Brighten the office to brighten the mood: The link between Office Lighting and Employee Health and Wellbeing

As summer ends, and the darker months set in, natural light can come at a premium. With that in mind, we thought it was the perfect time to examine the link between office lighting and employee health and wellbeing.

We all know that weather and natural light can play a big part when it comes to our emotional wellbeing, after all when you walk outside on a sunny day it makes you feel happy, right?

In a research poll of 1,614 North American employees, Harvard Business Review found that access to natural light and views of the outdoors are the number one most desirable attribute in a working environment. Natural light even outranked premium features like employee cafeterias, fitness centres and on-site childcare!

Further, the study reported that the absence of natural light and outdoor views negatively impacts the employee experience. Over a third of employees said that they do not get enough natural light in their workspace, 43% reported feeling gloomy because of the lack of light and 47% felt tired or very tired due to the absence of natural light or a window at their office.

The business case is clear: daylight promotes employee health, and potentially performance. These findings support a growing trend of workplace design as an important way of promoting employee wellbeing.

Employers around the world are catching on, with many starting to explore strategies for optimising their lighting. Below we take a deeper look at why lighting affects our health, and strategies you can use to harness lighting to better care for your workforce.

Indoor lights and circadian rhythmS

Artificial lighting solved many problems when it became part of our daily lives. But when the light bulb was invented we also lost something that we'd previously benefited from; the light schedule of the 24 hour day.

Before artificial light, your body’s circadian rhythms, which determine our energy levels throughout the day, would sync with the rise and fall of the sun. Today, it is common to struggle with sleep issues linked to disrupted circadian rhythms. Poor sleep affects work performance the day after, contributing to fatigue, itself no small problem in the workplace.

Artificial light disrupts our circadian rhythm, and digital screens are the biggest culprit behind our increased night time light intensity. A laptop emits a light intensity more than 33,000 % lux higher than a full moon, all on its own.

Lights and the brain

The Harvard Business Review found that the absence of natural light and outdoor views significantly lessens employee satisfaction with their workplace.

Over a third of employees feel that they don’t get enough natural light at work. 47% of employees admit they feel tired or very tired from the absence of natural light or a window at their office, and 43% report feeling gloomy because of the lack of light.

The fluorescent lights most office buildings use are less expensive and last longer than incandescent bulbs. However, they may have an additional cost to your employees' mental health.

While fluorescent lights emit less blue-green light than they did when they were first invented, these lights can still cause severe eye strain or headaches for your employees. These fluorescent lamps combined with few windows and all day computer work compounds this negative impact on employees, but it doesn’t have to be this way!

What happens when you add natural light

A study by Cornell University Professor Dr. Alan Hedge supported the positive relationship between natural light and the wellbeing of employees.

Dr. Hedge found that by optimising natural light in an office resulted in a large improvement to employee health. The study revealed that, with increased exposure to natural light, 51 per cent of employees reported less eye strain, 56 per cent indicated they were less tired, and a whopping 63 per cent said they had a decrease in headaches.

Further, the introduction of natural light has a big impact on mood and motivation. According to the Future Workplace Employee Experience Study, 78% of employees say access to natural light and views improves their mood and mental wellbeing, while 70% report improved work performance.

To empower your employees to be more productive and healthy at work, optimising access to natural light should be a high priority.

Workplace Design

How to optimise lighting in your own workplace

Getting more natural light into the office might seem like a difficult task, but thankfully there are simple changes you can make without moving the office out to the back porch.

To improve lighting in your workplace, consider our following tips:

Changing light bulbs. Energy saving light bulbs have long been on the list of energy friendly improvements one can make in a building, but when it comes to mood disorders, they aren’t a great choice. Energy saving lightbulbs often contain LED, and because of this, they produce high amounts of blue light. Blue light is the worst culprit when it comes to messing up circadian rhythms. Switching these bulbs to ones with a warmer hue is well worth the investment.

Promoting daylight equity. It’s long been understood that not all workstations are created equally, and desks closer to windows are often prized by staff. When fitting your office out, consider a layout which maximises the number of stations with access to natural light. You should also consider introducing a rotation program so all employees have access to light and natural views for at least a portion of the year.

Adjusting screen brightness. Many technological devices, such as mobile phones and laptops, have the option to adjust  screen brightness. Make sure your employees know how to adjust brightness when issuing devices, and provide recommendations for default settings. This easy fix can be particularly helpful for evening work.

Get creative! Encouraging your employees to have walking or outdoor meetings can assist in attaining a healthy dose of daylight. Promoting an active workforce also comes with additional health and wellbeing benefits that can boost productivity. That’s why we’ve recently added a series of posters to myGB Poster Designer that encourage staff to get active and go outdoors throughout the day. 

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