Most people need to see to work. But the type of light, the intensity of that light, the color temperature and so on have a significant effect on how well we work.
Our friends at the office supply company Quill provided an infographic with a ton of information. Scroll through, and read our comments below.
Lighting is Among the Oldest Areas of Productivity Research
While there’s some great data in the infographic, workers should be aware that scientists have been studying lighting in the workplace for a century. Adjustments to light were one of the original variables in the Hawthorne experiments. And it’s not even the first time we’ve covered lighting here on The Methodology Blog—we ran a guest post on the value of natural lighting a few years back.
The infographic mentions color temperature, but the research on this topic is fascinating. A blog post from UNC outlines the differences:
- 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 cool white.
- Lower color temperatures (up to 3,000K) range from red to yellowish-white in tone and are called warm colors.
In everyday life:
- The glow-from-the-fire lighting is about 2,000K and is considered a warm color.
- A sunset is about 4,000K and is considered a cool white color.
- A typical sunny day is about 5,000K or 5,500K and is considered a cool color.
- An overcast winter day is measured at about 7,000K and is considered a cool color.
And it’s not just inside the office. UNC’s posts references a PubMed study which offers evidence that “natural light from both the morning and evening has been found to decrease depression and improve mood, energy, alertness and productivity.”
Plus, science has shown that blue light is bad for us at night. According to Harvard University:
Not all colors of light have the same effect. Blue wavelengths—which are beneficial during daylight hours because they boost attention, reaction times, and mood—seem to be the most disruptive at night. And the proliferation of electronics with screens, as well as energy-efficient lighting, is increasing our exposure to blue wavelengths, especially after sundown.
Study after study has linked working the night shift and exposure to light at night to several types of cancer (breast, prostate), diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It’s not exactly clear why nighttime light exposure seems to be so bad for us. But we do know that exposure to light suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that influences circadian rhythms, and there’s some experimental evidence (it’s very preliminary) that lower melatonin levels might explain the association with cancer.
Plus, lighting is also about how the light is created. The technology of fluorescent lighting has a flicker. A hands-on study done at Massey University in New Zealand produced several key findings:
- Eyestrain and worker lethargy is worse with some types of lighting technology than others, but still worse than the control
- Participants were not able to perceive the flicker from the lighting, even though it was there.
- Reduction in productivity was shown through worker complaints, and demonstrated directly especially in difficult visual tasks.
Lighting matters, and science knows it.
Lighting: Part of The Larger Environment
Of course, the light in your workplace isn’t the only environmental factor. Temperature matters. The way sound travels matters, as well as the ambient sound. Humidity is a factor. The scents that are in the air may also impact your ability to work and concentrate—especially if they come from stinky co-workers!
If you want be productive and happy wherever you work, what will have the biggest impact of all is control over your environment. Make smart choices and you’ll get more done and be more satisfied! And if you don’t have the power to make those choices, talk to your employer to find out what you can do!