There are some people who are sensitive and allergic to certain fragrances and suffer from a condition called multiple chemical sensitivities. Those people have real medical issues and, when working with those individual, I think it’s reasonable and fair to ask colleagues to avoid wearing perfumes and colognes.
Then there are the majority of people who are whiners and complainers. They come to Human Resources and claim to be allergic to cigarette smoke, or the smell of someone from another country, when they are nothing more than conflict avoidant and bitchy. Or racist.
I wrote about HR solving ‘smelly problems’ in this month’s The Conference Board Review. But I’ll tell you a personal story. I once traveled on a non-stop flight from ORD to PHX for work. It was a last minute trip and my company paid $1200 for the ticket. I grabbed the last seat on the airplane and I was nestled between two backpackers from Australia who hadn’t showered for weeks AND the lavatory.
I almost died.
I’m not allergic to the smell of shit or body odor — but I am a complainer. I wanted the flight attendant to solve my problem and move me to another seat.
She asked, “Where? Do you see another seat available?”
I said, “I paid $1200 and this is bullshit.”
She said, “Would you like to take a later flight and we can give your seat to someone waiting in standby?”
Snap. That solution sucked. But she was right — there was no other option. So I sat back down and suppressed my gag reflex.
Sometimes an olfactory issue is nothing more than a set of personal and cultural preferences applied to another person. And if you work with someone who smells, the solution isn’t to fake a sensitivity to herbs/spices/scents/chemicals and ask HR to solve your problem by instituting a fragrance-free company policy.
The solution is to grow up, have a mature conversation with someone who’s smell is bothering you and stop being a whiner.
And stop being racist, too. That would help.