Japanese firms raise a stink about ‘smell harassment’

"Smell harassment" joins the list of workplace no-nos.

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TOKYO // Are your colleagues less than fragrant? Do some of your workmates have a bit too much body odour? Then get yourself to a “smell care” seminar.

After a long, sweaty summer in Japan, some firms in a nation renowned for its cleanliness are declaring all out war on an office plague known as “smell harassment”.

Telling a colleague they stink is touchy stuff, of course.

But personal-care product maker Mandom says its smel-care seminars are the answer for companies which are worried about hurting someone’s feelings.

Japanese media have picked up the scent on this battle against body odour, reporting that about 40 employees from mobile giant SoftBank recently attended a session on what causes unpleasant body smells and how to avoid them..

Smell harassment joins a long list of other office complaints including “alcohol harassment” (forcing a colleague to drink) and karaoke harassment (forcing someone to sing against their will).

In response to the national crisis, eyewear chain Owndays has reportedly created a list of odour regulations for staff amid concerns that poor hygiene could hit sales.

The culprits include sweaty, chain-smoking office workers known as salarymen, a colleague doused in perfume, and that guy who ate too much garlic at lunch.

Mandom insists the seminars can gently teach offenders to change their ways, and create an easier — and presumably more fragrant — atmosphere in the office.

“Better understanding of the mechanism behind and the nature of those smells should lead to increased tolerance,” said Mandom’s Miyuu Sato, optimistically.

Intensive research found a whopping 90 per cent of Japanese men emit odours noticeable to others nearby.

But the anti-odour firm is also clear on where to draw the line: bullying smelly colleagues into a shower is not the answer.

“Bodily smells are not always a bad thing and they don’t always bother people,” said Ms Sato. “Odours are a person’s unique characteristic.”

* Agence France Presse