Scents and Sensibility: How Fragrances affect Workplace Wellness

When it comes to fragrance, the range is vast. From delightfully light, fruity scents, to heavy musks, the variations are endless. So too, are people’s preferences for certain scents. However, preference is moot when it comes to allergies. For some, scented products can cause allergic reactions, resulting in:

  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Nausea
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold-like symptoms

As well, people with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, and seasonal allergies may experience aggravated symptoms as a result of exposure to scented products.

Effects on Workplace Wellness

The use of scented products is polarizing. And, as discussed above, can cause varying reactions and degrees of severity. But, what effect do they have on general workplace wellness?

Aside from the obvious effects on health, workers may feel frustrated by frequent or continuous exposure to scents that cause reactions. They may be concerned about the impact the exposure has on their wellness. There are a few ways to deal with exposure to scents at work, such as:

  • Respectfully ask the worker to cease using scented products
  • Speak to the HR Department about instituting a policy about the use of scented products
  • If scents are making you ill, ask for a workplace accommodation that includes a scent-free environment

There are things that employers can do to help as well. While a policy banning scents is effective, it may not be required. Maintaining good indoor air quality and air circulation systems is one way that employers can alleviate scent stress in the workplace. Employers may create a policy that prohibits strong perfumes but still allows workers to wear scented deodorants and moisturizers.

Essential Oils

Essential oils pose a particular issue to workplace wellness. On one hand, many swear by the healing properties of essential oils. They are said to be natural alternatives for many ailments, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Fungal infections

However, due to their very nature, essential oils are heavily scented. The strong essence of the oils can be very bothersome to some. So, where does that leave employers? That depends. If an employee is using essential oils as part of a doctor prescribed health care regimen to treat an illness, then the oil may be part of a healthcare accommodation. But, if the worker is using the oils on their own accord, and others are bothered by the scent, an employer may put a policy in place prohibiting the use of smelly oils. While the oils may have benefits to wellness, the reactions in other coworkers would far outweigh the benefits in this instance.

When it comes to scents in the workplace, the best scents is common sense. Avoid strong, odorous products. If in doubt, ask a coworker if a scented product is bothering them. And, never hesitate to bring health concerns to the attention of your employer.

Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator


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