Advice column: What can I do to counteract my manager's poor personal hygiene?

Dear Ash,

I have a manager who seems to be allergic to washing. He evidently does not use deodorant and although he wears white shirts, they are quite grubby and stained in places. I find it extremely difficult to have my regular work meetings with him as the smell can sometimes be intolerable. I am still finding my way at work and he has set regular meetings to discuss cases and therefore it is impossible for me to keep my distance from him. He recently made a remark about his being annoyed by people who “wasted water by having daily showers”, and I know from other staff that he is very set in his ways and is a staunch believer in preventing waste and recycling. I enjoy my job but I cannot tolerate the smell and it is very distracting when he is speaking to me! 

Ash replies:

Personal hygiene issues are clearly a very sensitive issue, especially for the poor noses that have to endure it!

Joking aside, this is an issue which can have a detrimental effect on the working environment, but it is a very difficult subject to try to raise sensitively without causing inevitable offence. The fact that your manager seems to think he is being helpful to the environment by conserving water will also probably mean that he will not appreciate any perceived criticism about hygiene matters.

I can appreciate that you are in a tricky position, as you do not want to offend your manager due to his strong issues on the subject. I would therefore suggest, given his position, that you try to take steps of damage limitation rather than confronting him about the matter. One technique I have found to be quite helpful yet discreet in such circumstances is to dab some perfume under your nose. This should help to block out some of the bad odours for a short time at least. In the long run, perhaps consider relying more on emailing your manager about work matters, as this may cut short the discussion time in your meetings.

I recall once speaking to a former colleague about a particularly smelly colleague and he had jokingly suggested that the best way of getting the message across to the offending culprit may be to act in a similar fashion for one day! However, a word of caution: if you were to turn up to work one day without washing or wearing clean clothes then you might not only risk losing the company of other staff but your manager might actually be pleased in believing that he had managed to convert you to his green way of thinking!


Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor:, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS.

Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Registrar’s Department. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, Manager in the Registrar’s Department on 0131 476 8105/8200, or

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