Suggestion About Fragrance In The Workplace


I wrote this to give to our lab’s “committee” as a suggestion. Maybe you would like to use it, too. For people with allergies and severe sensitivities, the smell of many perfumes, colognes, and aftershaves causes severe reactions including burning eyes, headaches, sinus congestion, sore throats and hives. If you have such an allergy or sensitivity, it is often more than a nuisance: it can cause actual impairment. It is also a real distraction.

The wearing of scent is not a necessity in modern times when daily baths, showers and antiperspirant / deodorant certainly eliminate body odor as a problem.

If you knew someone who works with you is allergic to flowers, would you bring in a fresh bouquet every day? If you knew that a coworker has an allergy to peanuts, would you eat peanuts next to them or sneak them into a potluck lunch? Flowers and peanuts are wonderful things that many people enjoy immensely, but they are pretty easy to do without for the few hours we are at work, if it means the difference between a coworker being sickened or not.

Perfumes, colognes and after-shaves are the same.

It would be great if everyone here (and new workers, as soon as they come on board) could be made to understand this concept, and would perhaps agree to make this a fragrance-free workplace.


Wanting A Fragrance-Free Workplace


Dear Wanting A Fragrance-Free Workplace:

Thank you for sending the suggestion you submitted to your workplace committee. Fragrances ARE a problem for many people, and most workplaces have had to deal with issues about perfumes, colognes, fragranced candles or incense, as well as the fragrances and odors involved in every workplace–from food to work products. Unfortunately, finding a solution is not easy, and often leads to extended conflicts.

As with most such situations, the views about personal or room fragrances are usually polarized between those who want to ban them and those who want to use them, or who at least don’t want regulations about them. (Life is like that!) This often results in ill-feelings between co-workers that settles into deep-rooted dislike after awhile. Like smoking, it can become the topic of snooty preaching by one side and stubborn puffing by the other.

One thing to remember is that a truly fragrance-free environment is almost impossible to achieve, and the term can be used as a weapon, rather than a tool, by some employees and managers. I was contacted by a group of employees and supervisors who wanted to know if I thought they were being extreme by wanting to require all employees to refrain from using any fragranced personal product, and to use only fragrance-free detergents and fabric softeners. I DO use fragrance-free items almost all the time, but I felt that would be extreme and punitive for many–and impossible to enforce, as well as creating hostility and on-going conflict.

An option we often suggest is to have a section in the employee manual that states the potential adverse affect of fragrances of all kinds, and says if they are used, they should be used lightly. Certain items can be prohibited, such as incense, candles and wall-plug-ins. Fragrances worn on the body should be applied very lightly and regularly cleaned from clothing, where it builds up over time.

Then, there can be a statement that says employees who have problems with a fragrance either on a person or in the environment, should write a request for assistance about it to a supervisor, who will handle each situation on a case-by-case basis, in conjunction with HR.

The reason this less-absolute approach may be preferable, is that it prevents extreme responses by employees who either actually or for affect claim they cannot tolerate the fragrances of shampoo, hair spray, deodorant, mouth wash, hand lotions, soap, scented tissues, fingernail polish, fabric softener, cleaning supplies, disinfectants, wax, copier toner, coffee, food, or any of the many other items that have a fragrance or odor.

Most organizations and employers find it easier to make a general statement and talk about it openly, then deal with issues case-by-case. I always suggest that individuals who are bothered by personal fragrances should develop a courteous statement they use to tell others about their problem, and ask them to help by not wearing strong or heavily applied fragrances.

As for environmental fragrances, sometimes those can be reduced–but sometimes they are part of the work itself and employees should work with supervisors to see if the odors can be reduced. If not, they will need to decide how to handle the situation based on the overall negative affect of the odor.

This long response is to reinforce for our readers, that rarely are issues involving personal preferences or personal needs, as easy as one would like them to be!

Thank you again for sending along your thoughts. They may provide assistance to others who are working through this situation.

Best wishes

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.