Adequate and optimum lighting is one of the determining factors behind workplace wellness. Considered less important even a decade back, perceptions have changed since. There are established studies that show how closely related productivity is to office lighting. Optimum lighting is no less than science today, much to the relief of a multitude of office goers who spend long hours in closed spaces. Let there be light indeed!
How does lighting affect productivity at work? Constant exposure to harsh or inadequate lighting takes a big toll on employee mood. This affects productivity directly and in a negative way. Focus on better lighting will not only result in cost savings but also improve wellness quotient at work.
Employee wellness is an increasing area of study and focus these days. Part of a move to retain and promote efficient employees is to ensure near-perfect working conditions. This need not be as Utopian as it sounds to most people. Managements can and do put in all efforts to do up their offices in the best possible way. Irrespective of what kind of an industry one is involved with, there is always scope for bettering working conditions.
These include providing a safe environment, foolproof security as well as different kinds of facilities to improve workability. Most companies think of facilities in terms of providing good seating arrangements, functioning computers, good connectivity and more such. Unfortunately until recently, the importance of adequate and optimum lighting was not an area of focus at the workplace. In fact, many offices have been seriously left wondering what ails their manpower in spite of providing all facilities.
Thankfully thought processes are changing and so is the workplace. Focus on providing a well-lit office space helps lift employee morale, productivity, and balance sheet health as well. Read on to find out more.
There are different aspects to light and its effects at work. Established studies have egged on researchers into coming up with effective lighting solutions. When we say effective, we mean in different ways:
Organizations face a lot of challenges when selecting real estate due to prices and location. This is especially true in big cities with a burdening working population. More and more companies are finding it a challenge to procure adequate space in a locality that is central and big enough to house their employees. This means selecting properties that are confined, surrounded by other large buildings and enclosed spaces, rather than open spaces with outdoor settings. This, in turn, means employees working out of restricted spaces, amenities. and natural light. Natural light is a casualty of such modern workplaces and often, the most overlooked.
As stated there is really no debate about the superiority of natural light. This is something the human eye requires and is custom to over centuries of evolution. We have an in-built need for natural light as well as processes to make the best use of it. Is it any wonder that there is often fierce competition for the ‘window’ seat at work? Employees are happier and more efficient when they have access to natural light.
Practicalities at work dictate otherwise though. It is impossible to seat everyone near windows which means most of the workforce has to settle for artificial lighting. In addition, as the nature of work in offices changes so do work timings and demands. Many companies with a global presence need their employees to work late hours so as to communicate better and ensure a smooth workflow. There is no scope for extending natural light beyond a point. Deadlines demand that work gets done, whatever the time of day be.
Therefore it is a requirement to provide better artificial lighting at work.
Out of all the sensory perceptions that have helped nurture the human spirit over the ages, vision is possibly the most receptive and effective of them all. Of course, we cannot function effectively if one of the five senses is impaired but eyesight takes the major share of wellness. This is what makes the perception of proper light at work so vital to the proper functioning of the workforce.
The increasing number of electronic screens being used for long periods of time in the workplace - mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and other screen devices - these devices emit blue light that hurts eyes and interferes with sleep cycles. In addition, LED and fluorescent lights also emit blue light. Blue light emissions from device screens are causing incalculable harm to eyesight. There is really no practical way to cut down usage during office hours.
It is better to find countermeasures to help in such situations. It is medically advised to use phones and laptops in a setting where there is adequate surrounding light. This helps negate the bad effects of blue light emission. Would that mean flooding the office with over-bright lights? Or dim the lights totally?
Neither dim lighting nor bright lighting is good for visual health. The stress should be on optimum lighting depending upon the type of work you're doing. Even within an office, different areas have different lighting requirements, which will be dwelt upon in a separate section.
Here we focus on different ways in which lighting affects productivity at the workplace:
Wellness at the workplace is a very vital area of company policy. This is something that contributes to the right work ambiance. The overall image of a company is determined to a large extent by the atmosphere it provides to its employees. In these times of instant connectivity and communication, these aspects get conveyed very fast. Adequate and proper lighting is one of the most important aspects of workplace wellness. Workspace lighting affects people physically as well as psychologically.
