UK: No0 headline

UK: No0 headline - KICKING UP A STINK

by JEREMY BULLMORE, former chairman of J Walter Thompson, now adirector of Guardian Media Group and WPP.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

KICKING UP A STINK

One of my colleagues has a bad hygiene problem. He looks clean but never seems to wash. Some days he smells so bad that people balk at having meetings with him. Should I tell him and if so, how? What if it's something medical?

I'm not being facetious when I ask: does he have a best friend? If he does, that's where you should start. And don't just say: 'Does Frank know he stinks to high heaven?' - even best friends might find that a bit direct.

Instead, raise the medical point you're right to be concerned about Ask, with genuine concern, if Frank has a skin problem - and see what develops from that.

However I suspect he doesn't have a best friend - at least not at work.

Nor, I suspect, does he have a partner at home. The chances are that he smells as bad as he does because he lives alone, doesn't change his clothes very often, and thinks that anti-perspirants are only for airline stewards.

You can have two showers a day and still smell horrible if you wear the same shirt all the time. (Or so I'm told.)

So there's nothing for it but a direct approach from you - and here you must be quite supernaturally delicate. Choose a sandwich in the park, or a pub or wine bar; not the office. The crucial moment is obviously the opening. Get around to home life. How long has he lived alone? Does he do his own cooking, shopping? Does he use a laundrette? You'll learn enough from this not to blunder too badly if he really does have a medical condition.

Tell him that when you first left your parents' home, you used to wear the same shirt and socks for days on end. Wait for some response and adjust accordingly.

Only when it seems right should you say that there are times when he reminds you of your own early, living-alone days: quite nostalgic, really.

You should be light about all this, and slightly amused - but the box is now open.

I expect you think this is an absurdly laborious way of going about it, and it may well be quite unnecessary. But remember: you can always progress from extreme subtlety to upfront confrontation, but never vice versa.

And there's a person's self-esteem at stake.

UNDERWORKED AND UNDERMINED

My direct contemporary is flooded with good projects, while I seem to get the dregs and can scarcely keep myself busy. My director says he's happy with my 'progress'. I have asked for more to do but, three months later, no further work has materialised. Am I being discreetly pushed out?

I don't know if you're being pushed out exactly but somebody's sending you a message all right - even if they don't realise it. Take a deep breath, employ a mighty effort of will - and try to look at the situation not through your own eyes but those of your director. What does he see? He sees two people, one of whom he keeps very busy and one who has little to do by 5.30pm. Why should that be? What are the differences between you and your colleague? And I don't want your opinion here: I want your best guess at your director's opinion.

How does he see you both? Does he find you boring? Does he think you are able but plodding? Does he find your competitive contemporary quicker-witted and more fun? And I'm not getting at you here: you don't have to agree with your director's view, just understand it.

Because the situation is obviously not ideal for him, is it? He's got one overworked and one underworked junior when he'd much rather be able to push projects at both with equal confidence. If basic ability was the problem, I doubt if you'd still be there. So think hard about style and manner - and see if the workload begins to pick up. If it doesn't, look around.

A COSTUME DRAMA

My immediate boss has told me that if I want to progress in my City firm, I shouldn't wear the Armani suit I have just bought in the sales. It seems several partners object to its 'non-U' green/brown colour. I have so far been something of a high-flyer. Should I just take his advice or try to discuss it?

It would be quite easy to work yourself up into a quivering mass of indignation over this. How dare these ancient relics impose their ludicrously out-dated standards on a young, thrusting high-flyer such as yourself? It's good to see you're not reacting like that.

Most jobs, explicitly or implicitly, impose dress codes of some kind - and it's rarely a Humiliating Subjugation of True Self to go along with them. Anyway, they change - almost imperceptibly, I grant you - but they do.

I don't suppose you'd think of wearing shorts to work, for example (even Armani shorts), or even an open-necked shirt. Yet there are many professional firms these days where neither custom would raise an eyebrow.

I think you should take your boss' advice, which is presumably well meant, and see how things develop. Sooner or later, greeny-brown suits will be perfectly acceptable; then commonplace; and some time after that, derisively traditional.

And here's a confident forecast. I bet that by the time you're a senior partner, you'll be expressing mild disapproval about some young high-flyer's unfortunate predilection for nose studs.

Please address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP.

Or e-mail: management.today@haynet.com

Regrettably no correspondence can be entered into.

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