Whether it’s the sickly flickering of an ancient fluorescent light or a headache-inducing glare overhead, bad office lighting can sap your very will to live, let alone employee productivity.
On the bright side, a new study published in the journal Sleep has shown that the right lighting can actually increase employee productivity.
Researchers found that exposure to blue wavelength light for just half an hour produced measurable improvements in the subjects’ reaction times compared to a control group, and that the group exposed to blue light answered more items correctly per second.
Incredibly, the researchers found the beneficial effects of blue wavelength light might linger for more than 40 minutes after exposure.
Anna Alkozei, lead author and University of Arizona Department of Psychiatry postdoctoral fellow, says blue light could be used in situations where alertness and quick decision making are particularly vital, such as pilot cockpits, operating theatres or in military settings.
“It could also be used in settings where natural sunlight does not exist, such as the International Space Station,” Alkozei says. “Importantly, our findings suggest that using blue light before having to engage in important cognitive processes might still impact cognitive functioning for over half an hour after the exposure period ended.
“This might be valuable in a wide range of situations where acute blue light exposure is not a feasible option, such as testing situations.”
Sources of blue light include digital screens, electronic devices, and fluorescent and LED lighting.
Natural light still best for workers’ long-term health
Although a burst of blue light could provide a “pre-task brain boost,” as Seth Porges writes for Bloomberg, the long-term benefits for employee productivity – and general health – of natural light are undeniable.
In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, researchers found office workers who worked near windows tended to have longer sleep duration, better sleep quality, engaged in more physical activity, and had a better quality of life compared to office workers with less light exposure.
For employees who aren’t lucky enough to work near a window, the authors recommend simple actions like taking regular walks and enjoying lunch outdoors to ensure they still reap the benefits of natural light.
Interestingly, dim lighting isn’t always a bad thing. Another study found dim lighting can make workers more creative because it removes perceived constraints and creates a sense of freedom.
What are the signs of poor lighting?
The most common complaints resulting from poor lighting are:
- Difficulty seeing documents or computer screens (too much light or glare, or too little light or shadows);
- Blurred vision;
- Dry, burning eyes; and
According to the Canadian Centre for Workplace Health and Safety, the following should be considered to counter bad indoor lighting:
- Use filters to diffuse overhead lighting.
- Dim overhead lights.
Windows and walls
- Cover windows with adjustable blinds if glare at certain times of day is a problem.
- Use matte finishes on walls, floors and furniture to reduce glare.
- Adjust the brightness and contrast according to your preference.
- Use a light colour for the background.
- Place the monitor parallel (not directly below) with overhead lights.
- Angle the monitor away from lights and windows.
- Make sure that the task lamp illuminates the document and not the monitor.