Why bad lighting is bad for business

The evidence is mounting up. Poor lighting in the workplace can have a range of negative effects on the health and well-being of employees. What started as an interesting theory has now become a strongly-held belief by researchers and medical experts.

A wide range of ailments

Let’s start by taking a closer look at those negative effects, both physical and mental, that have been found to result from inferior lighting. These include eye strain (so, it seems your parents were right when they told you it was harmful to read in the dark), headaches and fatigue.

Fluorescent lights can cause agitation which leads to stress. Flickering lights can produce an irritating sound that is liable to prove distracting and cause anxiety for some workers. Gloomy lighting can increase the chances of depression.

There is also evidence that the lack of natural sunlight in the working lives of many can result in a whole range of conditions such as tiredness, migraines, headaches seasonal affective disorder (SAD), obesity, diabetes, Alzheimers and even cancer. No wonder bad lighting has generally been found to have a negative impact on employee morale.

New scientific report from the Nature journal

One of the most recent pieces of research delving into this subject is a new scientific report conducted by the Nature journal.

The issue they were considering is that we have simply not considered the implications of spending our working days in gloomily-lit working environments before going home to our brightly-lit houses and apartments where we are entertained by screens that wake our bodies up rather than prepare them for sleep.

The study was based on our natural circadian rhythm, which is defined by the daily movement of the sun. We relied on this for many thousands of years until, some 150 years ago, the introduction of electric lighting encouraged us to move indoors away from the influence of the sun. While the transition has led to the many benefits of modern living, it’s no great surprise that our natural body clocks now don’t know whether they’re coming or going.

The Nature journal team tested the effects of optimised dynamic daylight and electric lighting on the circadian phase of melatonin, cortisol and skin temperatures in office workers. In layman’s language, this meant the researchers were investigating if mimicking the light patterns of the sun could have beneficial effects on our health and wellbeing.

Automated lighting controlled by IoT technology

Customised lighting, taking advantage of IoT technology with an automated control system, provided dynamically changing lighting patterns that matched natural daylight. This was represented by large light fluxes in the morning and lower ones towards the end of the working day.

The study found that improving indoor lighting conditions at the workplace really did support proper circadian hormonal rhythms, encouraging a better sleep pattern and improved well-being for office workers.

40% of workers impacted by poor office lighting

There are many other studies out there saying similar things. One such report, conducted by UK office stationery experts Staples, asked 7,000 office workers across many countries in Europe about the quality of the lighting in their workplace and how they thought it was impacting them. 40% of those surveyed claimed that they were having to deal with uncomfortable lighting every day, while 32% said better lighting would make them happier at work.

In workplaces such as factories, warehouses and distribution centres, a poorly lit environment can lead to accidents, injuries and even fatalities. When factory workers operating heavy machinery, for example, are unable to see clearly because of a lack of sufficient light, their own safety and that of their colleagues come into jeopardy for obvious reasons.

We’ve been focusing on the employees, so far, and the problems caused for them by poor lighting in the workplace.  But, of course, it follows that anything that hampers their ability to work to the best of their abilities is also bad news for employers.

The problem needs to be addressed or else the productivity levels of the workforce (and the business) will suffer every bit as much as their health.

If so much credible evidence around the negative effects of poor lighting has emerged, how come many employers aren’t rushing to do anything about it? The likely answer is that these findings are still relatively new.

Dated regulations and guidelines

Most of the regulations and guidelines for lighting workplaces were created before people knew the things they know now. At the time, they were not conscious of the impact the lighting was having on the employee’s physical and mental well-being, not to mention how it might have been making them less efficient.

In fact, those guidelines may even have been adding to the problem. For years, best practice lighting in offices demanded high levels of horizontal lighting above desks and low levels of vertical lighting to keep computer screens free from glare. While the intentions might have been good, the result of these guidelines was gloomy environments and sluggish workers.

Can employers afford to upgrade their lighting?

The bigger question is, can they afford not to? While implementing improved employee-friendly lighting requires investment, this won’t come anywhere near the cost of a higher turnover of staff and an increased number of employee sick days. In most cases, an investment in better lighting can very soon pay for itself.

This is a topic that is sure to grow in importance over time. When employers realise how bad for business poor lighting can be, we’re likely to see it move up the agenda.

If you would like to find out more about our lighting solutions, please get in touch with one of our friendly experts today.