Employers should rethink the food preparation spaces they offer in workplaces to consider the mental health and wellbeing of staff affected by smell loss.
More than 3.85 million people in the UK are currently affected by smell loss, according to charity AbScent, including those who may have experienced a loss or change in their sense of taste or smell due to Covid-19.
The charity said smell loss primarily manifests in two forms: anosmia, the inability to smell or taste to varying degrees of severity; and parosmia which distorts sense of smell so that some scents may smell foul.
Some people may also experience hyposmia (partial loss of smell) and phantosmia (phantom smells).
People affected by parosmia in particular find certain common office smells unpleasant. They often report that coffee smells like sewage, for example.
“We’ve all worked in offices where we smell people heating lunches in the microwave, or strong vats of wafting coffee. For the millions of people with parosmia this is going to be unbearable and nauseating,” said AbScent founder Chrissi Kelly.
“Hot drinks, hot food, and snacks prepared in a microwave may well smell like rotting meat, urine, or faeces to someone with parosmia. This is a distortion of olfactory perception and can be unbearable to the person experiencing it.
“For those experiencing smell problems, there can be disastrous repercussions for mental health, happiness, and relationships.”
The charity advised organisations to consider how their workplaces were configured to support employees who had lost their sense of smell.
It recommended that organisations:
- establish “coffee free spaces” where no hot coffee is brewed or consumed. Some people with smell loss can tolerate the smell of cold coffee
- move microwaves into kitchens or enclosed rooms and seat people with parosmia far away from these areas
- establish an open dialogue with people who experience smell loss, involving HR, to show employees that they will be supported
- identify and support people in jobs that require the sense of smell, including plumbers, carers, chefs, and fire service workers
- consider offering “smell training”, which retrains the brain to smell by stimulating the olfactory nerve, to people who have lost their sense of smell.