As wonderful and fascinating as perfumes can be for people like myself, for those with fragrance allergies, anything scented can be akin to airborne poison.
This can especially be a problem in the workplace, where the mingled scents of perfumes, scented soaps, air fresheners, and cleaning products can be an absolute nightmare for those with fragrance sensitivities.
If you’re an employer, or an employee with perfume sensitivity, how do you make the workplace a less fragrant environment?
There are a number of strategies for making the workplace more suitable for people with fragrance allergies. Using an air filter, unscented cleaning products and soaps, improving air quality, allowing for fresh air breaks, or even going fragrance-free are all good starting points.
Let’s take a closer look.
What Are Fragrance Allergies?
Fragrance allergies, as the name implies, indicates a sensitivity to artificial scents.
This isn’t limited to just perfume. In fact, there’s a whole buffet of scented products which we use in our day-to-day lives. Shampoos, lotions, conditioners, deodorants, and soaps all contain artificial fragrances which can cause problems for people with fragrance allergies.
These allergies vary in severity. Some fragrance allergies might result in some minor irritation, while more extreme cases could lead to nausea, incessant headaches, itchy eyes, congestion, and symptoms consistent with respiratory problems.
In some cases, the skin can develop dermatitis if it comes into contact with a scented product, causing itching and burning.
All of these symptoms can, of course, negatively influence productivity and focus, and create a negative work environment for those who are allergic to fragrances.
What steps can be taken to make the workplace a more inclusive environment for the fragrance sensitive?
1. Go Fragrance-Free
Perhaps the most obvious way to make the workplace less fragrant is by instituting a no-fragrance policy.
A no-fragrance policy means that individual employees refrain from using scented products, such as perfumes, lotions, and cosmetics in the workplace.
While it would be somewhat inconvenient for a highly-scented person such as myself, a no-fragrance policy is really just a common courtesy for your fellow workers.
More than that, it’s a smart business decision. According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), businesses lose between $20-70 billion per year due to “lost productivity, decreased performance, and absences from illness.”
However, such a policy can be difficult to implement, especially in workplaces that are open to the public.
2. Focus on Improving Air Quality
In cases where it’s not possible to implement a no-fragrance policy, the best course of action might be to gradually focus on improving air quality in the workplace.
Often, people with fragrance sensitivities might suffer due to an overall lack of proper air circulation and quality. You might not even have to go fragrance-free if you can ensure that the air quality in your workplace is high and the offending artificial fragrances are not so heavily concentrated in the air.
Improving air quality is a multifaceted process. Making sure your AC filters are clean and changed is a good starting point, as well as regularly cleaning rugs and carpets, ensuring your air ducts are clear of detritus, controlling the humidity level, and using indoor plants to keep the air fresh.
Implementing these standards as a rule in the workplace can go a long way towards making it a much safer environment for sufferers from fragrance allergies.
3. Provide an Air Purifier
Just like the previous point, sometimes air pollution and quality can be the biggest offender when it comes to inflaming fragrance allergies.
Along with improving the overall air quality in the workplace, providing the use of an air purifier, such as HEPA’s Air Purifier with Smart Control, can be an effective means of reducing the ambient scent pollution in the air.
An air purifier sucks in and purifies the surrounding air of all fragrances, whether good or bad, providing a fresh and fragrance-free environment. This can be especially effective for employees with individual working stations or offices.
4. Use Fragrance-Free Cleaning Supplies
Sometimes, the biggest offender when it comes to activating fragrance allergies is highly-scented cleaning supplies.
Cleaning supplies are usually fragrance-rich in order to both deodorize and leave behind a pleasing scent, especially in the kitchen or bathroom. However, the intensity of the scent of cleaning supplies can often be too much to handle for those with fragrance sensitivities.
If there is an individual with fragrance sensitivities in your workplace, a good course of action might be to opt for using an unscented cleaner, such as Seventh Generation’s All-Purpose Cleaner or Better Life’s Natural All-Purpose Cleaner.
5. Use Unscented Soap
Another culprit inflaming fragrance sensitivities in the office could very well be scented soap in the bathroom.
Not only can the fragrance of the soap cause problems – scented soap could cause contact dermatitis in some cases.
Using unscented soaps and detergents in the bathroom and break room in the workplace could go a long way towards making the work environment more hospitable for those with fragrance sensitivities. Most major soap and detergent brands offer an unscented option that is widely available at most retailers.
6. Allow Fresh Air Breaks
Another simple solution to the problem might be allowing individuals with fragrance sensitivities to take regular fresh air breaks.
Perhaps the individual(s) in question don’t have a severe fragrance allergy, but might feel somewhat nauseous or get headaches if exposed to fragrances for extended periods of time.
Providing them with the option of taking fresh air breaks, or just with an unscented space, could be just what they need to power through.
7. Offering a Flexible WFH Schedule
In this day and age, working from home (WFH) has become increasingly viable. According to a 2015 study by SHRM, 77% of workers who work from home at least a few times a month report increased productivity while working offsite, even when sick. Another study from Stanford indicates that overall productivity of employees working from home increased by upwards of 13%.
Clearly, WFH has its benefits. These benefits could very well extend to those suffering from fragrance allergies as well.
Many people with fragrance allergies report decreased productivity in the workplace due to headaches, nausea, skin irritation, congestion, and a lack of focus. This can be disconcerting both to the employee as well as the employer.
Offering WFH hours could be a helpful solution to the problem. The ratio would be up to the individual and the situation, of course, but reducing the amount of time spent in the office might be the best course of action if a no-fragrance policy isn’t a viable course of action. In some cases, a full WFH schedule might even be the best bet.
The Final Word
Navigating the problem of fragrance allergies in the workplace can be a tricky business. Some of these solutions are just first steps to dealing with a complex issue that will vary from workplace-to-workplace and individual-to-individual. Ensuring that there is open communication and dialogue with the individual(s) in question will be the best way of tailoring the solution to fit the problem.
That said, these seven methods of making the workplace a more hospitable environment for those with fragrance allergies could very well be just what the doctor ordered.
Making a less fragrant workplace is a multistep process. Focus on improving air quality first, then on using unscented cleaning supplies and soaps. Providing an air purifier can be a great solution, as well as allowing for fresh air breaks and a flexible WFH schedule. In some cases, going fragrance-free might be best.