of curiosity after just six months in a new job. It is a staggering statistic and a reminder that we all need to make sure we work hard to mix things up however we can. The great thing about curiosity is even if it feels like it is dormant now, it is always there, waiting to be unleashed. You just need a new role to find that fire again. Change is hard but well and truly worth it.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to contact@kirstinferguson.com. Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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