Most corporate well-being programs understandably focus on emotional and mental health, as well as preventing major chronic health conditions. But there’s another potential culprit that could be draining your team’s health, and it’s probably right above your head. Lighting expert Dara Greaney illuminates the benefits proper lighting schemes can have on a workplace.
The lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic have inspired many organizations to make employee well-being a top priority. A recent survey shows that 67% of employers have put employee wellness among their top three priorities, with 88% saying they have begun to implement measures focused on their employees’ mental health concerns.
Companies seeking to boost employee wellness must address a number of issues. Mental health support — which seeks to address stress, anxiety and depression — is often a core component of well-being programs. Employee well-being also seeks to address physical health issues by promoting good nutrition, regular exercise and screenings for common health issues.
One factor that can easily be overlooked when it comes to workplace well-being is the impact of the physical office itself, down to the lighting. Employee well-being involves creating an environment that optimally supports healthy workplace behavior, and providing optimal lighting for the various tasks employees must engage in is central to creating that environment.
According to the World Health Organization, anxiety and depression are significant issues affecting employee well-being. It found those negative moods account for 12 billion lost working days each year, which carries a cost of approximately $1 trillion in lost productivity.
Improved moods also drive higher levels of productivity. The World Economic Forum found that happier employees are more productive ones, and a study by the University of Warwick in the UK found that happiness drove up productivity by as much as 12%. The same Warwick study showed that distress at the office leads to a 10% drop in productivity.
Lighting can play a huge role in supporting positive moods in the workplace. Natural light has been shown to be a key player in promoting those moods. A recent study triggered by the shift to remote work models found that the amount of natural light in home workspaces had a significant impact on emotional well-being, showing the happiest workers were those in spaces with the greatest amount of daylight.
In spaces where natural light is not available, daylight-mimicking LED lighting, which can be adjusted to put out warm red and yellow tones or cool blue tones, can help support positive moods. And such lighting can be adjusted throughout the day to support a healthy circadian rhythm.
Known colloquially as the body clock, your circadian rhythm plays an important role in your body’s metabolism and regulation of energy intake. Light color also allows the release of hormones like serotonin, which are shown to improve mood and boost energy levels.
A number of studies support the link between engagement and well-being in the workplace. As engagement levels rise, employees feel more motivated and empowered in their work. That drives feelings of purpose and achievement, which contributes to well-being.
Proper office lighting can drive higher engagement by empowering enhanced concentration and focus. When lighting systems provide the correct level and quality of light focused in the proper area, they reduce distractions and enhance concentration.
Using lighting to create office environments in which distractions are minimized helps employees achieve flow state, which sports fans may know as being “in the zone.” Flow state occurs when a person is able to become completely immersed in a task, and studies have shown that flow state can improve productivity by as much as 500%.
Flow state also allows employees to reduce the stress associated with productivity. As a result, it also improves mood, which leads to higher levels of employee well-being.
Higher employee efficiency, which is another factor that drives employee engagement, can also flow from proper office lighting. By using task-oriented lighting solutions, workspaces can be optimized for specific activities. As optimal work environments are created, efficiency improves.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides recommendations on the appropriate way to light business workstation environments for computer work to enhance employee performance. The recommendations address various hazards that can arise when computer workstations are not properly illuminated.
OSHA warns that bright lights shining on computer screens can wash out images and make them difficult to view. It recommends a number of steps to remedy wash-out, including:
- Placing rows of ceiling lights parallel to the user’s line of sight.
- Providing light diffusers that limit light to computer screens without reducing the light available for other desk tasks.
- Removing bulbs from fluorescent ceiling fixtures to reduce light intensity.
- Providing supplemental desk lighting that can be directed toward non-computer tasks without increasing light levels on computer monitors.
OSHA also provides recommendations on addressing contrast problems resulting from improper lighting and recommends using window coverings to eliminate bright lights. It also advises that natural light should enter workspaces but not directly flood into a user’s view. Where necessary, OSHA says workstations should be reoriented so bright lights from windows are at right angles with computer screens.
Digital transformation has resulted in a high percentage of workers spending long hours each day in front of computer screens. While the average time spent on screens is nearly seven hours for most Americans, recent studies show remote workers can spend as much as 13 hours per day looking at screens. Consequently, well-being now involves protecting screen-using workers from eye strain and its side effects.
Lighting can help with eye strain by reducing computer screen glare, which forces eyes to work harder to focus, which tires them faster. Glare also casts an uneven quality of light on screens, which tires eyes by requiring them to continually refocus.
Glare from improper lighting can further impact employee well-being if it forces employees to adjust their posture to properly see computer screens. This can contribute to back, neck and shoulder issues. If posture adjustments cause neck muscles to tense up, it can also trigger headaches.
OSHA’s lighting recommendations also warn that eye strain can be caused by lighting that amplifies the contrast between light and dark areas of computer screens. It recommends offices use well-distributed, diffused lighting to avoid high contrast.