Can a pleasant aroma really help business? For those in the business of selling, it is no secret: what customer fails to react to the delightful smell of a bakery or grilled food? The most recent finding is that the right aroma can increase productivity and satisfaction in offices too.

In 2018, the Journal of Environmental Psychology published an article with the unusual title: “The impact of coffee-like smells on expectations and performance”. When the researchers diffused the scent of freshly brewed espresso coffee in the office, staff achieved higher scores in tasks linked to analytical reasoning. The link between sense of smell and productivity is even recognised in the traditions of certain countries. In Japan, it is common practice for eucalyptus fragrance to be diffused in offices and schools to improve performance.

The neurologists explain that our olfactory system “talks” directly to the limbic system. Without rational filters, impulses migrate towards the seat of emotions and mood. Thus, with the right fragrance, we can exploit the mechanisms of aromatherapy to selectively stimulate work performance. It’s a practice that’s worth considering not only in the office, but also at home if you are smart working .

Five fragrances to increase productivity

  • Rosemary for memory. 150 volunteers exposed to rosemary fragrance by researchers from Northumbria University scored about 15% higher in prospective memory tasks – the memory that allows us to remember future appointments and tasks. They were also more alert than when they were not breathing in the fragrance.
  • Better concentration with lemon. Japan’s biggest producer of ambient fragrances supported a series of experiments on a group of workers who had to write a text on a computer. Typing errors dropped 54% when the environment was filled with lemon fragrance.
  • Lavender for getting back to work. The smell of lavender, instead, seems to help people get back to work after the lunch break. Researchers at the University of Yamanashi recorded a faster return to productive rhythm in staff who spent the lunch break in a fragranced environment.
  • Mint for improved attention. Performance in a test that required continuous attention, “improved significantly” when volunteers breathed in a peppermint fragrance. These were the findings of the psychologists at the University of Cincinnati.
  • Cinnamon for security. The smell of cinnamon can help with tasks that require people to be alert and focussed. American researchers at the Wheeling Jesuit University tested it on a group of drivers, recording a lower tendency to become tired and an overall positive effect on mood.

Naturally, it also works in the opposite way: if there is an unpleasant odour hanging in the air, it becomes hard to work, as people who spend their days in offices are painfully aware. In the United States, law suits regarding “illegal odors” are becoming a common phenomenon. The plaintiffs are often workers who claim to be allergic to a particular odour. This is probably why, according to a survey conducted by Swiss companies, more than 80% of business owners say they are now ready to make an investment in “olfactory comfort” in their companies, something rarely considered previously.