I was recently in an environment where they have “scent-free” zones set up. There are huge STOP signs and “scent-free” signs in these zones. The floor is also painted a different color in case you missed the million signs as you somehow managed to sneak into the area.
As a guest, I had no inkling that they had these zones. No one told me when I was invited to stop by and do some observations in preparation for a project I was going to be assisting with. First off, I want to say that I do not douse myself in perfume or other products. I do have a light scent I wear from time to time, but I didn’t have time to put it on this day.
When I arrived at the reception area I was asked to sign in and grab a seat, someone would be by for me shortly. The person who came and got said we had a few areas to look at and expected me to stay over the course of two shifts when I had been told this would only take 90 minutes. The employee demanded to know why I thought I could set the time for my visit and when I showed her the email from a senior director she frowned and mumbled something.
Okay so it isn’t off to a great start, but I’m just making observations and taking the odd note here and there. Suddenly we walk over to this STOP sign hanging from the ceiling. She tells me every time I see one of these signs I need to follow it. (The sign was swaying from side to side and the smartass in me wanted to ask her how long I’d have to follow the sign, would it stop swaying on its own or was there a time limit. I didn’t ask, but oh how I wanted to.) She then pointed to the sign next to it. The one that practically screamed “scent-free”.
“We can’t go in there if you won’t follow the rules” she said after informing me that I broke the rules by having scent on me. The scent, in case you are wondering, a mild laundry detergent. Apparently, I was supposed to wash in an un-scented detergent, which to me still has a scent to it. She informed me that some people working in the area had sensitivities to perfumes and other scents.
I’m all for ensuring people can still breathe and not have watery eyes while they work. But I wondered how on earth it was okay to mandate that because your co-worker has an issue with scent you are restricted to the soap, detergent and deodorant you use. I mean where does that fine line get drawn.
Needless to say, we didn’t go in that area, and to be honest, I cut the meeting super short. I wasn’t interested in the attitude I was getting as the employee told me that I was expected to walk through these zones to get to places of observation and the rules applied no matter who I was.
When I got back to the office, I fired off a short email to the senior direct explaining my side of what happened. I didn’t expect much to come from it other than us maybe losing the project, but instead I got an email back. One that started with an apology and followed by saying that they were having an issue right now on balancing the needs of being sensitive to people’s health sensitivities, but also being realistic about things. The email went on to say there was no real reason to walk through the areas other than the “guide” wanted to prove the importance of the signage.
How do you balance these kinds of issues? Ones where people feel strongly about them, either because they are personally impacted or because they know someone who is impacted by it? And what about the person freedoms