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May 2019

3 awkward office conversations and how to manage them

Written by Lemay Rogers
Workplace Hygiene

The office environment can sometimes feel like a field filled with landmines - deadlines, intimidating bosses and water cooler gossip all have to be navigated so carefully. I was recently reminded that this minefield becomes even more dangerous when staff complaints are added to the mix. Whether you are the office ‘go-to’ person or you have a more formal role that makes you the recipient of complaints (like a Facilities Manager or Office Manager), staff complaints and concerns can be awkward, messy and may feel near impossible to address.

This reminded me of a series of blogs we ran which focused on those awkward questions. Coming off a week where one of these concerns reared its ugly head in our own office, I wanted to reshare some helpful tips on how to manage some of the awkwardness.

1.How to tell a colleague they have body odour

Talking to a colleague about their body odour is a really tough conversation to have. You have to remember that this subject is extremely sensitive and that you definitely need to have this conversation one on one (in private). You need to be mindful that body odour may originate from a medical problem and not a hygiene problem.

The best thing you can do is to have an honest and tactful conversation with this colleague, focussing on the facts and not breaking down his or her self confidence. Read the full post here.

2.How to tell your female boss you need urine mats

To me, there is nothing worse than a smelly bathroom. Working in the hygiene industry means that when I come across one, I immediately start asking questions like “is there is natural airflow in the bathroom (or an extractor fan), is there an air freshener unit, and what urinal solution is in place in the male bathroom?”

But most people don’t work in the hygiene industry and for a female boss, urinal care is one of the last things on her mind.  As a male colleague, you might feel awkward discussing this topic with your female boss, but I would like to encourage you to arm yourself with workable solutions and to present these to your boss in a factual way so that a decision can be made quickly. Learn more about your options.

3.How to tell your male boss you need (new) feminine hygiene units

Just like the point above, feminine hygiene units are probably one of the last things on your mind as a male boss. Even though 50% of the population has a period, menstruation is a taboo topic and generally avoided in polite conversation.  

As a female employee, entering into this conversation with your male boss may feel awkward, but it is important to present the facts around odour management and cross contamination, and to educate him on the company’s legal obligations to safely dispose of feminine hygiene waste (as per the National Environmental Management: Waste Act, 59 of 2008). Get more information on this topic.

Is your awkward situation not featured here?  You may want to check out 5 cringe worthy office hygiene scenarios where we look at;

  • Colleagues leaving the bathroom without washing their hands
  • Colleagues sneezing or coughing into their hands, and then trying to shake yours
  • Colleagues eating at their desk
  • Colleagues staying in their sweaty gym kit after exercise
  • Sick colleagues coming to work

I would also like to remind you that we have informative resources - including posters - on hand hygiene and feminine hygiene, to help you through those awkward conversations. Take a look at our resource centre here.

View our downloadable resources

Lemay Rogers

Lemay Rogers

Lémay Rogers is the Marketing Manager for Rentokil Initial's Sub-Saharan Africa region. When not contributing to the Initial blog, she is the custodian of all things Marketing for Rentokil Initial Sub-Saharan Africa. As a frequent traveller AND mother of a pre-schooler, she is all too aware of how easily germs can travel with us, from one location to another and then back to our homes. Follow Lémay on Twitter and LinkedIn for practical advice on good hygiene practices, both at home and in the workplace.

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