Help! My Coworker Doesn’t Respect Our Shared Office Space

I have a coworker who wears very strong perfume/lotion. Some other staff have issues with allergies, etc. but personally I just really hate the way it smells (imagine a grandma’s attic-type of smell). Some of us have informally asked that everyone do not wear perfumes to work but this wasn’t directed toward the offender and she seems to have missed the memo.

We don’t have HR. Have you had to deal with something like this before? We are a tiny org and I don’t want her to feel singled out.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

– Gandhi.

Have you tried being direct? This can be done in a non-accusatory way. “Hi Jill, I’m very sensitive to smells. Would you consider cutting back on perfume usage? Fragrances give me a killer headache.” It’s not you, it’s me.

In the event that doesn’t work, I present to you: How to Create A Code of Conduct for Your Shared Workspace.

Three items to consider are below:

1. Make it Fair.

Start by circulating a Word Doc with 5 items, easily found by googling “basic cubicle etiquette.” Ask for additions, but try to keep the list to 10 or fewer (your list is more likely to be followed if it’s not too long to remember). When everyone has had a chance to contribute, post it in your shared space, ideally at eye level.

2. Make it Fun.

Ask your team to vote on a “Courteous Colleague of the Quarter.” Recognize this individual with a team celebration (noting why they are so courteous – give your coworkers a model to follow) and give them the option to leave early every Friday the following quarter.

3. Make it Flexible.

This may be controversial, but it could help you: Introduce “no address” seating that allows every staff member to select any open seat each day. If you truly are a tiny organization, you might have more flexibility about where you sit. This solves your problem with your coworker’s fragrance by putting yourself at the greatest distance from her (this is more of a bandaid, though, and doesn’t help your other coworkers). Otherwise, determine if being physically present in the workplace is essential to your success. If not, adjust your schedule accordingly.

At the end of the day, I like to believe we are all adults trying to make a difference in the world. Find a workplace where colleagues respect each other and this will not be an issue. Should you find yourself sending a reminder to review and contribute to the “Code of Conduct” six months from now, the challenge you face is much greater than fragrance.

If you give this a try, let us know how it works. We would love to give your success a shout out in a future edition of Ask a Fundraising Coach! 😊

Ask a Fundraising Coach is Network for Good’s weekly advice column, where Personal Fundraising Coach Andrea Holthouser tackles your toughest challenges in the world of fundraising, nonprofit management, donor relations, and more.

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