SURVEY SAYS: Awkward Conversations with Co-workers

I once had to tell a co-worker that people were avoiding her and talking about her because she didn’t wash her hands after using the restroom.

It was awkward, but I felt, as her friend, I should let her know, so she wouldn’t be shunned.

Last week, I asked NewsDash readers, “Have you had an awkward conversation with a co-worker? If so, what was it about?”

The vast majority (91.7%) of responding readers have had an awkward conversation with a co-worker, while 8.3% have not.

Topics of these conversations included wardrobe malfunction (12.5%), appearance (12.5%), hygiene (45.8%), an annoying habit (8.3%), work habits (4.2%), perceptions others had of him/her (8.3%), and his/her personal problems (12.5%). Nearly three in 10 (29.2%) of responding readers listed another topic of awkward conversations—most were about using too much perfume or cologne, but other responses included texting while driving, wardrobe, hickeys and inappropriate use of workspace.

Those who left comments about awkward conversations with co-workers shared details of those conversations. Some noted that it is almost always a good idea to have those conversations, while a few commented about how to approach them. Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said: “I perform music at church, and once or twice have arrived home afterward to discover my zipper was down. Hoped it hadn’t been that way all morning, wished someone had told me!” 

A big thank you to all who participated in the survey!


The person in question had a unique odor that was off putting to many. I was a very young manager at the time and the employee was much older, making the situation even more awkward. The employee took it fairly well at the time I thought, but things were never the same between us after that conversation.

It's never a fun conversation to talk to a co-worker about personal hygiene but I think if you use good sense and don't put the other person on the defensive it works out well in the long run.

Had to speak with a female subordinate (I'm male) about her choice of jumpsuits, which were popular at the time. A nice one could be crisp and business-casual stylish, but hers just begged for attached feet, a fluffy cottontail and floppy bunny ears! It was hideous...and she just didn't get it. Ultimately, we had to ban all jumpsuits from the office.

I perform music at church, and once or twice have arrived home afterward to discover my zipper was down. Hoped it hadn't been that way all morning, wished someone had told me!

It was raised by those sitting closer to him than me. I addressed it privately, and we realized it was an issue with his footwear. He was grateful for the discreet feedback, and the problem was resolved for all concerned.

My wife's co-workers had the same issue with a person their team. Not only did they shun her, but everyone refused to eat anything this lady brought on potluck food days. No one wanted to approach her about this, as the last time someone tried talk to her about a different, but equally sensitive issue, she threw a tantrum and literally ended up on the floor, screaming and crying.

I had to tell my boss that her flowered panties were showing through her white slacks. She laughed - had originally put on navy slacks and decided to change, forgetting what she had on underneath.

wore dresses too short, people were making fun of her behind her back so I just let her know maybe she should consider lowering the hem line and upping the bust line! It ended up okay!

A Coworker was single and looking for a husband. She dressed as though she was going to a club. She was one of those who would hang out at a cubicle closest to the man she was currently chasing. She complained that her manager constantly coached her regarding proper work place clothing. I finally had to tell her very directly that she looked "slutty" at that she should spend more time at her desk working. She did not change her ways but she did seek employment elsewhere

One downside to awkward conversations is it "sterilizes" the work place.

Verbatim (cont.) 

Since this person was not a close friend I just left a note on their desk. Unfortunately it did not help. She still wears an overpowering amount of perfume.

Awkward but there was no PC in the man-to-man talk. "Man, you smell like sh#%. No one wants to be around you. Clean it up."

I have found that for the most part people want to know if there's something about them that others are talking about behind their back. They're usually thankful that someone told them.

Try reading Miss Manners before intervening. Most people get trying to be "helpful" get it wrong.

As the Director of HR, I was receiving complaints about an employee constantly coming into work with hickeys all over her neck...very large and visible. I spoke with her about it, telling her it was unprofessional...she cried and thought people were picking on her.

Co worker was sleeping at night on work property. Had to tell him that it was not acceptable.

Employees were complaining about not wanting to use community tooling that one employee used, because the said he dug in his nose and wiped his finger on anything nearby.

I once had a supervisor who wanted me to write up a member of my team for not wearing panty hose. We were in an office where no customers ever came in. The awkward conversation was me telling my supervisor to get a life.... Needless to say, I didn't last long at that job.

There is, IMHO, a fine line between awkward conversations you HAVE to have with people, and those others think you SHOULD have with people. Mine had to do with really bad body odor - and I had to have it more than once. Weirdly, I didn't notice it so much (and it wasn't much worse than some of the "fragrances" some of the coworkers bathed in), but their female coworkers did, and since I was "a guy" (and his supervisor), they decided it was up to me. A truly, awkward painful situation. I'm still not sure I did the right thing.


NOTE: Responses reflect the opinions of individual readers and not necessarily the stance of Asset International or its affiliates.