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How Office Lighting Affects Employee Productivity

August 14, 2017 / by Tommy Twardowski

Let there be light! The first thing most people do when they enter their office is turn on the lights (overhead light and/or desk lamp) and open their blinds, shades or curtains if they're fortunate to have a window to bring the outdoors into their space. Transitioning from darkness to light signals the dawn of a new day and endless potential.

Research Shows Lighting Matters

On the surface, lighting may seem like a minor detail in your office design. In reality, if you are planning an office move or renovation or simply want to make changes to boost productivity, subtle lighting changes can make a huge difference. An American Society of Interior Designers survey found that 68% of office workers were unhappy with the lighting.

Another study, published in the New York Times, seems to prove that upgrading lighting does boost productivity. Back in the late 1990s, new lighting was installed in the Reno, NV., U.S. Postal Service sorting center to save energy. A fortunate side effect? The number of letters sorted per hour jumped 6% and the error rate declined. Researchers believe this was a direct result of employees being able to see better and feeling happier in their workspace.

It's Less About Where the Light Is and More About What Type the Light Is

Multiple studies analyzing the technical aspects of lighting (meaning temperatures and colors) conclude that cooler light improves employee productivity, alertness, and mood. The best sources of "cool light" is the sun. As such, experts agree that the more natural lighting you can bring in, from windows and skylights, the better.

Of course, not everyone has access to windows. If natural lighting is absent or limited, researchers recommend "blue-enriched" light bulbs in areas of the office (desk lamps, ceiling lights) where you want to promote alertness and creativity. These bulbs emit white light with more energy in the blue range of the light spectrum and have been shown to reduce feelings of fatigue, reduce eyestrain, and promote alertness.

On the other hand, studies show lighting with warmer tones instills trust, relaxation, and camaraderie. If your definition of "productivity" involves encouraging employees to collaborate and learn to trust one another (perhaps around the conference table), opt for lighting with warmer tones.

What About Fluorescent Lights?

Fluorescent lighting is inexpensive and common; by one estimate, 98% of commercial buildings use fluorescent lighting. It's also a source of anxiety for many. The flicker of traditional fluorescent office lighting has been linked to migraine headaches, eyestrain and inability to focus. Interestingly, while some of the flicker associated with fluorescents is visible to the naked eye, some is not. This "substropic flicker" has been shown to stress the brain. If your office uses fluorescent lighting and has no plans to change that, consider switching to flicker-free LED lighting.

Embrace Adjustable Lighting

The results of another study suggest that adjusting the brightness of office lighting throughout the day also boosts productivity. When employees are feeling drowsy or unmotivated, simply turning up their lights can provide a burst of energy.

So, if you're planning an office renovation, don't just try to maximize workers' exposures to natural lighting. Consider installing dimmer switches that you gradually turn up as the day wears on. And when your employees seem to be really struggling or dragging during the workday, why not encourage them to exit the building, take a short walk and soak up some vitamin D? Hopefully, they'll return refreshed and ready to deliver! 

If you are looking at renovating or moving your office, it's important to keep your employees quality of life in mind because it will effect your business's productivity and workplace moral. Not only does this include your office lighting but also the color of your workspaces, noise reduction in the office, and whether to use a flexible workspace among other things. Planning for an ideal work environment can save you time and money! 

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Topics: Office Design, Managers

About The Author

Tommy Twardowski

Tommy Twardowski

Tommy began his career in the office furniture installation business in 1978 and started his full-time career in 1981 with Houston Installation Services. Starting as a furniture installer, he developed a passion for the process of installation and learned to install all major manufacturers’ lines.