Making sense(s) of the workplace: smell

Our sense of smell is incredibly powerful—and it plays a significant role in the world around us. From the smell of freshly baked bread to the scent of cut grass, suncream, fresh lavender, a log-burning stove, or the sea, 75% of our daily emotions are influenced by smells. Yet the importance of scents is often overlooked in office design. So it’s high time we embrace the power of scents when creating workplace experiences. Let’s dive in and learn how.

The power of scents

Have you ever smelled a scent and immediately been transported back to a memory from your childhood? This nostalgia demonstrates just how powerful our sense of smell can be. Studies have shown that we remember 35% of what we smell, while we only remember 1% of what we touch, 2% of what we hear, 5% of what we see, and 15% of what we taste.

Scented environments have been proven to have many benefits, including reducing typos made by office workers, improving the perception of product quality, increasing purchase intent, average sales unit, and duration of retail visitors, as well as boosting how much consumers are willing to pay for a product. 

The science of scent

The science behind scents is fascinating. Scientists have discovered that smell and memory have a unique relationship. Smell receptors in our noses communicate with the parts of our brains that store emotions and memories, meaning we associate certain memories and emotions with particular smells. Applying this thinking to workplace scents can help enhance everything from mental wellbeing to physical alertness.

Japanese fragrance company Takasago conducted research which proved that certain scents had a positive impact on office workers’ typing.

Scent is subjective

Smell is a subjective experience that varies from person to person. While some people find the smell of freshly cut grass pleasant, others may not like it as it reminds them of hot summer days or triggers allergies. Different individuals have different preferences, and their sense of smell is often influenced by their memories and experiences.

When choosing a scent for your workplace, it is important to consider the cultural background of your employees. For example, in the Middle East, people tend to prefer heavy and spicy scents, while in the Western world, citrus and other high notes are more popular. However, some generalisations can be made when choosing a scent for a shared environment that can help influence emotions and behaviour.

Olfactive marketing

It’s often assumed that scents are only relevant to food and drink retailers, but olfactive marketing can be beneficial for any brand. A brand’s signature scent can be an essential part of its success, both externally with customers and internally with employee culture.

For instance, many high-end hotels have their unique scent in the lobby, creating a specific atmosphere for guests. Some retail brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, and Apple have a distinctive fragrance that is part of their brand and identity. Even airlines, such as Singapore Airlines, use a bespoke scent called Stefan Floridian Waters for flight attendants’ perfume and to launder in-flight towels.

All these examples add to the overall experience, which is a crucial factor that employees are searching for nowadays. A workplace is not just an ‘office’ anymore; it’s a part of their lifestyle.

Scent experiences

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group uses scents of warm sandalwood, floral jasmine, and frangipani. Guests can take candles home with them to extend their experience beyond their stay. Can workplaces learn from this practice?

Pop psychology

A powerful fragrance can have a positive impact on people’s behaviour. A good example is the cinema, we all know that the smell of freshly popped popcorn can be hard to resist. This scent triggers feelings of hunger and happy memories of enjoyable movies, leading most movie-goers to decide on their tasty snacks before even purchasing their tickets.

In the workplace, scent association is crucial for promoting a positive and cohesive environment that motivates employees. It’s important to choose a fragrance that employees appreciate to uplift their mood and improve their productivity.

Powerful impact

As an employee, having a desire to make a positive impact and taking action to achieve it is a great trait. But is there a way to cultivate such positive intent? A study has shown that scent marketing can increase the intent of Nike customers to purchase by as much as 84%  This study is related to retail consumer behaviour, could this approach also be used to encourage employees in the workplace?

Four key ways to use scent in your workplace

Many industries like retail, travel, hospitality, and food & drink use scent, but the corporate world often overlooks it. Here are four practical ways to use scent in your workplace.

1. Simple changes

A pleasant aroma in the office lobby or employee washrooms can make a big difference. Be more mindful of everyday scents and make intentional choices.

2. Custom smells

You can visit a perfumery and create a personalised fragrance for your brand. This helps you choose scent combinations that align with the feelings, emotions, and behaviours you wish to convey.

3. Natural scents

Adding a subtle note of scent using plants can avoid the overpowering effect of artificial scents. Greenery in the office can also improve air quality, increase oxygen, and boost employee mood.

4. Think about placement

It’s important to be mindful of the scents you use in different areas of your workplace. Not all scents are suitable for all spaces; for example, you probably wouldn’t want the same scent in your dining area as in your office lobby. Strong scents can interfere with our sense of taste and create confusion in our minds.

To decide on the best scent for each area, first define the purpose of the space and then choose a scent that aligns with that purpose. For instance, a citrus scent could work well in high-energy areas since it can make us more alert and stimulated. On the other hand, if you want to create a more calming atmosphere in a low-energy area, try using scents that can help reduce stress and anxiety, such as lavender.

When choosing a signature scent for your lobby or reception area, take some time to consider the impression it will make on your clients and employees. This scent will be the first thing people notice when they arrive, so it should be welcoming, memorable, and in line with your brand image. You can follow the example of hotels, which often use scents to create a specific atmosphere and mood. Ask yourself how the scent makes you feel and what message it sends to others.

Smell, mood & memory

Smell has a powerful impact on our memory. For years, big brands in retail, hospitality, and other industries have been using scent to create memorable experiences for their customers. By applying this concept to the workplace, employers can improve employee energy levels, reduce stress and anxiety, and enhance the overall environment.

8 things to consider

Learn more about designing for the senses from our experts at TSK here.

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