Wake up and smell the workplace: how aroma is changing behaviour

Offices in the past rarely came up smelling of roses. But all that could be about to change as olfactory design becomes the next sensory stimulus in the workplace. WORKTECH Academy reviews the evidence

Scents can have powerful and immediate psychological effects on us. So much so, that science has proven that certain aromas can prompt desired behavioural outcomes, particularly when it comes to productivity and wellbeing in the workplace. Now new office projects are waking up and smelling the coffee, literally, as they attune to the idea of olfactory design.

According to a growing body of scientific research, the use of ‘smellscaping’ can improve employee mood, alertness, performance and creativity. Researchers have determined what aromas – from citrus fruits to cleaning products – can manipulate certain cognitive responses and have desirable outcomes for the workplace.

Menu of scents

WORKTECH Academy surveyed the evidence with our US partner Chicago Design Connections and this menu of aromas shows the potential impact on our behaviour:

While these aromas may produce the desired psychological outcomes, smellscaping has to be managed carefully. Regulating the intensity of scent in the office space is important; too much and the smell can be overwhelming, too little and it may not have any effect. However, despite the practical difficulties, workplace design is now increasingly sentient: it is tapping into the human senses to yield more from employees.

Retail is, of course, a master at this game. Supermarkets have long lured shoppers with wafts of baking bread and travel agents have been known to promote exotic holidays with the smell of coconut. Now London offices are placing coffee corners and ice cream kiosks in reception, and Japanese employers are pushing wake-up fragrances like citrus through their air-conditioning systems. Could our sense of smell be the next frontier in managing sensory manipulation in the workplace?

To read the full scientific evidence on the science of scent, go to our Innovation Zone.

A review of the scientific research into the effects of aroma in the workplace, prepared by Sally Augustin of Research Design Connections, can be found in our Innovation Zone here.
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