Here, smell this

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It's a too-busy Tuesday, with clients and debit memos awaiting your attention, and your nerves are jangling. Would smelling a little lavender help?

Judith Jackson.That's what aromatherapy -- the centuries-old practice that uses essential oils from plants to revive spirits -- would have you believe.

But does it work? I started using essential oils several years ago, after attending an aromatherapy seminar at a spa, and found they can make subtle but sometimes real differences in my mood and sense of well-being.

For example, a bath with a few drops each of clary sage, ylang-ylang and lavender (first mixed into a little baby shampoo) has helped ease a case of the grumps.

The office can be an ideal place to practice a little scent therapy. "Between [poor] lighting and stale air, offices have lots of things conspiring to make you feel tired and bored and make you want to get out of there," said Cos Cob, Conn.-based aromatherapist Judith Jackson, now coordinating the launch of a spa featuring her treatments aboard Radisson's new ship, the Seven Seas Navigator.

Jackson suggested the following:

  • If everyone in the office agrees, buy an electric diffuser in which you put a few drops of oils such as juniper and lemon or rosemary and geranium, to heighten alertness, or lavender and vetiver or chamomile and rose, for relaxation.
  • Look for roll-on versions of aromatherapy products for applying to wrists and other pulse points, as you do with more traditional perfumes. Jackson's version, called Divinity, incorporates sandalwood, lavender, rosewood and olibanum, "an incense that has been used to purify sacred spaces."
  • Before work, use a shower gel scented with essential oils. To continue the good-smelling vibes at work, use a similarly scented gel soap to wash your hands or a scented lotion.
  • Using a scented oil, try some self-massage. With your thumb, apply pressure to the base of your skull. Squeeze with your hand along the shoulder line to relieve tension from sitting at your desk.
  • "These techniques help to get blood flowing, and anything that helps circulation helps concentration," said Jackson.

    Avoiding the smelly hype

    Aromatherapy is a big buzzword these days; seemingly every scented product in the drugstore now mentions the term on its label. But beware. Not every product touted as such will have a therapeutic effect.

    "An aromatherapy body or facial product should be strong enough to have an effect on an aching muscle or poor circulation or nasal congestion. Very rarely is this the case with so many commercial products," said Geraldine Howard, managing director of London-based Aromatherapy Associates.

    Check out product lines specifically formulated to be aromatherapeutic (and avoid the chocolate-scented lotion; chocolate is not an essential oil). You also can experiment with pure essential oils on sale at the health food store.

    But note: "Essential oils are very powerful and must always be mixed with a base oil before you use them," according to "The Magic of Well-Being," by aromatherapist Judith Jackson.

    "For the body, combine sesame, apricot kernel, jojoba and sweet almond to make an excellent base oil," she writes.

    "For bath or shower preparations, mix the essential oil of your choice with one teaspoon of mild castile or baby shampoo. Never put essential oils directly in the bathwater. They do not mix well with the water and float on top, where a particularly strong essence can be irritating to the skin."

    A question about pay

    I recently paid for an employee to attend a trade conference and asked him to participate in all the seminars he could fit in. He now claims that I owe him overtime pay. Do I?

    Dan McManus.That depends on whether the employee is salaried or paid by the hour. If employees are salaried, in most states, they are exempt from the overtime requirement of the Fair Labor Standards Act and you have no legal obligation to pay them anything beyond their regular salary, regardless of the amount of time they work in your agency or at a conference.

    If the employees are paid by the hour, you do have to pay them for any overtime worked. Attendance at industry seminars and even participation in fam trips is considered work time unless attendance is voluntary or not directly job related.

    And if an employee is required to make a trip, all the time spent traveling during the employee's normal work hours must be counted as time worked in many states.

    So, a simple trip to a conference can end up costing your agency quite a bit of money for agents paid by the hour unless you take precautionary measures. First of all, create a policy that states that no employee may work overtime without prior permission, especially if a manager is not present.

    Second, when you send employees to conferences, trade shows and fam trips, give them instructions not to work more than eight hours per day unless they do so at their own option without pay. Go over the meeting agenda and point out the seminars and workshops that you want them to take.

    Third, if the event involves a lot of travel time, see if employees can travel during normal business hours, thus preventing them from racking up overtime while traveling.

    Former agency owner Dan McManus is the publisher of the newsletter the Successful Worldspan Agent. Contact him at [email protected].

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