Why Lighting Matters in the Workplace
We turn the lights on in the morning in our offices, warehouses, stores, and workplaces. Then we turn off all, or most of them, when we leave. That’s probably the extent to which most people think about lighting in the workplace.
However, research has shown that lighting at work can significantly affect brain function and productivity. A study of 444 employees from the United States and India via an online panel showed that natural elements like green spaces, running water, and particularly sunlight exposure related positively to job satisfaction and organizational commitment, while reducing depressed mood and feelings of anxiety.
While we can’t always bring the sunlight in, with proper lighting we can replicate its effects, mimicking the natural progression of light throughout the day to adapt to our “circadian rhythms.”
According to the Harvard Medical School, these circadian rhythms affect your sleep patterns, hormones, body temperature, and eating habits. When they’re out of sync, they can also cause health issues and lead to problems like diabetes, obesity, and seasonal affective disorder or depression.
The biggest factor affecting your circadian rhythm is light. Your body wants to sleep when it’s dark and awaken when it’s light, since your master clock is linked directly to the nerves in your eyes. When daylight fades, your eyes signal your brain to release more melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. And when the sun rises again, those same signals from your eyes tell the brain to turn those melatonin levels down.
How Light Affects Employees’ Moods and Mental Health
Bad lighting is associated with a range of negative health effects, both physical and mental, such as eye strain, headaches, fatigue and also stress and anxiety in more high-pressured work environments. Evidence suggests that the lack of natural sunlight even adversely affects the mind, resulting in conditions such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
As we approach the darkest (and shortest) days of the year, it’s an unfortunate fact that 40% of office workers are struggling to work in poor lighting. And the impact isn’t just on wellbeing, but productivity as well— according to a new research report from the UK arm of Staples which examined the impact of lighting in the workplace.
In October 2018, they conducted an online survey of 7,000 desk-based office workers from ten European countries including: The United Kingdom, Germany, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Finland. The results: A whopping 80% of office workers said that having good lighting in their workspace is important to them; and two in five (40%) reported dealing with uncomfortable lighting every day. A third (32%) said better lighting would make them happier at work. One-fourth (25%) of those surveyed reported being frustrated about poor lighting in their workplaces.
Color Temperature Also Affects Employees and Guests
You may (or may not) be surprised to learn that it’s not just the type and intensity of light that affects the human body. It’s also the color, which is called the “temperature” and is measured in kelvin (K). Scientifically, it’s based upon the color of light emitted when an object is heated- as the temperature increases, the object changes colors and emits certain colors of light, starting at red and moving to yellow, blue, and then finally bright white.
- Higher color temperatures (4,600K or more) appear blue-white and are called cool or daylight colors.
- Mid-range color temperatures (3,100K–4,600K) appear bright white.
- Lower color temperatures (up to 3,000K) range from red to yellowish-white in tone and are called warm colors. A traditional incandescent or halogen bulb is around 2700K.
Since warmer tones tend to create a sense of comfort we associate them with sunrise or sunsets. Use these tones in more intimate settings where you want people to feel calm and relaxed, perhaps in a small meeting room or private office.
Conference rooms, training rooms, and other large meeting rooms should make people alert, similar to how they would normally feel during a bright sky at midday. Look for mid-range color temperatures that balance a friendly and inviting environment while also staying high enough to keep them productive and energized.
The Right Light Improves Productivity and Performance
For many workplaces, providing access to natural daylight is not an option. The good news is, studies have found that working under “blue-enriched” light bulbs that are 17,000K actually increases work performance by supporting mental acuity, vitality and alertness while reducing fatigue and daytime sleepiness. Researchers at the University of Greenwich found in a two-month study that the workers they put under “blue-enriched light bulbs” reported feeling “happier, more alert and had less eye strain.”
Other benefits of blue light include lowering melatonin, which is created in our glands and basically puts us to sleep. This lower level of melatonin keeps people alert in the same way coffee does.
