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By Callie Gordon, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Helen Ford Wallace
QUESTION: We have had a young part-time worker in our office and she was just hired full-time to begin her job in the summer. She needs help with her personal hygiene, her appearance and her clothing choices. I cannot believe she was hired with these issues, but she was. Should I jump in and offer to help her? Is there a class out there that she could take to learn to be more aware of how she looks?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: I am not sure about classes she can take; you might want to Google to find out more. How close you are to her is something you need to take into account if you “jump in and help.”
If this is something that bothers you, I would bring it to someone’s attention that will not jeopardize your working relationship with her. For example: HR. If you are not satisfied with the end result, my motto is, “not your problem.”
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: Before you approach her or enlist anyone else to do it, like a supervisor, make sure you want to get involved out of genuine concern and care for her well-being and career (in addition to the office’s benefit) and not to point out her flaws for other people to notice. You are right in that hygiene and how we present ourselves matter to our careers, but it is still a delicate situation. As you consider options, keep in mind that she may be defensive or embarrassed because she had no idea, so tread gently on her feelings. Can you enlist an older supervisor to talk to her privately? She might listen more readily to an authority figure who can directly point her in the right direction.
HELEN’S ANSWER: It seems to me that her supervisor is the one who needs to be seeing about the worker in question and when he/she meets with the young woman, appearance issues should be addressed. That is part of education about the job and if dress codes are important, then the supervisor can offer suggestions and let her know that people are available to help her. It sounds like the young woman needs to be told right away.
The supervisor might not see this as a problem, so maybe several co-workers can meet with the “boss” and politely offer to help.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Devonne Carter, licensed clinical social worker who has taught etiquette classes at Oklahoma Christian University: I don’t know of any classes offered to help educate adults with hygiene or to help her be more aware of how she looks. If a young person can learn to be insightful enough to see how others see her, this will go a long way to help them in her career.
This situation could be handled in a variety of ways. The most important piece of any way it is handled is with kindness.
The best source of this information to a worker is from her supervisor. Co-workers may be helpful and make suggestions, but unless the information comes from someone that has authority over the employee, there is no way to enforce the changes that need to be made. A direct and kind conversation with this co-worker will make the most impact.
Callie Gordon is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus.