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In the Elevator with Too Much Fragrance

While leaving the office yesterday, I entered the empty elevator on my way to the ground floor and parking lot.  Suddenly, one floor away from my destination, the brass doors parted and a woman entered who was wearing enough perfume for about 18 people. Normally, I would just try to ignore the uncomfortable barrage of fragrance, but yesterday was different, because I’m just getting over a chest cold, and my cough reflex is pretty sensitive.  Seconds after she boarded, an attack on my olfactory senses sent me hacking. I don’t think the offending excessively flowery-smelling fellow employee realized that she had irritated my nervous system, but I’m rather confident that her entrance into the elevator was the stimulus of my coughing fit.

For the record, this is an issue with both men and women.  My dad is actually one of those guys who really enjoys cologne on the rare occasion that he gets to dress formally. For him, dressing up isn’t just a suit and tie–it’s suit, tie, and COLOGNE.  The family has intervened a couple times, but some additional restraint would still be helpful.

Apart from sharing the story, I’m writing this to ask how you think managers should handle “strong fragrance” issues in the workplace. It seems like a sensitive issue because people wearing the cologne or perfume must not realize that it is SO noticeable for the people around them.  I really hope that you have some real life stories to share below.

Regarding the elevator offender, I’m thankful that I sit at least a floor away from her desk. I really don’t know what I’d do if I had to sit next to her—could I handle eight or more hours of that fragrance every day?  Would it drive me insane and impact my quality of work?  Would I write recurring blog posts like this and bore the readers? Would I quit?  Hey, maybe extreme fragrance is a technique that managers could use to get underperforming workers to quit (just kidding).

I suspect that if this were someone reporting to me that I’d eventually address the issue. It’s just not like me to let a small thing like this fester and become a big problem so that everyone makes a, well, big stink about it.  Ignoring the problem seems like it would eventually turn into a gossip issue with co-workers, which, in turn, would impact the team’s performance.

Have you ever had to deal with this kind of issue in your workplace?  If so, how’d you approach it and what was the result?

20 comments
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Syrena
Syrena

We used to have an employee in our office who wore strong flowery fragrances, but she no longer works with us. The primary issue I have is with clients. The air conditioning vent is directly in front of my desk, so whenever somebody walks in the door the air blows their scent directly at me. There is nothing that I can do to get away from it; if my coworker is available, I will actually leave my desk and go to a different part of the building for a while to get away from it. If the lingering scent is too strong, I have to leave the office completely and sometimes must go home sick.

I'd love to be able to put up a sign like they have in doctors' offices citing respiratory difficulties due to scents!

GMC
GMC

I agree with Mark. You simply add it to your dress code. And, you simply advise visitors of your fragrance-free policy the same as you do your smoke-free policy. Since I am chemically sensitive and have severe allergies to fragrances, I tell people right up front when I am making an appointment with them, whether it be a vendor or an interviewee, etc., that it would be greatly appreciated if they would refrain from wearing heavy fragrances at this appointment due to health concerns. I have even had to ask first dates to use the bathroom and wash off their cologne because I could never make it through the night. Personally, I would like to see a ban on fragrances the same as is on smoking in all public places. As far as those elevators and other enclosed places where the encounters are minimal and of short duration, we are just going to have to tough it out and be as tolerable as possible...my goodness, we cannot regulate EVERYTHING.

GMC
GMC

I agree with Mark. You simply add it to your dress code. And, you simply advise visitors of your fragrance-free policy the same as you do your smoke-free policy. Since I am chemically sensitive and have severe allergies to fragrances, I tell people right up front when I am making an appointment with them, whether it be a vendor or an interviewee, etc., that it would be greatly appreciated if they would refrain from wearing heavy fragrances at this appointment due to health concerns. I have even had to ask first dates to use the bathroom and wash off their cologne because I could never make it through the night. Personally, I would like to see a ban on fragrances the same as is on smoking in all public places. As far as those elevators and other enclosed places where the encounters are minimal and of short duration, we are just going to have to tough it out and be as tolerable as possible...my goodness, we cannot regulate EVERYTHING.

Glinda
Glinda

We have a scent free policy: no pefumes, no smoking, no scented lotion, no scented candles-nothing. Problem solved.

Glinda
Glinda

We have a scent free policy: no pefumes, no smoking, no scented lotion, no scented candles-nothing. Problem solved.

Laurie
Laurie

What about when you get into an elevator with someone who smokes and even though they are not smoking in the elevator you are still overwhelmed with the stench. Sometimes I will get into the elevator alone but can tell that the person riding prior to me was a smoker because the smell lingers. To me, this is just as offensive and harmful, if not more, than someone who wears too much perfume.

Laurie
Laurie

What about when you get into an elevator with someone who smokes and even though they are not smoking in the elevator you are still overwhelmed with the stench. Sometimes I will get into the elevator alone but can tell that the person riding prior to me was a smoker because the smell lingers. To me, this is just as offensive and harmful, if not more, than someone who wears too much perfume.

Mark
Mark

Managers have the responsibility to be upfront with their team members. Skirting the issue of too much fragrance, should be avoided as any other issue that offends or infringes on other team members.

A dress/attire policy should address this. I have developed a dress code policy that specifically states; " Management reserves the right to ask employees to wear a lighter fragrance or none at all, if others have health issues or complain."

As managers you have the obligation to address issues with your team. They may not always like it, but will respect you in the long run.

If you let other team members approach someone with too strong a fragrance, the employee may retaliate with complaints about that team member.

It is best for supervisors or managers to give direction and guidance.

Mark
Mark

Managers have the responsibility to be upfront with their team members. Skirting the issue of too much fragrance, should be avoided as any other issue that offends or infringes on other team members.

A dress/attire policy should address this. I have developed a dress code policy that specifically states; " Management reserves the right to ask employees to wear a lighter fragrance or none at all, if others have health issues or complain."

As managers you have the obligation to address issues with your team. They may not always like it, but will respect you in the long run.

If you let other team members approach someone with too strong a fragrance, the employee may retaliate with complaints about that team member.

It is best for supervisors or managers to give direction and guidance.

Donna
Donna

At our workplace it is not the employees but the visitors.There is one in particular who when he/she stops by for a quick meeting leaves her/his fragrance behind for a couple of days. I do not have the option of going in an office an closing my door to ward off the direct contact. So when these people "stop by" no sooner are "they" in the door that I can't breathe and start coughing uncontrollably. I wish people would re-consider their use of colognes and perfumes and at least be considerate of those around them.

Lilli
Lilli

Some employees have allergies to perfumes. Out of courtesy to those employees, those working nearby can be requested not to wear perfumes and colognes in defference to their health.

I used to enjoy wearing perfumes, but have stopped out of concern for others. I don't have the added expense as nice perfumes are not cheap. Anyway, soaps, shampoos and body lotions are scented, so why add something else to the mix?

Lilli
Lilli

Some employees have allergies to perfumes. Out of courtesy to those employees, those working nearby can be requested not to wear perfumes and colognes in defference to their health.

I used to enjoy wearing perfumes, but have stopped out of concern for others. I don't have the added expense as nice perfumes are not cheap. Anyway, soaps, shampoos and body lotions are scented, so why add something else to the mix?

Terri
Terri

The area where I sit at work is VERY close to our coat rack. We have two very pleasant employees that are from India. Unfortuantely, their coats absolutely reek of curry and make me sick to my stomach all winter long. While I have broguht the subject up, there is nowhere else for our coat rack to be moved, without offending others. I make it a point NOT to wear perfume because I know it can be offensive and overpowering, even in the smallest doses, but how does one deal with a cultural issue?

Terri
Terri

The area where I sit at work is VERY close to our coat rack. We have two very pleasant employees that are from India. Unfortuantely, their coats absolutely reek of curry and make me sick to my stomach all winter long. While I have broguht the subject up, there is nowhere else for our coat rack to be moved, without offending others. I make it a point NOT to wear perfume because I know it can be offensive and overpowering, even in the smallest doses, but how does one deal with a cultural issue?

Barbara
Barbara

Purfumes, colognes and other fragrances are not only potentially irritating, but they can pose serious health problems for some people. People with asthma or multiple chemical sensitivity disorder (MCSD) can be severely impacted by overly-purfumed co-workers. One Seattle doctors office posted notices on its doors that patients were not to wear any purfume or cologne when visiting the facility because of the sensitivity of some patients and employees. If you have employees with asthma or MCSD or any other allergy or sensitivity, it may be in your best interest to include a no-purfume policy in your employee manual.

Barbara
Barbara

Purfumes, colognes and other fragrances are not only potentially irritating, but they can pose serious health problems for some people. People with asthma or multiple chemical sensitivity disorder (MCSD) can be severely impacted by overly-purfumed co-workers. One Seattle doctors office posted notices on its doors that patients were not to wear any purfume or cologne when visiting the facility because of the sensitivity of some patients and employees. If you have employees with asthma or MCSD or any other allergy or sensitivity, it may be in your best interest to include a no-purfume policy in your employee manual.

Danielle
Danielle

I have a co-worker who burns obscenely odoriferous candles in her cubicle. The smell is so strong it saturates half of the 6th floor of my office building. I’m one of those folks who gets headaches from strong perfume, candles and coffee shops. I addressed the issue head on and told her that candles are great and I appreciated the atmosphere she was trying to create, but this particular candle scent was too strong and giving me, in particular, a head and stomach ache. Many people have adverse physical reactions to artificial fragrances, so when you frame a confrontation in that light I would think most people would snuff out the candle, tone down the cologne or pipe down on the perfume.

Danielle
Danielle

I have a co-worker who burns obscenely odoriferous candles in her cubicle. The smell is so strong it saturates half of the 6th floor of my office building. I’m one of those folks who gets headaches from strong perfume, candles and coffee shops. I addressed the issue head on and told her that candles are great and I appreciated the atmosphere she was trying to create, but this particular candle scent was too strong and giving me, in particular, a head and stomach ache. Many people have adverse physical reactions to artificial fragrances, so when you frame a confrontation in that light I would think most people would snuff out the candle, tone down the cologne or pipe down on the perfume.

Steve
Steve

Honestly, the issue could pose a real focus problem. If I were sitting next to this person, I think I would move my desk. Seriously, no jokes aside, you can't focus with any type of distraction, noise, or in this case stinch. Whether the smell is deemed to be good or bad, over time it will distract your productivity for sure.

As a manager, this would be a very touchy issue. Approaching it directly could definitely be a sticky situation. Would you rather let your subordinates (or his/her coworkers intervene directly) handle the issue in a nice way and you stay out of it as a manager? That might be the best scenario.

I can definitely see this as an issue that could distract workers and possibly end up, like you mention, a big gossip issue. At the end of the day, someone just should probably mention it to them casually ... this is a tough one - anyone else have any stories?

Steve
Steve

Honestly, the issue could pose a real focus problem. If I were sitting next to this person, I think I would move my desk. Seriously, no jokes aside, you can't focus with any type of distraction, noise, or in this case stinch. Whether the smell is deemed to be good or bad, over time it will distract your productivity for sure.

As a manager, this would be a very touchy issue. Approaching it directly could definitely be a sticky situation. Would you rather let your subordinates (or his/her coworkers intervene directly) handle the issue in a nice way and you stay out of it as a manager? That might be the best scenario.

I can definitely see this as an issue that could distract workers and possibly end up, like you mention, a big gossip issue. At the end of the day, someone just should probably mention it to them casually ... this is a tough one - anyone else have any stories?

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