While physical symptoms manifest as discomfort in vision leading to headaches and eye-watering, prolonged work in a bad light setting can cause psychological manifestations as well. Employees have complained of irritability, increased anxiety and even depression caused by badly lit workspaces. Companies that invest time, thought and money here, can be assured of better job satisfaction and increased creativity from their employees. It goes without saying that such an atmosphere promotes workplace wellness like no other.
Within an office setup, employees are often constrained at work to remain in an area around their work stations. Such circumstances can lead to bad moods and negativity in the best of people. While moving around and taking breaks at regular intervals are very often cited as countermeasures, people often overlook the effect clever lighting can have. It has been found that the human brain is wired to respond positively to light. The same theory extends to well-lit office spaces using artificial lighting. The fact that a happy and satisfied employee will add more value to an organization follows logically.
Extensive studies have been undertaken in the context of how proper lighting helps productivity numbers. So much so that many organizations have themselves commissioned extensive research to study this aspect of office space. It is not always a bright light that enhances the work experience. When people come in for work at the start of the day, they are full of energy and in a good space. As the day wears on, exhaustion and demands of work begin to take a toll on employees. Everyone is a little tired and jaded as time goes on throughout the day. This is a time when brains are sluggish and the body is getting slower.
It is not only the customary coffee that boosts morale at such times. Normal lighting can jar the eyes more than anything. What is needed is toned down lighting that emanates warmth and comfort to tired eyes during later hours of a workday. Coupled with the fact that it is towards the end of a normal office day that deadlines come into play, acts as a mood dampener for many people. Investing in thoughtful and flexible lighting to suit the time of the day can play a big role in keeping up morale at work.
LED and fluorescent lights are generally standard lightings for offices. However, they emit a blue light which has been shown to affect sleep cycles substantially with constant exposure. This means an employee goes home from work and is not able to get enough sleep to feel fresh enough the next day. This will only lead to a jaded person, who is far from their best in terms of productivity. This will naturally affect the quality of work and slow down things across the board.
More and more organizations are now waking up to the idea of proper lighting to make a positive difference to office productivity. And it inevitably works! In fact, new office premises keep this in mind right at the design stage. That way they can incorporate the light impact on a design from inception. Older buildings, however, do face a dilemma in this regard. They already have an infrastructure in place and making sweeping changes like installing improved lighting can be really daunting, not only in terms of costs involved but also the loss of man-hours and vast inconvenience to the staff. Undertaking such renovations normally means relocating people to a temporary location. All of this takes up time, money and effort. Although initial costs involved might seem prohibitive for many organizations, in the long run, ambient lighting will help by:
- Providing a better environment for employees, thus affecting balance sheets positively.
- Strategic and flexible lighting with modern fixtures will reduce electricity consumption and save costs.
Such a simple strategy like improved lighting can boost employee attendance, health, creativity, and productivity substantially. So much so that multiple companies have recorded jumps in their profit levels without too many factors changing internally or externally. Once a company is in good health as far as profits go, this will reflect in more innovations and additions in infrastructure. And all of this will ultimately benefit employees. In fact, it is a positive cycle that is a win-win situation for everyone involved.
New innovations and technology find a place in every aspect of modern life. This includes effective lighting in different settings, including in the workplace. As the nature of office work has changed over the years, so have office setups and fixtures. Lighting has kept up with times as well. Combined with the results of intensive studies, innovation and science have come up with various options.
a) Dim the lights. Bright LED lighting is not always the answer. Especially at the end of a workday when tired bodies and eyes need some respite. Bright lights are also not friendly when they glare and reflect off computer screens. Dim lights later in the day and see how office vibes improve.
b) Cut down blue light. Offices use LED and fluorescent lights mostly. These are great during the daytime when accompanied by daylight. However, as daylight dims, this very light can cause disruptions in sleep patterns. This could lead to less sleep and decreased attention and productivity.
c) Introduce flexible lighting. Different tasks need different light intensity. However, some offices have flexible seating for their employees. This immediately calls for flexible lighting too to ensure the right lights. Dimmer switches are a good way to adjust light intensity. For jobs that might call for more focused lighting, desk lamps would be a good option as well.
d) Harvest natural light. As discussed earlier, for practical purposes and dictates of office work, it is not possible to rely only on natural light. However, every effort must be made to utilize all of the natural light one gets within any office space. Having more seating around windows, drawing up blinds, building bay windows to capture more light are some ways. Natural light is easier on the eyes and has been shown to cause less strain, headaches, and irritability.
