Are your grooming habits causing a stink at the office?

November 21, 2018

How you present yourself can change people’s perception of you and the dental practice as a whole.

A reader requested that the issue of personal hygiene be looked at. She’s dealing with a stressful situation needing to approach a co-worker and tell her that she needs to do some serious grooming. She was hopeful that I would write about it so that she can post it in her breakroom. If I can be her voice, then I’m there for her. So, here goes...

What person wants a co-worker telling him or her that he or she stinks? None that I can think of. So, what do you do? My reader reported that her hygienist douses her body in perfume right before entering the office. It sets off her asthma every time and makes for a very unpleasant work environment. She doesn’t want to offend the co-worker yet has to do something quickly. It’s impeding her ability to do her job. (Forget that, it’s impeding her ability to breathe!) What should she do? My suggestion is to carefully address the problem.

Do you wear perfume? What brand? Can I ask a favor of you? I’m having breathing issues because of the perfume. I don’t mean to be difficult, but would you mind not wearing it to work as it’s causing me to have asthma problems?"

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Having an open conversation without escalation gets results. It would have to take a very hardhearted person to not change his or her behavior in this situation. Some offices even have a no-perfume policy.

What if the problem is that a staff member doesn’t comb her hair? The first thing you need to find out is the reason why this person isn’t combing her hair. One may be that she’s fearful that her hair is going to fall out if she washes or irons it too frequently. Or perhaps she’s depressed and has enough difficulty just trying to get to work each day. Maybe it’s housing issues with a broken hot water tank. Others may not use hair products and their hair gets knotty-looking like a bird’s nest and they don’t know what to do. Let’s face it - hair is important to both men and women. Because of this, you must walk delicately into those conversations.

Is everything ok? You look a little tired lately. I was worried that something might be wrong. If you want to talk about it, I’m here for you. I noticed because usually you are immaculate and dressed to the hilt. What’s going on?"

Sometimes you’ll find out there are bigger problems than someone’s grooming. When that happens, have a plan. If someone is in trouble, then refer him or her to counseling.

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How your staff looks plays a role in how successful and professional your office is. If you look like you just rolled out of bed and showed up to the office in stained scrubs that need a good wash, what’s the message that you’re relaying to your patients? It says that you don’t care. And if you don’t care, what do you think your patients will think about you? Or the practice in general?

When you work in a dental practice, you aren’t representing just yourself; you are the brand. I realize that this is a touchy topic, but it’s a real problem for some offices. The key always is communication. It’s often how you say something, not what you say. And please don’t gossip about the issue in the office. It always comes out and doesn’t solve problems. Listening and having a conversation is how to solve this problem.

Let me know about situations in which personal hygiene has been a problem in your practice. Email me at diana2@discussdirectives.com.