Reducing stress in the workplace is high on the agenda for companies that are looking to differentiate themselves as a modern employer and retain the top talent.
Workplace stress has been shown to lower productivity, increase absenteeism, and create widespread patterns of dysfunction in the workplace1. Research has demonstrated the use of aromatherapy to be a simple, convenient and non-invasive method of stress relief2.
Aromatherapy refers to the science of utilising naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to promote health within the body and mind. Essential oils are the typical method and are inhaled using an inhaler or through exposure in the confines of a room using an oil burner or air diffuser. When essential oils are inhaled, aromatic molecules enter the network of nerves within the brain through the lining of the nasal cavity. Previous research has offered two theories to explain why aromas stimulate different cognitive, psychological and physiological responses.
The pharmacological hypothesis proposes that the effects of various aromas are due to the odours’ direct and intrinsic ability to interact and affect the body’s nervous system and/or endocrine system3. The psychological hypothesis suggests that odours exert their effects through emotional learning, conscious perception, and belief/expectation3. Researchers have assessed the effect of aroma on mood and workplace performance through subjective questionnaires, cognitive tasks and physiological responses4,5,6.
Aromatic scents which have received attention in the literature include: lavender, rosemary, jasmine, citrus and peppermint. Studies have shown that lavender can improve selfesteem, reduced self-reported anxiety and decrease stress hormone levels in the blood2,7. In the workplace, however, lavender has been reported to be associated with a decrease in working memory, impaired reaction times for both memory and attention-based tasks, and decreased focus on information recall and critical thinking5,8. Although lavender may improve mood and stress-related outcomes, it may also decrease workplace performance.
Of the other scents, rosemary exposure has been associated with enhancements in cognitive performance5,8. Meanwhile, jasmine and peppermint have been reported to enhance memory, increase alertness and improve typing speed and accuracy4,6. Also, citrus essential oils have been found to reduce anxiety and improve mood state9. Continuing research will enable the development of fragrances that reduce stress and improve productivity.
Aromatherapy is clearly a tool that can be implemented within the workplace which may influence perceptual, physiological and psychological outcomes for employees. Despite the potency of previously investigated aromas to affect these measures, research is equivocal as to their use. Further research that identifies aromas which can stimulate benefits to both wellbeing outcomes and workplace performance will be of use to employers who are looking to optimise their office environment.
Potential benefits of office aromas
- Reduced stress
- Greater cognitive performance
- Improved mental health
- Better employee mood
- Enhanced productivity
- Anderson, P., & Pulich, M. (2001). Managing workplace stress in a dynamic environment. The Health Care Manager.
- Chen, M. C., Fang, S. H., & Fang, L. (2015). The effects of aromatherapy in relieving symptoms related to job stress among nurses. International Journal of Nursing Practice, 21(1), 87–93.
- Herz, R. S. (2009). Aromatherapy facts and fictions: A scientific analysis of olfactory effects on mood, physiology and behavior. International Journal of Neuroscience, 119(2), 263– 290.
- Barker, S., Grayhem, P., Koon, J., Perkins, J., Whalen, A., & Raudenbush, B. (2003). Improved performance on clerical tasks associated with administration of peppermint odor. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 97, 1007–1010.
- McCaffrey, R., Thomas, D. J., & Kinzelman, A. O. (2009). The effects of lavender and rosemary essential oils on test-taking anxiety among graduate nursing students. Holistic Nursing Practice, 23(2), 88–93.
- Moss, M., Hewitt, S., Moss, L., & Wesnes, K. (2008). Modulation of cognitive performance and mood by aromas of peppermint and ylang-ylang. International Journal of Neuroscience, 118(1), 59–77.
- Shiina, Y., Funabashi, N., Lee, K., Toyoda, T., Sekine, T., Honjo, S., … Komuro, I. (2008). Relaxation effects of lavender aromatherapy improve coronary flow velocity reserve in healthy men evaluated by transthoracic Doppler echocardiography. International Journal of Cardiology, 129(2), 193–197.
- Moss, M., Cook, J., Wesnes, K., & Duckett, P. (2003). Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults. International Journal of Neuroscience, 113(1), 15–38.
- Watanabe, E., Kuchta, K., Kimura, M., Rauwald, H. W., Kamei, T., & Imanishi, J. (2015). Effects of Bergamot (Citrus bergamia (Risso) Wright & Arn.) Essential Oil Aromatherapy on Mood States, Parasympathetic Nervous System Activity, and Salivary Cortisol Levels in 41 Healthy Females. Complementary Medicine Research, 22(1), 43–49.