We are 3 people in a small room at our office. Me, Bob and Charles. I can smell Bob, but Charles said he didn't notice anything. Should I still report this to our manager/HR and let him handle it? Or should I just keep quiet and keep on opening my window every now and then?

Long story

Bob is our new trainee and joined us around 3 months ago. He has been on home office during the whole time, with occasionally coming back in to the office once a week or so. He always smelled a little bit sweaty, but nothing I couldnt bear for a day. But now that all of us are back in the office 5 days a week, I am distracted from work because of the strong smell. We've already had other trainees and interns the same age as he is over the past few years and it has never been that bad with any of them before.

I can already smell Bob when I enter the office, and after a week of "endurance" I thought about escalating this to HR, since it was especially bad today. But before complaining I wanted to know if I am not just being over-sensitive; if Charles had also noticed the bad odour I wouldve probably already written an email. But Charles said he never noticed anything! Not even today where it was especially bad. And that kind of set me back- I think he was being honest, and not just trying to defend Bob.

Do I still escalate this to HR? Do I wait for Charles to notice the odour, now that I brought his attention to it? Or do I try and live with it, since my smelling is probably (?) just hyper sensitive?


Talking to Bob directly is not an option, because I do not know Bob well enough to be able to tell how he would react - he might be professional about it or (worst case) he might overreact and report me for harassment. And no matter how he takes it, it would damage our working relationship, which is why this is not a question on how to talk to him. If Bob and I got along very well then yes, I would definitely just talk to him about it, but this is not the case.

Please also note that talking to our manager will not damage Bob in any way; I know our manager well enough for that. And I will not leave out the fact that Charles does not have this problem, thus making this completely my issue.

Increasing ventilation is only possible by keeping the window next to me open. And even though this action triggers my allergy to pollen, it is still a very weather dependant solution. I cannot keep the windows open when it's cold or rainy outside or even when there is heavy traffic going on during rush hours (loud engine sounds, trucks, honking).

  • Does your company have a Chief Diversity Officer?
    – Jack
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 12:15
  • 5
    Did you discuss with Bob about the situation? Maybe he is just not aware of it...
    – virolino
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 12:16
  • So reporting this to management would be the correct course of action then? Our company is fairly small, HR and management are kind of the same person.
    – S. Tea
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 13:59
  • 5
    What do you expect to gain from reporting a coworker's smell to HR/Management?
    – sf02
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 14:14
  • 2
    Does this answer your question? How should I approach a co-worker on matters of personal hygiene?
    – shoover
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 0:12

3 Answers 3


This is a delicate matter and the answer depends on how close you are with Bob.

If you are close enough, you just take him aside a morning when he comes in and mention that you have a strong sense of smell, and you have noticed he didn't have a bath this morning and when he doesn't you have a difficult time concentrating on your work (which is why you are there in the first place).

If that doesn't help, you are not close enough or you do not want the confrontation, I would suggest asking your boss to move you into separate rooms if possible, and say why if explicitly asked.

  • I wouldnt mention the bath, or lack of one. Some people have sensitive noses, some have naturally strong body odour. Taking him aside, saying that you have a sensitive nose and would appreciate any help should suffice. Maybe some deodorant would be enough. If you go that way, it's less likely that he takes offense. Because it's your problem (sensitive nose), not his.
    – Benjamin
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 14:48
  • @benjamin cultural differences. Mentioning the appropriate level of hygiene might save another awkward conversation later. Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 15:43

First check that there isn't more you could do yourself, e.g. ventilating the room. Assuming that is the case then yes, you can mention it to HR. It's a hygiene issue.

You could try to ask visitors to the office to talk to the guy directly but all are risky.


You are over-sensitive. If you can't get over it, try talking with Bob about this issue without anyone present.

By going to HR, you will damage his position for sure. Do you think this is really worth it for something that has not bothered you until recently?

  • 2
    I can not see how details provided in the question could make one conclude that OP is over-sensitive (and not, say, that instead, their other colleague "Charles" is insensitive to odor). Consider editing the answer to help readers understand why this is the case
    – gnat
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 19:33
  • 2
    I don't see anything to justify "you will damage his position for sure," either.
    – Alex M
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 23:25
  • I once had to work in a room everyday with a person who never used deodorant and it was very hard to concentrate on my work. It really stressed me out. I didn't say anything to him about it because he was my manager. I decided to resign and got another job.
    – user115675
    Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 14:37
  • People with the skill of giving discrete one on one feedback are heroes. It helps all parties without calling anyone out. Maybe you could remove your first comment . By now the OP has received that feedback (and it's not discrete or one on one by remaining in this answer.).
    – John
    Commented Nov 24, 2020 at 0:40

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .