We’ve all encountered coworkers who seem to think "more is more" when it comes to perfume. It doesn’t matter whether they are dousing themselves in a drugstore brand or Chanel: An overpowering scent is distracting – and it can even make you sick. Most of us enjoy subtle perfume, but in the workplace, be careful. If you aren’t following proper etiquette, you might as well have a dead fish in your office.
Less is More
The cardinal rule of perfume at work is that a little goes a long way. If you choose to wear perfume – and your office allows it – use it sparingly. Save heavy, musky and sexy scents for after work; light floral and citrus scents are best for the office. A light spritz on your wrists or behind your ears is sufficient. You may also spray a mist in front of you and walk through it to disperse the scent. Ideally, others should only be able to smell your perfume if they come within a couple of feet. If coworkers can smell you before you enter a room or after you leave, step away from the perfume bottle.
You applied perfume before work, but now you can’t smell it. Or perhaps you hit that Korean joint for lunch, and now all you smell is kimchi. Resist the urge to reapply your perfume. Over time, our noses become used to smells. Even if you can’t smell your fragrance anymore, others still can. Spraying on more can make your once-subtle scent overpowering.
Telling someone she's wearing too much perfume can be excruciatingly awkward. If your great aunt Sally wears too much Chanel No. 5, you may let her slide. But at work, you can – and should – speak up, especially if the scent is preventing you from getting your work done.
Avoid bluntly telling your coworker she stinks. Instead, gently say you like her perfume, but you are really sensitive to scents and would appreciate it if she could wear less. Most people will comply because they don’t realize they are using too much. If your coworker refuses to stop bathing in her perfume, you may need to get your boss or human resources involved.
Fragrance allergies are a serious concern in the workplace, and many employers have opted for a fragrance-free environment to keep employees healthy. Before you spritz on that delicious-smelling scent your husband bought you for your birthday, check your company’s policies. If perfume is banned, you’ll have to save the scent for the weekend.
An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer on topics including lifestyle, education, and business. She is the author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), and her work has appeared in Lewiston Auburn Magazine, Young Money, USA Today and a variety of online outlets. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.