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.
In the next installment, we’ll explore how lighting affects productivity, performance and safety. Stay tuned!