Cubicle Confessions: My Coworker Stinks



When working in an office environment full of people, it is a certainty that there will be issues. The following email came from Trish* who wrote to me last month wanting some advice. According to Trish, this has been a problem that has persisted in her office for months, and she is at wits end.

Here’s a portion of her letter:

I am writing you because I look forward to reading your blog posts and Facebook updates about work and professionalism. I have had an issue with a coworker of mine for almost a year now. I have been as tactful as I can be regarding this issue, but it is getting worse. I am not the only person who has brought this up, but we don’t know how to tackle it in a respectful manner without hurting her feelings.

This woman is pretty new to our department. We’ve all worked there for three plus years. She is a good coworker, does a good job, and knows her stuff but she has an odor problem. My coworker stinks and she smells like fish three out of the five days of the week. It’s a smell that makes me ill and you can’t get away from it when she’s around. You would think that someone well put together would have her personal hygiene in check, but in her case, she doesn’t. I don’t know what to do, I don’t want to hurt her feelings. But something has to give. Can you help me? What should I do?

Wow! There are few things worse in the office than a funky coworker. Add to that its your boss and the level of OMG-ness is at an all-time high. You would think that grown people know how to keep themselves clean and odor free, but in this case, hygiene is an issue. So let’s cut to the chase.

You need to have a conversation woman to woman with this woman. Yes, it will be uncomfortable. Yes, she is going to be embarrassed. But everyone is going to have to woman up and show some honesty. This woman mustn’t have any friends, or they would’ve let her know that she is smelling tangy. That is not cool. So be the better person and clue her in on her issue.

She is probably aware of it already. People with noticeable odor usually are. It could be hormonal changes in her body or simply not keeping herself clean down there. Whatever the case, in a work environment, there is no time for smelly folk. So she’s got to step her game up. And you have to tell her about herself.

Don’t do this in a mean way. be compassionate. Be understanding. Approach her like someone who is concerned. She may feel awkward and embarrassed, but in the end, she will be better for it.

If you don’t feel that you are up to this challenge, speak with a boss or manager who can bring it up to her privately. I don’t advise this to be the first tactic since it is like you are “telling” on her, but if you don’t feel up to it, then getting a manager involved is the next best thing to do.

Good luck with this. And I hope this matter gets cleared up soon. For everyone involved.

What advice would you give to Trish? Share in the comment section below.

*The name has been changed to protect identity. Email has been edited for clarity and length. If you would like to submit a question for Cubicle Confessions, please send an email to [email protected] You can be anonymous and none of your personal information will be shared.

The Cubicle Chick