Previously on 1850 Thoughts, we’ve discussed the effects of music in the office, as well as what we see in the form of visual noise, and how these can disrupt or add to productivity at work. One of the human senses we haven’t looked at is smell, which at first thought may not seem as influential as sound and visual distractions, but figures reveal that 75% of our daily emotions are affected by odours – and mood and emotion inevitably contribute to productivity at work.

Smelly Lunches

When thinking about office odours, food comes to mind - and more specifically - strong-smelling food.  61% of 1,000 UK employees surveyed eat lunch at their desk at least three times a week, so it’s likely a variety of smells pass through the office. Oily fish, boiled egg and egg sandwiches came top in the most unpleasant-smelling foods to eat in the office, which is no surprise considering they’re pretty strong smells and of acquired taste.

A third of UK workers say they find it hard to work as a result of strong unpleasant smells from food in the office, yet 45% say they don’t feel comfortable raising the issue with their egg/fish-loving-colleagues. The awkwardness of the issue means it’s one to approach with caution, as no one wants to feel unwelcome in their workplace, however smelly their food. On the other hand, it should be down to every individual to be considerate of peers at work, especially if their food choice is one with a rather pungent odour.


Fragrances, in the form of body perfumes as well as air fresheners, can also have an effect in the office. Of course everyone likes to smell nice – better than bad body odour any day – but perfumes can be overpowering and fragrances are very personal to the individual. For example, what Pam from Finance may think smells subtle and floral may give Steve, her co-worker a headache, therefore affecting his productivity. In fact, two fifths of UK workers asked said they found an overpowering smell of perfume or aftershave in the office unpleasant.

However there is little that can be done with this issue without causing offence, and so if an individual finds a scent offensive or causes headaches or similar, if the office has alternative co-working spaces, the option to move to one of these places is available.

The same goes for air fresheners too, and the best way to suit all is to choose a subtle, natural scent which is barely noticeable but contributes to neutralising the air. Using an overpowering air freshener to cover up the eggy-lunch aroma won’t be the best mix and could cause more bad than good.

Health and Wellbeing

If an employee likes to have fresh flowers on their desk as a decoration, the scent is likely to be pleasant and subtle for most. There is an issue however of any employee who suffers from hay fever or similar allergies, and so employees should be mindful of others close to them. Hay fever symptoms can be highly irritating; watering eyes and sneezing will lower the productivity of a suffering employee and so asking around for allergies before bringing scented flowers into the office is the best idea.

An alternative of course is fake flowers – while the scent isn’t there, the decoration still remains and colleagues stay healthy and productive.


A way to manage smells in the office is to ensure some sort of ventilation is always flowing. If an unpleasant smell is released from one’s tinfoil at lunchtime, it should pass within an hour if ventilation from open windows or open doors is present – however open windows in summer brings back the hay fever issue so again, asking around for any allergies is a good idea. Of course, ventilation only works to a certain extent and more pungent smells may linger a little longer, with only the efforts of the air freshener to help neutralise the air.

If a real problem is caused by smelly foods, flowers or fragrances to a point where an employee’s productivity – and comfort at work - is noticeably decreased, issues should be raised to set some standard ground rules, especially concerning foods and what’s respectable to eat where.

Laura Sewell

An aspiring journalist, Laura is our Content Writer.  Pop-punk gig-goer and drag queen enthusiast, Laura is working her way into the industry with a love of writing about anything and everything in tow.
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