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Office, beware of olfactory harassment

On the Richter scale of unacceptable in the office, the colleague who smells bad is very close to the top, clinging to the penultimate rung, while his companions in misfortune yell at him above all not to move to avoid to aggravate his already oceanic sweating problems. Seeming to have been confined in the terylene in full sun for hours, the moist armpits of this Robinson of hygiene are reminiscent of dubious atolls on which no trade wind would ever blow. This nuisance, which could make you laugh as long as you have not been directly confronted with it, is far from being anecdotal. According to a study by the Observatory of the quality of life in the office dating from 2015, 28% of employees experience a recurring feeling of discomfort at work due to odors and 38% of them believe that the company does not does not pay enough attention to the quality of the ambient air.


To sum up the situation, we could call up this advertisement from the 1970s for a deodorant soap which featured a man facing a paradigmatic armpit, a moment of intense loneliness accompanied by the slogan: “At sight of the nose, it is 5 p.m. With the sanitization linked to the tertiarization, this focus on odors became more accentuated throughout the second half of the 20th century, until it became a real obsession.



Today, the era is mainly fantasized in the mode of hologrammic cerebrality, brushing aside anything that could link us to a distant animality deemed uncontrollable. In Japan, olfactory harassment has even joined the long list of office assaults (along with forcing colleagues to drink or sing karaoke). These "delinquents" are, for some of them, invited to follow training in order to fall into line.

Sometimes, unfortunately, the situation reaches a breaking point, as in the case of Richard Clem, an American who was fired because he kept farting at work. Following gastric surgery, Richard had completely lost control of his digestive system and was emitting nauseating winds, making the atmosphere as unbreathable as Verdun under mustard gas. Other than that, he was doing a great job.

This anecdote is a good illustration of the complexity of a problem that sometimes deeply rots the general climate. Because the colleague who smells bad is not one, but multiple. He can have jackal breath or Shrek's underarms. Questionable hygiene or health problems. He can make his smell an instrument of intentional nuisance or, on the contrary, live in ignorance of the inconvenience it causes. It can also, with occasional excessive sweating, metaphorize an unbreathable professional climate that generates stress.


Each particular case will therefore require an appropriate response. For the ad hoc strategy, one can, for example, take inspiration from the recipes proposed by Alexandre Dubarry's book, How to tell a colleague that he smells bad under his arms1. Because, if ostracizing the smelly employee is a temptation that must absolutely be resisted, the unspoken remains undoubtedly the worst option and will inevitably come back to you, like a boomerang cut in the livarot.

Source : "The Inspired Parenthesis" by Nicolas Santolaria.


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