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Fragrance in office, distracted manager – local readers ask for advice

Dear Readers,

I am starting to get some of your work related questions.

These first two seemed almost comical but when I checked back with the writers, it turns out they were serious, and real workplace issues.

So, thank you, you’re taking the time to continue our conversation, and I’m putting my best experience and knowledge to work for you…

Coach Joan

Dear Coach Joan,

I work in a large corporation with rows of cubicles. And for the most part, everyone gets along and understands the basic rules of consideration in working in fairly close proximity. But there’s this new employee, and he doesn’t seem to realize that his heavy cologne use is really bothersome. Not only do I not like the scent, but it truly is an overpowering sensation as you walk anywhere in his vicinity. And his scent overpowers the room when we’re in a group meeting. This has been going on for at least three weeks, since he started working here. How do you suggest I deal with this?


Dear Mike,

It might sound like a situation comedy but when you’re actually experiencing it, a strong and bad odor can actually be sickening. It is a serious situation. And I’m almost embarrassed to tell you that I was once such a perpetrator, of course, unknowingly. I always wore what I thought was a light spray of cologne but when I changed fragrance, a co-worker immediately came to my cubicle to tell me that he’d always enjoyed the scent I wore but noticed a change and wasn’t as happy about this scent. I was so glad he told me! First of all, what I thought was a light spray, clearly was too strong for the office and second, I realized that if he liked one scent yet strongly disliked the second one, how might the other colleagues be reacting? Preferences for fragrance is very personal and perhaps can be compared to preferences for wines. One persons enjoyment in another person’s complete dislike.  So my takeaway was that fragrance, unless very, very gently applied, has no place in the work environment.

But considering this is a new colleague and you have no idea of his degree of sensitivity and you don’t want him embarrassed, I’d suggest bringing it up with your manager and asking her/him if others have mentioned anything. Perhaps the manager would offer to write a note to the group reminding everyone about cubicle consideration; that everyone needs to be mindful to speak softly and keep scents out of the office; broadening the discussion to include other sensory topics not just fragrance.

If that doesn’t change things then I would suggest a one on one with the cologne-king, letting him know that it’s a bit of a sensitive topic but that you have sensory issues and don’t do well with any fragrance in the workplace. Yes, I’d make it about you, not about him. I’d do what I could to avoid any embarrassment on his part. Remember, I’ve been on the other side and I realize that I would have appreciated that approach and I think this person might as well.

Good luck and hoping for clean air in horizons.


Coach Joan

Dear Joan,

I’ve worked for the same manager for several years now and I’ve always had the utmost of respect for her.

Megan is a smart professional and a superb manager. In fact, she and I have both earned two promotions in our time working together. We are a great team!

But things have changed lately. Megan married last year and just had her first child. She is thrilled and we are thrilled for her. And she’s now working out of her home three days a week. She recently scheduled my review for one of the days she was working from home. And it was a disaster! At least from my point of view!

I could hear the baby crying, the dog barking and several deliveries made to her home during the 30 minute meeting. It was clear to me that Megan was completely overwhelmed and distracted and the quality of the review was majorly disappointing to me. It was clear that she had barely read the input document I had worked hard to prepare, and she had little understanding of my  accomplishments and challenges during the last six months. I know this is all new to her and that her life has taken a major turn, but should my career suffer due to her distraction? I feel very mixed as we do have a five year track record of excellent work together.

Curious about your take on this,


Dear Cheryl,

I feel your frustration and I also understand how you are torn between long term respect and loyalty for your manager, but you also feel like you’re being ‘ripped off’ in  not having a manager who’s paying attention and giving you feedback and acknowledgement for your work. You are also concerned that your hard work is not going to be appreciated and perhaps you won’t get any of the rewards you might have gotten had Megan been her old self and paying attention.

My suggestion to you is very, very clear. You need to come clean with her. You have a very strong and long track record together. You’d be doing yourself, Megan and the company a disservice to shy away from the truth.

You need to set up a time to meet her when she’s in the office, fully present and not distracted.

And you need to tell her just what you told me.

I have a strong feeling the light will go on, she will fully ‘get it’ and remedies will be made.

Onward to Megan getting re-balanced again,

Coach Joan

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