We’re not saying we’ve all experienced this but we’re hazarding a fairly solid guess that you’ve had to endure (at least once) the not-so-sweet scent of an office colleague or their lunch. What might seem like a small (smelly) issue can, however, have a longer-lasting effect than just momentarily offending your olfactories.

Personal hygiene and body odour can present health, safety and workplace risks

According to Canadian Employment Law Today poor personal hygiene can pose particular risks in professions such as food processing and handling (would you want a smelly hand holding your hamburger?) as well as healthcare; there’s an even higher risk here where patient health and contamination are concerned. Smells can also undercut workplace harmony and productivity according to Bloomberg Law; and it’s not just the bad smells: perfume and fragrance sensitivity is one of the top workplace complaints (clearly not everyone j’àdores Dior). In one extreme case an employee took her employer to court and won after they failed to accommodate her allergy to a fellow colleague’s perfume. Look alive HR, look alive.

But, certain smells can actually positively impact your cognitive state

If we ignore the garlicky breath and cloying perfumes, studies suggest that aromas do more than aggravate, they can in fact improve your cognitive state. For example, the smell of peppermint has been linked to improved memory and dual-task performance. Lavender has been found to lessen fatigue and enhance interpersonal trust. So now the question is, how can you give bad smells the heave-ho without martyring the malodourous? There’s one main way to approach it…

Hello HR, goodbye bad smells

One way of ridding your office space of bad smells is, quite simply, policy. Sometimes it’s as cut and dried as having – in writing – that you can’t bring certain generally bad-smelling things into a shared office space. For example, you may want to add surströmming to a list of no-go bring-to-work foods. Don’t know what that is? We’ll enlighten you: as a fermented Swedish fish it’s frequently been voted the most putrid smelling food in the world. If you feel like laughing please YouTube this Nordic delicacy being opened by unsuspecting diners.

In other instances, getting rid of bad smells requires a bit more sensitivity. If the ‘something fishy’ has to do with a particular employee you need to discuss your next steps with HR first according to Bloomberg Law; they’d be aware of any potential legal and discrimination pitfalls. Then it’s a private face to face with the employee in question and addressing their smell as gently (but directly) as possible. An important outcome, as silly as it sounds, is to walk away with a reasonable expectation for body odour, understanding this needs to be flexible enough to accommodate their job role. If they’re outside in the baking sun for most of the day, you can see the need for some leeway.

Going forward, you can also make appropriate personal hygiene a condition of employment (as long as you’re within the bounds of general labour law and the Employment Equity Act). You can read about a  South African case where an allegation of bad body odour and hygiene went wrong for the employer here.

At the end of the day controlling office odours is a win-some, lose-some battle – with a bit of air freshener in between. Just remember, when your taking steps to combat smells, get it all in writing.

Coworking Cape TOwn | Office Space | Office and Co

At Office & Co. smells needn’t be your concern. Our fully serviced offices in Cape Town and Joburg have fresh air flowing round the clock and you can even control the scent of your office space with one of our flying-solo boardrooms. Explore our versatile, good looking (nice smelling) office space today. We’re fully COVID compliant.

Please complete the form below and we will get back to you soonest. We look forward to discussing your office space requirements.

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    Tel: +27 11 267 0500

    Email: info@officeandco.co.za

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    Tel: +27 21 140 0700

    Email: info@officeandco.co.za

    Johannesburg

    Tel: +27 11 267 0500

    Email: info@officeandco.co.za

    Cape Town

    Tel: +27 21 140 0700

    Email: info@officeandco.co.za

    Please complete the form below and we will get back to you soonest. We look forward to discussing your office space requirements.