By Linnda Durre, Ph.D., Author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day published by McGraw Hill, February 19, 2010.
As a business and corporate consultant and psychotherapist, I’ve analyzed, worked with, and consulted with many difficult bosses over the years. In order to cope and deal with them, you need to know why they act the way they do and how best to deal with them, in order to earn their respect, get things accomplished, change negative situations to positive ones, and preserve your sanity.
In my column, I will help you cope with a different type of boss, whether male or female. And remember – all of these toxic bosses in all of my columns can be of either gender. Toxicity does not discriminate according to the sexes. The previous ones include: Dick the Dictator, Bashia the Backstabber, Sewell the Sexual Harasser, Carl the Control Freak, Paula the Passive Aggressive, Clayton the Clueless, Greta the Gossip, Susie the Sugar Coater, Ian the Idea Stealer, Al the Alcoholic, Nancy the Narcissist, Donald the Deal Maker, Vernon the Verbal Attacker, Bobby the Boss’s Relative, Cynthia the Silent Treatment Torturer, Phil the Philanderer, Ned the Negligent, Sal the Slave Driver, Porter the Political Soap Boxer, Michael the Micromanager, Wade the One Upper, Betty the Battle Axe, and Phoebe the Phony.
Peter the Pig has incredibly disgusting personal habits – picking his nose, burping, coughing up phlegm, halitosis, flatulence, and offensive body odor. You would never go with him on a sales call because you’re so embarrassed at his behavior and the stench. The smell alone would nix the deal and the others might think it was you. People look at each other during meetings and conferences with him, but no one says a thing.
He reeks so badly you feel like barfing and maybe sometimes you have. You have put perfume or scented oils under and around your nostrils to ward off the disgusting odor. You’ve stashed airsickness bags in your desk, and you’ve put a plastic liner in your waste basket because you want to guard against projectile vomiting.
You’d like to quarantine Peter and put him in solitary confinement, but he’s your boss and you can’t. How do you tactfully tell him he needs a shower, tissues, deodorant, and Beano?
Body odor, burping and flatulence may have to do with his diet. He may be eating many legumes – beans, Mexican food, tofu, and other soy products may increase the gas. He may have food allergies that cause the flatulence.
He may exercise and not shower, coming directly to work. He may perspire greatly due to his metabolism, skin, being overweight, and/or his endocrine system.
He may not brush his teeth often and bad breath can be caused by tartar, plaque and bacteria on his tongue. He needs to buy toothpaste, good toothbrushes, mouthwash, deodorant, and Beano, which helps cut flatulence and can be bought over the counter at most grocery stores, pharmacies and health food stores.
His phlegm, nose blowing, and mucus may be from eating too many dairy products. Perhaps he’s lacto-intolerant and doesn’t even know it. There are also anti-mucus remedies that can be bought over the counter as well.
He needs to have a full workup at his physician’s and get his teeth examined and cleaned at his dentist to find the causes of the problems with gas, body odor, mucus, and bad breath.
You may be helping Peter and saving his life – perhaps there is a dangerous medical condition he has and doesn’t know it. By getting the HR director to order him to the doctor, dentist and nutritionist, which is usually covered under the company’s health insurance, you could be getting him the help he needs to live a longer, healthier life.
Confronting Peter by yourself can be difficult. He may be totally unaware of his odor or he may not care how he smells. Either way, the best way is to consult with HR and get them to confront him about his behavior and odor.
Make an appointment with HR first with all of your facts. Make sure you track when the odors started. Or maybe Peter was like that when you started your job with him as your boss. But if not, then have the date, time, and place of any and all of Peter’s “odor and hygiene problems” because the date may be important in the doctor’s assessment of the onset of the odors – a food allergy, side effects of medication, or a physical condition that could be causing the problems.
Keep your statements in this format to HR, “I experience Peter having strong body odor and bad breath, and he burps and is flatulent. The odors are disgusting. I can’t stand to go near him. I’m afraid to take him to any meetings with clients. When we have meetings, we all have to guard against throwing up because his odors are that bad. Please tell him to have better personal hygiene, to get a physical examination with his doctor and have his teeth examined and cleaned at the dentist. He might want to see a nutritionist to see if he has any food allergies that could be causing this.”
Mention that his odor and behavior may be costing the department money, time, and efficient productivity because people are not coming to the office, missing important meetings, asking for transfers to other departments, choosing to work out of their homes, or just quitting their jobs because of Peter’s stench. Make sure you have documentation for these statements. When the HR director hears that the company may be losing profits or valuable contracts because no one wants to work with him, then HR may pay attention.
You can mention that other co-workers have also discussed this with you – if they have – and that they feel powerless to confront him. If you can bring the other complainants with you to the HR director’s office, there is strength in numbers. If they won’t go, then march in there by yourself.
The HR Director should be tactful and direct about this matter, and they should ask him about his diet, health, hygiene, and exercise regime. The HR Director must tell him to have better personal hygiene, to get a physical exam with his doctor, see a nutritionist, and have his teeth examined and cleaned at the dentist.
They need to stress that his refusal to change his hygiene can be costing the department money, time, and efficient productivity. Most HR directors don’t really care about the odors, but when people are not coming to the office, missing important meetings, and choosing to work out of their homes because of Peter’s stench, then the HR director hopefully will act quickly. Emphasize that the company may be losing profits, contracts, and having more transfers. There may be more people working at home, increased turnover, and higher absenteeism, because of Peter’s odors.
See if there is any discernable change in Peter’s behavior and aroma. If so, let it be and be grateful. If he starts backsliding, go back to HR and report it. Be brave and save your delicate olfactory glands the horrendous treatment they’re exposed to on a daily basis because of Peter’s stench.
Remember, you may be saving Peter’s life by reporting it to HR. He may have a dangerous medical condition and doesn’t know it. By getting the HR director to order him to the doctor, dentist and nutritionist, which is usually covered under the company’s health insurance, you could be getting him the help he needs to live a longer, healthier life.
I hope these tips will help you in dealing with Peter the Pig.
—Linnda Durré, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, national speaker, and columnist. She has hosted and co-produced two live call-in TV shows, including “Ask The Family Therapist” on America’s Health Network, which was associated with Mayo Clinic and aired from Universal Orlando. She is the author of “Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day” (2010 – McGraw-Hill). The book’s website is: www.survivingthetoxicworkplace.com
She has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Daytime, Good Morning America, Canada AM, and The O’Reilly Factor (twice), and the national and/or local news on ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, PBS, Fox and CW. She has written for Forbes, CareerBuilder, Monster, A&U Magazine, Orlando Business Journal, and American Cities Business Journals. For more information about her consulting or speaking, contact her at Linnda.Durre@gmail.com and 407-739-8620.