Scent-Free Offices: Notes on the why and how of implementing policies

Going “scent-free”: this is a policy that workplaces have begun to implement increasingly over the past several years. The policy, which requires employees and visitors to refrain from wearing perfume, cologne, or using other strongly scented products in an office, aims to acknowledge certain employees’ sensitivities and to create a healthy office environment where everyone can work comfortably.

Though this specific policy is a unique example, the reasons and practices for creating scent-free offices can serve as good general guidelines for implementing any workplace-wide policy. Has your office gone scent-free? What methods did your team use to implement the policy?

Why a scent-free policy?
A scent-free policy is a representative example of an issue that, while highly bothersome to certain people, may be entirely welcome by others. Yet if the best practices for implementing a policy are to be observed, the entire staff must be on board and follow the guidelines in order to create a workplace that is inviting and safe to all.

A standard of “all or nothing” must be set to maintain a physical space free of scent, which for some could trigger asthma, nausea, dizziness, headaches, or distraction, among other symptoms.

Some offices may even choose to implement such a policy even when there are no obvious scent sensitivities among full-time staff, in an effort to welcome an occasional client, partner, or other visitor who could not function comfortably in an environment with scents present.

What are best practices for implementing a policy, whether scent-free or otherwise?
For management, implementing a policy should never take the form of a single announcement that a new set of rules is to be followed at once. At minimum, staff should be forewarned of any company-wide changes before they are expected to follow them; if possible, staff should additionally be involved in decision-making and discussion about a policy.

In meetings or via email, staff should be given the opportunity to contribute to ironing out the details, timelines, and parameters of a policy. This kind of inclusion is important for making decisions that affect the entire workplace, not merely a few people.

Additionally, a policy should be written as a report and incorporated into a staff handbook or office manual, so that there are clear guidelines to follow. If employees have questions later, they can always refer back to the original document instead of functioning on guesswork.

What if you love to wear scents – and disagree with the policy?
Like any workplace guideline, whether it is a dress code or standardized work hours, the time to diverge from those guidelines would be solely on your own time and in your own space. Just as you might wear jeans or sleep in past 9:00 am on the weekends, the same context would apply for trying out your favourite perfumes. Reserve them for weekends or special occasions, to separate your work and life habits.

Additionally, be diplomatic: even if a policy such as a scent-free guideline does not fit within your personal preferences, it is important to acknowledge that such policies exist in order to improve the overall office environment and to accommodate the needs of every employee or visitor.

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