Proper Lighting can Impact Employee Safety
Lighting may seem simple, but if it’s not done right it can lead to problems such as eyestrain, eye irritation, eye dryness, blurred vision and headaches. Plus, poor lighting can create safety issues and reduce productivity because employees may grow uncomfortable or find themselves unable to keep up with the pace of their work because they can’t see very well.
Good lighting, on the other hand, can make employees more comfortable and increase productivity. A space that is well lit without too many shadows or too much glare enables workers to focus on the tasks at hand without needing to squint, use awkward postures, or go in search of additional light sources.
Placement and Direction of Light Impacts Productivity
Architects and builders usually specify lighting during the construction phase of a building. But employers must realize that lighting should always be tailored to the tasks that will be performed in the presence of that light. Lighting may need to change or be supplemented to enable workers to do their jobs.
The workplace usually requires three main types of lighting: general, localized-general, and local/task. General lighting such as ceiling fixtures light up large areas, while localized-general lighting is slightly closer to workstations. These overhead fixtures help illuminate the places where tasks are performed. Local or task lighting gets even closer to people and may include desk lamps and floor lamps which can be adjusted by employees to help them see the materials they’re working with.
In addition to the amount, temperature, and type of lighting, consider the following when choosing fixtures.
- Project light downward for those performing tasks with small parts (direct).
- Distribute light both up and down (direct-indirect fixtures).
- Direct light almost entirely upward to reflect off walls and ceilings (indirect fixtures).
When used together, the temperature, amount of light, type of lighting, and fixtures should be carefully considered for each area where employees or guests will be present to maximize both effectiveness as well as positive impact on well-being.
How to Use this Information When Selecting Lighting
Because lighting is not one-size-fits-all, a knowledgeable lighting designer should help you answer consider the following issues that could be present in your workplace:
- Is there enough lighting for employees to see what they’re doing easily?
- Is there too much lighting? (This results in glare issues and eyestrain.)
- Is there poor contrast? (If employees struggle to distinguish objects from the background or if areas have very different light levels, then contrast might be a problem.)
- Is the light poorly distributed? (Some areas might be dark and others bright.)
- Are shadows common? (Direct lighting often results in shadows.)
- Are accident-prone areas such as stairs well lit?
- Is reducing energy use something your business is interested in? (If so, you may want to select bulbs such as CFLs or LEDs.)
Once you’ve determined which of these issues are present in your facility, you can find ways to improve your lighting.
Improve Lighting with These Tips
In general, employers should try to provide enough light, reduce glare, improve contrast and eliminate excessive shadows. To achieve this, try some of the following methods suggested by the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS):
- Replace bulbs on a schedule. Over time, bulbs begin to emit less light.
- Clean fixtures. Accumulated dust reduces the amount of light being distributed throughout the work area..
- Add more lighting in dim areas. For example, if a worker is struggling to read documents, provide a task lamp. Task lamps can also help eliminate shadows.
- If lighting is inadequate, paint walls and ceilings light colors to reflect light.
- Avoid positioning lights directly behind workers, as this can create shadows.
- To reduce glare, cover bulbs, use fixtures that are lower intensity and provide lamps with brightness controls. You can also paint walls with matte paint and remove shiny objects from the work area.
- Improve lighting distribution by using fixtures that direct light upwards.
- Get input from workers. Find out how the lighting is working for them and if eyestrain is a problem.
According to CCOHS, “People receive about 85 percent of their information through their sense of sight.” That means facilitating good eyesight is worth spending time and money on. Workers are more likely to be involved in accidents if they can’t see well and their job performance could suffer.
Programmable Lighting is the Next Big Thing
Innovative companies are already discovering the power of strategic lighting.
“We’re already seeing the potential for programmable light that can replicate our circadian rhythms and be easily controlled with smart home controls, bulbs and fixtures,” explains Vice President of Residential Lighting, Matthew Rowan. “We already have the technology available to enable us to change the intensity, color, and direction of light using voice commands or timed daily routines.”
Call Dominion Electric Supply
To learn more about lighting for your next project, contact Dominion Electric Supply. Depending on the type, size, and scope of your project, we’ll connect you with a lighting specialist who can help you choose the right solution for you and your customers.