Common sense dictates that every part of an office space cannot have similar lighting. It is not by the flick of an electric switch that office lighting ought to be determined. For example, the doorways and exits to any office building need to be lit brightly. This helps secure premises and makes identification of people easier for the management. The same cannot be said of the reception though. This is a space that helps create a first impression and set the tone for your company and workplace. Along with the personnel handling the reception area, subtle and strategically placed lighting helps enhance a feeling of warmth and positivity. Any piece of art that is positioned here to adorn the space has to be lighted in a way that draws the visitor’s attention in a positive manner.
Moving on to actual spaces where work gets done, these have been discussed above in detail. Choosing lighting that helps recreate natural light and achieves balance is needed. Storerooms and locker rooms require bright lights for ease of retrieval and storage. Entertainment centers and libraries within office premises also call for different kinds of lighting.
The requirements and available options for each can be mindboggling at times. It is better to entrust office lighting to an organization that specializes in this. They are trained to suggest improvements and innovations to help enhance your workplace ambiance and productivity substantially.
There is deep science at work when we talk of the right kind of light. Different temperatures cause the same medium to emit different lights. The temperature of light is measured in Kelvin (K). The numerical indicates what color of light can be expected. Lower temperature lights are called ‘warm’ whereas higher temperature lights are classified as ‘cool’.
- High color temperature of 4600k and above are seen as blue-white and are called cool colors.
- Mid-range color temperatures of 3100-4600 K are seen as cool white.
- Low color temperatures of up to 3000 K are seen by humans as red to yellowish-white and are called warm colors.
To put it very succinctly, avoid anything below 3500 K. According to the color ranges outlined above, cold color temperatures are to be ideally used in brainstorming rooms. They are known to improve alertness and reduce fatigue. This helps in coming up with fruitful ideas and improve productivity. Mid-range color temperatures are welcoming but cool at the same time. They are good for use in conference rooms. Warm lighting is intended to create an ambiance of warmth and coziness. Opt for this kind of light in break rooms in an office setting.
Long term and daily exposure to artificial lighting at work have its drawbacks on the health of workers. Given that artificial lighting cannot be avoided and done away with, the next best thing would be to take steps to cut out the negative effects of artificial light. This is something people do in their homes as well. How many times have we moved an armchair around to face the window, or pulled a beanbag to a corner of a favorite room where sunlight floods in during the day? This only enhances the belief that humans are naturally attuned to seek out well-lit places. This thought process is carried to the workplace as well.
It is not practical to have an office where everyone is moving around the furniture first thing in the morning. Picture the chaos to have every employee busily and at times angrily running around with their stuff to find seating near the windows. It would be hilarious and completely hazardous to getting work done. However, it is possible to do this within constraints and guidelines of office culture and decorum.
This means, though, that furniture needs to be a certain type in order to be able to move it around in the first place. Having a light and ergonomic furniture that can be moved around if needed is required for this to happen. An office has to invest in ergonomic seating to ensure comfort and a good seating posture for its employees.
In addition to this, there is the scope of positioning the human component of an office according to light. This can be thought out at the design stage itself, in terms of how office lighting will be positioned. Ideally, people should sit facing what natural light they can avail of during the day. The opposite would be better seating when artificial lights come on. In other words, people should sit with their backs towards artificial lighting instead of facing the glare directly. This way they avoid eye strain and resulting headaches, which can be detrimental to productivity in the long run.
A lot of time and effort, physically as well as mentally, is spent at the workplace. Most of this is done under artificial lights that might not be conducive to natural human instincts. Office lighting is generally with LED and fluorescent bulbs. The blue light emitting from these can play havoc with the circadian or natural sleep cycle. This cycle determines how much sleep a person needs, and helps in relaxation and stimulation. Disturbing this cycle immediately means inadequate sleep in many people. Combined with odd work hours in a global workplace and work-related stressors, improper lighting can cause major disruption with sleep patterns.
