Aromatherapy in the workplace

A good sniff of your average office is unlikely to be particularly pleasant. Old gym kits, 25 clashing perfumes, and that all-pervasive, indefinable ‘office’ smell peculiar to most workplaces are predominant aromas.

But while we are mostly unaware of the smells around us at work, employers are catching on to the idea that aromas can have a big impact on performance.

Research by Japanese fragrance company Takasago has shown that staff working in a lavender-scented environment made 20% fewer errors than usual, with this rising to 33% with jasmine oil and 54% with lemon oil.

Scented diffusions

In light of the evidence, the UK branch of Japanese construction company Shimizu now uses scented diffusers to create a productive work environment, as well as creating new buildings with specially designed air ducts for aromatherapy purposes.

In its own offices, Shimizu greets workers with a lemon-scented wake-up call, followed by rose fragrance to encourage contentment. The company then combats the post-lunch slump with invigorating cypress smells, and it fills conference rooms with peppermint odours to keep workers alert in meetings.

It even passes its advice on to clients, by advising them to disseminate antibacterial oils in hospitals, anti-stress smells for offices, and relaxing aromas for train stations.

With many organisations looking to improve the working environment, aromatherapy could be a useful motivational tool.

“Aromatherapy is just one of the ways we try to make our workers more comfortable in our offices,” says a Shimizu spokesman. “It may seem strange to European businesses, but this practice is widely used in Japan, and has been shown to have a positive effect on productivity.”


Aromatherapist Fiona Tutte has found that a number of corporate clients are now becoming interested in the practical applications of aromatherapy. “There are a number of things that aromatherapy can tackle in the workplace,” she explains.

“There are several oils, such as tea-tree and eucalyptus, that have an antibacterial quality. If you diffuse these in the workplace you cut down airborne bacteria that tend to get cycled round in the air conditioning, and you are likely to cut the amount of time that staff take off work after catching infections.”

There are also benefits for employees’ moods.

“With working areas, it’s good to use uplifting scents such as citrus, which have a positive effect on mood,” explains Tutte.

There are also oils that aid concentration – peppermint could make an ideal replacement for the morning coffee fix. Other oils have a relaxing effect, such as frankincense, which relaxes the diaphragm so we breathe more deeply.

So while these scents may fall short of offering job satisfaction in a bottle, aromatherapy really has the potential to help staff feel happier at work.

Scents and sensibility

Certain smells can create a positive working environment, such as:

  • Peppermint – uplifting, useful for a pick-me-up instead of a cup of coffee
  • Citrus – has a positive effect on mood
  • Frankincense – relaxes the diaphragm, making you breathe more deeply
  • Tea-tree/eucalyptus -anti-bacterial qualities, useful in hospitals

Source: Fiona Tutte, aromatherapist

By Catherine Quinn

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