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By Peter Cotton, founder and president, Best Sales Talent, LLC
I’m just going to come right out and discuss the figurative elephant in the room that no one usually wants to bring up in an office setting: an employee who uses an enormously strong or overbearing amount of cologne, aftershave, perfume, or deodorant.
You can be several feet from them in the hallway – or worse – standing inches away from them in an elevator or right next to them at a meeting, and all you can think about is: “ewww that’s waaaay too much!”
When you think about it, a man in your office could be wearing up to FOUR different scented products at one time: hair product, after shave or cologne, deodorant, and body spray. When these smells mix, it can be just as obnoxious as smoke is to a non-smoker.
Just as you know to dress appropriately conservative for the office, you need to smell neutral as well.
There isn’t anything much worse than not being able to concentrate on your job or getting physically sick from a scent that you simply cannot escape from because you must work with the smell’s source every workday!
According to Chron.com, “A perfume that one employee may find delightful can be downright offensive to someone else, causing allergic reactions, headaches and even nausea that make it tough to get work done –and — perfumes can cause sniffling, dizziness, headaches, nausea and breathing problems for other workers. Some reactions, like shortness of breath, are particularly severe for people with preexisting respiratory conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”
I’m not sure if you are aware, but there has even been a scent-related court case. In McBride v. the City of Detroit, “it was ruled that senior city manager Susan McBride’s chemical sensitivity was a disability under ADA because it interfered with the major life activity of breathing.”
“After the lawsuit with Susan McBride, the City of Detroit added the following section to its ADA Handbook:
“Our goal is to be sensitive to employees with perfume and chemical sensitivities. Employees who are sensitive to perfumes and chemicals may suffer potentially serious health consequences. In order to accommodate employees who are medically sensitive to the chemicals in scented products, the City of Detroit requests that you refrain from wearing scented products, including but not limited to colognes, after-shave lotions, perfumes, deodorants, body/face lotions, hair sprays or similar products. The city of Detroit also asks you to refrain the use of scented candles, perfume samples from magazines, spray or solid air fresheners, room deodorizers, plug-in wall air fresheners, cleaning compounds or similar products. Our employees with medical chemical sensitivities thank you for your cooperation.”
Here is another proof point that everyone needs to keep strong smells out of the office: ToughNickel.com cited 31 percent (nearly 1 out of 3) of the general population is irritated by the scented products that other people wear. And 19 percent experience negative health effects from air fresheners.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, below are some of my own personal experiences to back up the “neutral smells only” argument:
- A candidate came in for an interview, but even before I met him, when my administrative assistant came in to hand me his resume, it smelled strongly of after shave. When I went out to greet him, we shook hands. I immediately noticed he was nervous. His hands were sweaty. On top of that, the amount of after shave, or cologne he was wearing was overbearing. The scent of his after shave was in my office for a good hour after he left. I had to wash my hands repeatedly to get rid of the smell. I can only imagine that since the interview was late in the afternoon, he had a bottle of after shave in the car, and he splashed it on his hands and then onto his face before meeting me, as if doing so was going to make him a more “attractive” candidate. To say it was a real turn off would be an understatement!
- I sent a candidate to a client for an interview. He must have put on an excessive amount of aftershave that day. The client called me and said the candidate was eminently qualified, and he would like to hire him, but he can’t. His reason? The candidate smelled like a “stinking #@&*!” He said that as part of the training, he would have to ride with the new hire to meet some customers. He told me there was no way he would be able to stand riding in car, a confined space, with this person — not to mention being embarrassed to introduce him to customers.
- A new employee wore a brand of perfume on her first day to work. The perfume happened to be the same brand that her boss’s former wife wore. Every time the boss was in proximity to the new hire, the scent conjured up his nasty divorce. He couldn’t stand it and began to dislike the woman he hired. Their relationship went downhill from there.
- I have a client who has a fragrance-free manufacturing facility. A sign is posted at the front door indicating that no fragrances are allowed into the building. They not only don’t allow people inside with after shave, cologne or perfume, but also ban people with scented deodorants, and shower products that have a scent. The owner told me that he has seen sales people come to the front door, read the sign and leave, never to return. Those sales people lost the opportunity to do business with the owner. Visitors were turned away as well. Seems that some of the employees have the same sensitivity as Susan McBride in the court case mentioned above.
Just something to keep in mind when creating an office dress code or being in the office yourself: keep your smells completely neutral. Save strong scents only for outside the office — that is if your friends and family can stand it!
I hope the above article helps you in some way. Do you have any more thoughts to add? If so, I’d love to hear them. Shoot me an email or give me a call at (401) 737-3200.