I’ve been involved in controversies, in fact there is rarely a day that goes by when somebody isn’t honking my beazer. But I really stepped in it when I answered you guys, perhaps somewhat glibly, about the Stinky C0-Worker. The question and answer were posted last week and generated what I could only call a storm of outrage. If you don’t believe I’m repressing the desire to field a lot of smelly jokes on the subject right this very minute, you’re wrong. But this turns out to be a serious issue, and one where I’m afraid I might have, as Hamlet said, shot the arrow over the house and hurt my brother. In my answer, I implied that a smelly person at the workplace might be avoided or chided for his or her malodorousness. I posited two types of stinkers. Type A was careless. Type B was mean. I offered a brief strategy for both. It turns out that they is, in fact, a Type C out there, and they are not shy about voicing their outrage at the way the world treats them. They also have spokespeople, it turns out. I figure that having maligned this group of suffering business people, it’s the least I can do to acquaint you, as I have myself by made aware, of their situation.
The first whiff that something was wrong came from a guy I’ll call Chet, because that’s not his name. “I’m the stinky worker,” he writes.
Okay, I thought. That’s sad. I’m sorry I offended Chet. He seems to have enough problems without people making fun of him. But Chet was just the first to aerate the issue. The worst was yet to come. “Dear Sir, ” said my next correspondent, an author on the subject, it turns out.
The author then went on to suggest that I recommend his book on the subject, an idea that offended me deeply, since in this space I generally intend to plug many books, but only my own, unless the author is dead or can do me some personal good. I don’t think that’s unfair. Isn’t that what blogs are for?
My next critic was a bit more cordial. “Dear Mr. Bing,” he wrote:
Now I felt really, really bad. The problem, it seemed, had led his friend Alfred to self-immolate during military exercises a long time ago, leaving my correspondent with a rancid memory that had tormented him for more than half a century! He suggested that I send you here. I figure it’s the least I can do. It’s not a full entry in Wikipedia, but it does link you to some really heart-rending stuff.
Another woman I will call Betty, because she does not, wrote in quite cordial fashion to say that she too had suffered from a unduly-scented co-worker, had studied the situation, and learned a few things. “In the first place,” she wrote,
“This is a management responsibility if ever there was one,” she concluded. “An effective manager should be able to present the problem discreetly, and then help the employee find the source and address it. Most people who are competent enough to be hired also want to fit in well and succeed in their jobs. They would be horrified if they knew they were offending. People can actually become oblivious to their own strong odor, since they smell it all the time. All this is different, of course, from somebody who purposely wears strong perfume or aftershave — another situation entirely.” Why hadn’t I thought of that? Pass the problem along to the Human Resources Department. That should have been one of my options, for sure; also the idea that the department head should be given the job of resolving the situation seemed far more humane and thoughtful than that which I proposed.
My next email was far less pleasant. I had clearly angered at least one of my readers. “If you’re going to pontificate on a subject perhaps you should actually inform yourself beforehand,” this guy yelled at me. “There is a group C, people who cannot control their odor. Maybe your recommendation for an “intervention” would work, but in most cases a one on one conversation would be the way to go.” He then called me a name usually reserved for the part of the body that is often a source of the problem under discussion.
Not everyone was so churlish. “I saw your article and thought you might find this amusing,” a more friendly fellow offered.
At this point, I was just relieved that nobody had committed suicide by plane, or suffered from some arcane disease not even found in Wikipedia.
My sense of well-being was short-lived, however. “I’m really Appalled that sometimes people are so ignorant about diseases that cause body odor,” wrote a very angry woman I’ll call Arlene.
Arlene then thanked me. You’re welcome, Arlene, even though that is not your name.
Well, folks, that’s about it for now. There are other missives that have crossed my transom on the subject of disgusting co-workers, but those are just about people who have spinach between their teeth. Unless they’ve formed a self-help organization, I’ll get to that in the Ask Bing section of this site. Keep those cards and letters coming.