DEAR FIONA: I can't deal with my colleague's body odour

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on family dramas, emotional issues and dysfunctional relationships. This week: a smelly colleague, a troubled affair and an overweight husband.

Wednesday, 4th October 2017, 6:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 6:38 am
Picture: Shutterstock

QUESTION: One of the guys in my office really smells – I don’t mean sweaty like after a gym session, I’m talking so bad that you can almost taste it.

I suspect he hasn’t washed properly in ages and, judging by the fact he wears the same clothes nearly all the time, they don’t see soap very often either.

To make matters worse, I have to sit opposite him all day – he eats his lunch at his desk and you won’t believe how much noise one person can make eating a sandwich. As for his teeth and bad breath, don’t get me started.

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When I mentioned it to my manager she said there was nothing she could do. I know he has worked here for ages yet, as far as I can tell, nobody in the office wants to talk to him about it.

This man is at least 20 years older than me and technically one of my bosses, plus I’ve only had this job for a few months, so I feel that it shouldn’t fall to me to tackle him.

I like my job and don’t want to leave, but what can I do?

FIONA SAYS: I agree, it shouldn’t fall to you but nor should you, or anyone else, have to work in an environment that smells badly.

His colleagues or managers should have tackled the issue long ago and that may be the problem – if he’s been this way for some time and no-one’s said anything, it might explain their reluctance. Alternatively, they may have tried in the past and he has simply refused or been unable to change.

If your boss is not prepared to act, is there a departmental head or personnel department you can approach? If not, you could consider approaching your union representative if there is one. Hopefully, someone will have the necessary skill set to deal with the issue discreetly and sensitively.

If not, could you move to another office? I get the sense, from what you’ve said, that this is a largish organisation and perhaps there are some internal positions that you could apply for.

I know you’ve only been there for a short while but, if personnel are unwilling to deal with the issue, they should at least understand why you might apply for an early transfer.

If none of these options are available, I’m afraid I can only see two choices for you – accept it, or say something to this man yourself. In fact, you might be the ideal person to do so as you’re new to the office and haven’t given tacit agreement that you are prepared to put up with the smell.

He clearly has issues, but it’s also possible he is completely unaware of the effect he is having on others. For this reason, whatever you do, it must be done sympathetically, so try to find a moment when no-one else is around and be respectful.

Stress that you’ve got his interests at heart and don’t say others in the office have noticed it as well. The last thing he needs is to be embarrassed by the knowledge that the entire office has been talking about him behind his back. If you really can’t face talking to him, consider writing a letter.

Finally, be aware that, however sympathetic you are, he may still simply reject your approach and carry on as before. Given this, you will have to decide how badly you want to keep this job.

QUESTION: I have been seeing a married man for the past two years. We enjoy each other’s company and I am hopeful that he will eventually leave his wife.

My problem is his daughter, who seems to take up more and more of his time. She’s 24 yet she spends almost all her downtime with her parents, and she has a good job and apparently makes good money, but she still lives at home.

Last Friday I had arranged to see her father after work, but at the last minute he cancelled, saying his daughter was feeling down in the dumps and, to cheer her up, they were going out to dinner. This has been happening a lot lately and I am beginning to resent it.

Should I suggest to him that it’s time his daughter to be more independent and shouldn’t she be out trying to make friends of her own age?

FIONA SAYS: Perhaps, but what possible concern of yours should that be? You are not her mother and, if you want this affair to continue, I suggest you refrain from giving any sort of parenting advice.

This man clearly cares very much about his daughter and seemingly doesn’t want your affair to jeopardise his family life.

I’m sorry if this seems harsh, but that is typically what happens with affairs – of necessity, they are secretive and deceitful. They can only ever really exist in snatched moments of time fitted in around the married partner’s work and family commitments.

The anger and resentment you are feeling suggest to me you are not entirely happy about this. Perhaps it’s time that you were out meeting new friends?

QUESTION: My ex-wife and I used to run a business together. I did most of the onsite work with a crew of guys and she handled the paperwork and finances, and for 10 years I thought business was good.

We had a nice house, regular long-haul holidays and new cars every three years, but what I didn’t know was she kept it all afloat by running up huge debts.

It all came to light when one of the cars was repossessed and after that it got ugly. We had to sell everything, including the house and we ended up getting a messy and spiteful divorce.

Three years on I still feel bitter, as now I can only afford to rent a tiny flat and struggle to find regular odd job work. My ex-wife by comparison has re-married and started another business.

I’ve heard she is also expecting a child, which was something she would never discuss with me. Why can’t I move on from this?

FIONA SAYS: You’ve been badly hurt by this experience and it’s understandable that you feel bitter. However, nothing will be gained by dwelling on the pain, you must move on from here if you are to be happy again.

Your ex-wife has shown that it is possible and, if she can do it, so can you. You’ve been a businessman before, why not do so again?

Make a start by setting some new goals and focus on these rather than the past. In time, I am sure you can build a new life. If you need support in this process contact Relate.

Relate counsellors are able to help people dealing with the aftermath of divorce, as well as those trying to avoid it.

QUESTION: I love my husband but over the past four years he has put on a lot of weight. He acknowledges that he is heavy and that he is probably putting his health at risk, but he’s reluctant to do anything about it.

I’ve tried and tried to get him to join a gym but he won’t go. What’s really bothering me is that I fear I am no longer attracted to him sexually, and he must have noticed as we haven’t had sex in ages.

Do you think if I tell him it will make him lose weight?

FIONA SAYS: In my experience, probably not and it’s more likely to severely dent his self-image and create even more friction between you over this issue.

Instead encourage him by saying you would love to see him the way he was when you first got together, then do all you can to help him lose the weight, which doesn’t have to mean joining a gym.

For someone who has previously done no exercise, a daily 30-minute walk can be hugely beneficial and, moreover, it’s something you can both do together. Couple this with only having healthy food in the house and I am sure you’ll soon see results.

Hopefully, he will start to lose weight and hopefully you’ll find yourself attracted to him again but, of course, there are no guarantees.

Write to Fiona Caine c/o Elise Brewerton, 1000 Lakeside, North Harbour, Portsmouth PO6 3EN or [email protected]. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence, nor pass letters on to other readers.