Sweet stink of success

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

I sit next to a woman at work who uses a very strong-smelling perfume. It gives me a pounding headache within 30 minutes of being around her. I have politely asked her to tone down her perfume; she apologizes and says she will, but nothing changes. My co-workers tell me that going to human resources will be a waste of time because they won't do anything about it. I love my job and don't want to quit, plus it seems crazy to leave a job because of some perfume. But I can't take much more. Any ideas about what I can do?


Love this question, Anna. I too have been on the headache-receiving end of someone's cheap fragrance. Luckily for me, she was pretty friendly and respected my request. Well, most of the time. There were days that I found myself catching a whiff and then dodging her for the rest of the day.

It sounds like your situation is a bit more complicated in that you sit next to her. Your best bet is to try asking again. Be nice and explain that, like the Bionic Woman, you have a super-sensitive sniffer and that it results in headaches and embarrassing situations, like the one you're talking about. Make sure to stroke her ego somehow, as you're treading on shaky ground with this request.

Many people consider fragrance an essential part of their person, layering it on in ridiculous amounts. In fact, just now as I'm writing this at a local coffeehouse, a woman walked by and choked me with a cloud of her signature scent. Think I have a good impression of her? Hardly.

Your co-worker is making a basic workplace-etiquette mistake. Since what smells good to one person likely offends someone else, it's best to avoid wearing any fragrance to work. This is true for both women's perfume and guys' cologne. If you insist on wearing it to work, be very careful in your application - use a very, very light touch.

If a second or third delicate plea doesn't work, you'll have to try to move your desk. Now this can be tricky. You'll likely really offend her with this move. But what's your alternative? Risk your job due to mistakes or productivity problems because you're in a state of compromised health? Uh, no.

If you have to approach the boss to ask for a move, she'll probably want to know the reason. Your boss will offer to get involved, much to her irritation, suggesting that she talk to your co-worker and see if she can resolve the issue.

While this might resolve the perfume issue, you'll be left with a bigger interpersonal challenge in dealing with your co-worker, who will feel betrayed and hurt. So do your best to resolve the situation without help from your boss or HR. It'll be much easier for you in the long run.

Molly Luffy, MBA helps people create more career satisfaction and success through her coaching programs and articles. E-mail your career question to molly@jobpromotionsecrets.com