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How to deal with conflict around the air-conditioning and personal hygiene in the workplace.

As temperatures start to warm up the age-old conflict around keeping the air-conditioning on or off will begin in almost every office. We are no strangers to seeing staff members wrapping themselves in a blanket or even wearing coats and jerseys on a warm day as the temperature in the office is unbearable.

This not just leaves the office in a literal cold zone but also does little to build the team spirit. Infact it should come as no surprise when office staff choose to isolate and not engage with others who would want to keep the air-conditioning switched on.

Unfortunately, this kind of conflict can escalate and snowball into a bigger conflict issue in the workplace. It is important that this type of conflict is addressed and a viable solution put in place before staff members start to feel shut out.

As much as the idea of the office turning into a cold zone is not ideal the office being warm could lead to uncomfortableness. When the air conditioning isn’t switched on people will feel warm and sweat. This will eventually result in body odour and another awkward type of conflict arising.

The worse is having staff members whisper behind other staff members backs about matters of hygiene. It can also be extremely rude if a bottle of deodorant gets placed on the persons desks.

This does little to solve the problem and most certainly is not the mature way to handle conflict arising from hygiene in the office.

So here are a few ways to tackle these types of issues in the office:

  • As a manager you can’t ignore this type of disagreement. You need to intervene and help your team come to an arrangement. Start by engaging with the team. If someone that’s sits directly under the aircon finds it impossible to tolerate the temperatures then ask them if they would prefer to change their seating arrangement. The same can be said for someone who can’t function without the air conditioning being switched on. If this person feels they would like to sit closer to the air conditioning, then this should be accommodated.

  • A set temperature should be established. Do not at any point allow for the temperature to be adjusted. Agree on a temperature that is manageable to all in the office. This way it won’t be freezing cold or uncomfortably warm.

  • Encourage your team to respect their colleagues. Some people just don’t like the aircon. Remember as much as the aircon cools down an office space it is also a lead spreader of germs and dust. Some people hate how the aircon dries out their sinuses and causes them to have a runny nose. It is possible that this could be why they dislike it being switched to a freezing temperature.

Another concern that usually arises during warmer months is the issue of bodily odour. It is important to address this before people in the office start to hint and make the person feel uncomfortable.

Here’s how to handle this conversation:

  • This is a sensitive conversation and if not done correctly can have an impact on the employee’s productivity. The conversation around hygiene should be mature and direct. Do not beat around the bush and start the conversation by discussing irrelevant topics.

  • Do not tell the person that a few people have mentioned to you that they have an odour. This makes it sound like they have been the talk of the office. It makes the person more conscious and definitely will do little to address the issue on hand.

  • Sending a broadcast email will miss the mark. The person who may be at the root of the issue might not even be aware that they are the one with the odour issue.

  • Being a manager means being a leader. Show your staff that you are able to address the difficult and awkward topics with sensitivity.

  • Offering someone deodorant or leaving a bottle at their desk is insensitive and unnecessary. The correct steps to follow would be a conversation which should be focused on checking in with someone. Perhaps the person is going through a messy divorce or has been having a tough time dealing with the loss of a loved one. Infact the person might even have a health issue that has resulted in this odour. Whatever the reason, the only way to get clarity is to indulge in a conversation.

As we approach normalcy at the office let us work on speaking about topics that have usually been swept under the carpet and address conflict as and when it arises before it escalates and jeopardises productivity.

Devan Moonsamy is the CEO of ICHAF Training Institute, a South African TVET College. He is the author of Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us, AND My Leadership Legacy Journal available from the ICHAF Training Institute.

The ICHAF Training Institute offers SETA-approved training in business skills, computer use, and soft skills. Devan specialises in conflict and diversity management, and regularly conducts seminars on these issues for corporates. To book a seminar with Devan or for other training courses, please use the contact details below.

Tel: 011 262 2461 | 083 303 9159 |

Email: |

Website: |

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