The majority of people will have sat next to a whiffy co-worker. Whether the source is smelly feet, stinky breath or a bad case of BO, it seems an odorous workmate has caused tension in many British offices.
But it seems that honesty isn't always the best policy as many people would rather suffer in silence than broach the subject. Research commissioned by women's healthcare brand Balance ActivTM, in collaboration with Cardiff University, has revealed that two thirds of the nation find telling a colleague they smell is the hardest workplace conversation to have, well ahead of bringing up substandard work, at just nine per cent. In fact the study, which surveyed 2,000 UK men and women, found that half of us admitted to having no idea how to address the issue.
It seems many office workers will go to extreme lengths rather than confront a colleague directly. A fifth of office workers have complained to bosses about the smell and 15 per cent admit they have moved desks to escape a bad smell. One in twenty say they have resorted to simply leaving a can of deodorant on a colleagues desk in the hope they would take the hint.
So why is odour such a difficult topic to bring up? Results suggest that the significant effect of odour on our everyday lives and wellbeing makes it a sensitive subject. The study showed women in particular are affected by unpleasant odours, and are more likely to suffer from reduced confidence as a result, but less likely to complain or take action.
In fact, when it comes to their own odour, women are most likely to let it affect their work with more than one in ten claiming it reduces their concentration. Almost two thirds felt it hindered their opportunities at work, while only 53 per cent of men felt this way. Unsurprisingly, having an unpleasant odour impacts on personal lives too with over a third of women claiming a bad odour affects their social life, and 36 per cent admitting having an unpleasant odour gets in the way of their love lives.
According to Andrew Smith, Professor of Psychology at Cardiff University, sensitivity to odour is deeply engrained in us: "evolution has led us to avoid bad smells because they were associated with contaminated food and disease. In more recent times the subject has become difficult to discuss and people, especially women, tend to suffer in silence rather than complaining about bad smells. Women are likely to be more sensitive to odours because of biological reasons and also social norms. The research shows this sensitivity influences their wellbeing at work, rest and play."
Balance ActivTM spokesperson Helen Knox, a sexual health nurse specialist, explained that common causes of odour could easily be tackled to help people boost their confidence and outlook on life:
"Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is the most common intimate health condition for women and one of its main symptoms is an unpleasant intimate odour, but awareness is low with just 32 per cent of women knowing what BV is. This lack of education means thousands of women are suffering with intimate odour issues without needing to, so we would urge them to seek advice from a healthcare professional."
For more information on BV visit www.bvexplained.co.uk or www.balanceactiv.com.
tagged in Wellbeing