Sleep deprivation, in turn, leads to a fatigued mind and body which is certainly not the recipe for productivity at the workplace. Compulsions of having to turn up for work the next day and deliver at the same levels of expertise can lead to dependence on sleeping pills at times. None of this helps the sleep pattern and actually continues to mess it all up. Companies need to wake up to this factor and ensure healthier workspaces with optimum lighting. It is in their larger interest so that the company continues to grow and prosper in the long run.
Circadian lighting is a new concept being worked upon by a global energy services giant, Mitie, at their headquarters. Part of their office space is called the ‘Living Lab’ and is furnished by bamboo using different textures and shades. It is lighted by an astronomical clock according to the time of the day and weather. Employees are encouraged to spend time here and report on how they are faring with their circadian cycles. Comparative studies have shown improved wellness and employee satisfaction with this experiment, underlining the importance of achieving the right balance between natural human instincts and artificial lighting. This is a hugely expensive project which is obviously not viable for every company to emulate. However, circadian lighting is a new and welcome step in this direction. Even if not implementable on a large scale, at least some amount of normalcy can be salvaged in sleep cycles in this way.
There is constant and meaningful research going on into workplace wellness. Research by Dr. Alan Hedge from Cornell University only strengthens this connection between natural light and workplace wellness. His study shows improved wellness and health when optimized natural light is present in an office space. The benefits of natural light have shown such startling positives that some companies are touting this as an asset when hiring employees. Some European Union countries have made it mandatory to have proximity and access to window seating as part of building design. This has naturally compelled architects and interior designers to re-think office spaces to include more natural light into buildings.
There is often a hierarchy in the office setting that allows executives more access to natural light and better artificial lighting. This can create disgruntlement and animosity in the common employee. The fact that some people are more entitled and privileged in all ways than the normal workforce, including the right to natural light and optimum lighting, has the potential to cause discontentment. The onus is on the management to become more inclusive and understanding in this aspect. In fact, they ought to wake up to this issue immediately. Some recent surveys conducted by Gallup and other agencies have shown how employees crave more for fundamental things like natural lighting and outdoor views than anything else.
Recognizing that the human element is the most prized asset of an organization is the first step towards workplace wellness. Automation has taken the place of humans in many aspects of work. However, at the end of the day, the human touch is extremely important to complete a job and attain goals. This means prizing the human assets of an organization ought to take precedence. It is in this context that human-centric lighting is discussed these days. It is a concept that works to promote the physical and emotional health of people by providing optimum light. Smart light sources are often used in workplaces these days, which can be controlled and dimmed in intensity. This is done with the aim of mimicking sunlight levels through the course of a day. The very name suggests the thought behind lighting – it is human first in its approach.
Working indoors or in closed spaces primarily is showing up in many disorders these days. Lack of adequate sunlight has physiological as well as psychological ramifications. Vitamin D deficiency is a very common condition these days. A number of illnesses can be traced back to this as well. There are also psychological disorders like SAD (seasonal affective disorder) that affect people in cold countries. They are found to suffer from depression and increased irritability due to prolonged sunlight deprivation.
However much we try to replicate natural sunlight, there are some properties that cannot be replicated. Humans can come up with AI and Wi-Fi enabled intelligent lighting as much as they want, but craving for the natural should always be catered to and fulfilled as much as possible.
These are unnatural times. Working in not-so-perfect settings is a compulsion for most. Eyes are precious. The responsibility of their care rests upon each person. Blinking at regular intervals to avoid dry eyes is a way to counter. Reducing blue light exposure to a minimum and resting eyes helps take care of them.
What is programmable lighting? AI is enriching lives in myriad ways. It is anticipated that soon there will be ways to automate and program office and home lighting depending upon different factors. The nature of the job, time of day, weather conditions, all are expected to be taken into account to provide the best lighting.
What is seamless office lighting? A new concept in performance lighting at offices is seamless lighting. This is a flicker-free light that comes in a range of color temperatures. With its wide choice of color temperatures, companies can opt for this kind of lighting to enhance workplace ambiance to new levels.
Why should managements heed employee feedback on wellness? Ultimately it is the employee who has to put in the time and effort into carrying out the company agenda. Often putting in long hours and battling personal crises, their demand for a comfortable workplace is acceptable. It is well worth the cost and effort to keep them satisfied.
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