[no]WURries: ‘My colleague at the lab often smells strongly of sweat.’

In this section people from WUR answer questions from colleagues and students.
‘My colleague at the lab often smells strongly of sweat. I would like to say something about it, but I’m not sure how to go about it. I get on well with him and I don’t want to spoil a good work relationship.’ Woman (36), name known to the editor

Relate it to yourself

‘If I didn’t smell so good, I would want someone to tell me. So I would do the same for someone else. Especially if you have to work with him a lot, because that is unpleasant for you. Take your colleague aside and downplay the problem a bit. You could say, “I’ve noticed recently that you smell a little bit sweaty”. You could say that you sometimes smell sweaty yourself, to make it less embarrassing for him. The smell of sweat can linger in T-shirts, and no deodorant can compete with that. Throwing out old shirts is the only solution. You could give him that tip too.’ Effie Beumer, IT manager CC&M


‘To me, this dilemma is in the same category as when you have food on your face or your fly is undone. Body odour is a bit more sensitive, but I would still mention it. Always with a question, such as, “Do you know your fly is undone?” or in this case, “Are you aware of having a strong body odour?” The next question is whether he has tried to do anything about it. Entering into a conversation is the best way of solving a problem like this. People are usually grateful to you in the end, because they were not aware of the problem.’ Henri ten Klooster, head of De Bongerd sports centre

Limits to our influence

‘First, ask yourself whether you can accept or let go of the problem. If not, then you should tackle your colleague on the matter. You are probably afraid of hurting your colleague’s feelings. So make an observation, not an accusation: “I’ve noticed that you have a strong body odour”. Then ask if the person is aware of it. Maybe there is a medical reason and your colleague has been trying to get rid of his body odour. Or the person might go on the defensive and say it is not true. Even then, something has been done. If it really is news to your colleague, you’ve probably made him think and he might look for a better deodorant. And otherwise, tough luck, unfortunately. There is a limit to how much influence we have over our colleagues.’ Rolien Willmes, teacher of Strategic Communication

Just say it

If I were you, I would just talk to your colleague about it. Everyone smells of sweat sometimes, you too, probably. Something like that doesn’t have to be embarrassing or humiliating for him – unless you make it so. So keep it light. You might consider first whether you are very sensitive to smells. It’s nice for the other person if you see yourself as part of the problem. Good luck! Hopefully you’ll soon be able to breathe through your nose at work.’ Hanne Berghuis, education and research assistant at Water Systems and Global Change

I am a teacher at WUR I would like tips on how to better organize online group work. What works and what doesn’t? I am also curious to hear from students! Jessica Duncan, Associate Professor of Rural Sociology

Do you have advice, suggestions or tips for this Wurrier? Email resource@wur.nl by 9 September (max. 100 words). If you need advice yourself, email your problem (max. 50 words) to resource@wur.nl with subject noWURries.

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