Reeking havoc: the effect of smell in your office

Here, Gareth Cowmeadow, scenting specialist at Ambius, tells us why ensuring that your office smells nice can bring success to your business.

Smell is an extremely powerful sense with the ability to trigger emotions and strong feelings. It is believed that 75 per cent of the emotions we generate on a daily basis are affected by smell. For organisations, the right smell not only has the ability to generate good impressions to clients or prospects who visit their building, it can also help to render staff in the work environment happier, more alert and more productive.

Office and facilities managers should not underestimate the power of scent in the workplace. In the same way that the ambient scents can positively influence perceptions of a customer in a shopping centre, an appealing workplace aroma, whether it be natural or man-made, can certainly influence employee perception of their office. It’s crucial to ensure your office environment is pleasantly scented, heightening both employee engagement, and above all, comfort in their place of work.

Desk-usting scents

While a pleasing, fresh scent may exercise a positive effect on your employees’ wellbeing, the converse is also true. Unpleasant smells can quickly overpower an office environment. Even something as simple as an employee’s lunch could have profound effects on their colleagues. We surveyed 1,000 UK office workers and found that three in five employees (61 per cent) eat their lunch at their desk three or more times a week. The main reasons they gave included being too busy to take a lunch break, or wanting to catch up on the news and personal administration while eating.

Whatever the reason for it, an increasing number of Brits are eating lunch at their desks, filling work environments with the aroma of food, good and bad. More than half (55 per cent) of office workers find it anti-social when a colleague eats strong smelling food at their desk, with a third finding it hard to work as a result.

Meanwhile, 45 per cent indicated that they wouldn’t say anything to a colleague even if they found the smell of their lunch food offensive. Some may not realise how much of a detrimental effect their lunch choices could have on co-workers who sit near them, so it’s important to encourage office etiquette to help create a hygienic and pleasant-smelling environment, and hopefully happier colleagues as a result.

So, when it comes to food in the office, what constitutes a good or a bad smell? Brits voted oily fish the worst lunch for fellow office workers to put up with. Smelly cheese, boiled eggs and egg sandwiches also featured on the blacklist. Buttered toast topped the list of pleasant-smelling foods that workers eat at their desk, closely followed by fresh pastries and bacon sandwiches.

Getting the balance right

While they may not be able to control what their employees are devouring during the lunch hour, office and facilities managers have a role to play in creating a balanced scent in the office. They should pay close attention to communal areas such as receptions, lifts or lobbies, as scent plays an important role in creating a good first impression for clients and new employees.

Scenting products can help to control and minimise smells that come from malodour-producing food and other objects. A viable option is installing air fresheners that automatically dispense fragrance to neutralise odours and create a pleasant-smelling environment. An air purifier can even help to eradicate any airborne bacteria and viruses in the office, including the flu virus, E Coli, Salmonella, Streptococcus, Rhinovirus and Hepatitis A.

Final thoughts

While scent is undoubtedly important in the office, when it comes to air fresheners it’s important to remember that an overpowering scent – even a traditionally agreeable one – could have negative effect on employees. Two fifths even said they found an overpowering smell of perfume or aftershave in the office unpleasant. Overall, it’s all about striking the balance, and guaranteeing the diffusion of delicate, appealing smells for your employees and clients.

Gareth Cowmeadow is scenting specialist at Ambius

Further reading on office smells

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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