Words by Zahra Pettican
Lighting has a huge effect on human beings. Since most people spend much of their daytime hours at work, it makes sense that quality lighting in the workplace is important. Aside from the obvious aesthetic advantages of good office lighting, it is also a necessity for employees’ health and better work performance.
However, while employers focus on issues such as ergonomics and adequate breaks, lighting is one thing that they consistently overlook. There are a number of ways that lighting in the workplace can positively and negatively affect employees.
Bad lighting can cause several problems, such as headaches and eye strain which can lead to more serious health issues later on. It can also cause neck, back, and shoulder pain because people strain their bodies to see things. Other physical health issues include injuries from tripping and falling and dropping equipment and materials.
Gloomy lighting can also cause depression. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) published a paper detailing how “inadequate lighting can contribute to the poor response to treatment of and exacerbation of psychiatric conditions, including mood disorders”. On the other hand, light can have “potent biological and therapeutic effects”. This is why it is vital to get workplace lighting right.
However, poor lighting doesn’t necessarily mean there is insufficient light. In fact, sometimes there is too much light and the glare can impair the worker’s vision or distract them from their work. Incorrect contrast, poorly distributed light and flicker are also potential problems to avoid in the workplace. Fluorescent flicker is a particular nuisance because it is known to trigger migraines.
If you want more productive workers, make sure your office has enough windows. Daylight aids our circadian rhythms (our own in-built clocks) to be in sync with our local environments, but today’s artificial environments can block this synchronisation. Therefore, it helps to get as much natural help with the process as possible.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that office workers with more natural light exposure had better sleep quality, more physical activity and better quality of life. Compared to colleagues without windows, they are more likely to be healthier and maintain a positive mindset. Those with more daylight exposure experienced longer sleep duration with an extra 46 minutes more sleep per night. If your office doesn’t have windows, consider installing skylights or getting a desktop light box. Alternatively, encourage staff and colleagues to take regular breaks outside.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), which promotes sleep health through research, education and advocacy, carried out a study with some interesting findings about blue light. They found that individuals exposed to blue wavelength lights experienced faster reaction times. The use of blue-enriched white light in an otherwise darkened room resulted in subjects completing cognitive tests faster. Not only were they faster, but they were also accurate, and the effects continued for up to 40 minutes after exposure.
Conversely, too much blue light, particularly for those who work into the night, disrupts sleep cycles. This is why it’s best to use blue light as a boost before midday. Since most employees get enough blue light from their computer screens, it’s best to opt for lighting with less blue light.
Employers and office interior designers should consider who will be working in any given space or perhaps give staff some control over their lighting. Although bright lights can increase productivity by making employees more alert, if it’s too bright it’s distracting and takes people longer to readjust and get back on track with tasks.
A study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that dim lights have the benefit of giving people a boost of creativity while analytical thinking thrived in brightly lit rooms. The low lighting inspired feelings of “freedom, self-determination, and reduced inhibition” in the subjects. Those who work in creative roles would benefit from a dimmer switch or a room with subdued light dedicated to brainstorming.