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Effects of Poor Lighting on Employee Productivity

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Perhaps you've heard of a little phenomenon called the Hawthorne effect. Based on a series of studies conducted at the Hawthorne Works factory in the 1920s and '30s, it was initially concluded that levels of lighting had the ability to affect worker productivity. Of course, it was later posited that the increase in efficiency during the study was actually attributed to the interest shown by management in the workers at the time. This is why the Hawthorne effect today encompasses any occasion where worker productivity increases briefly. And yet, despite the fact that the Hawthorne study failed to account for other factors, thereby muddying the results of their research on lighting in the workplace, it cannot be denied that providing a well-lit atmosphere for employees has the potential to boost productivity. Here are just a few ways in which poor lighting could be the culprit behind a workforce that simply isn't working as efficiently as they could.

For starters, there are all kinds of lighting, from the natural end of the spectrum to incandescent bulbs to glaring fluorescent overheads. Each may have a dramatically different effect on workers. And when you throw in the competition from a computer monitor (common to nearly every office setting these days) the type and amount of lighting could cause issues with productivity. Interestingly, lighting can affect us on both a physical and mental level when it comes to our motivation and ability to complete work.

The wrong lighting can be to blame for all kinds of potential drawbacks. While many companies are looking to save some money on their utility bills and do their part for the environment by utilizing natural light during the day, a setting with insufficient windows to let the light in will yield a fairly dim interior. This could lead to a lot of yawning employees, especially in the afternoon. By this criterion, brighter lights lead to greater productivity; so fluorescent bulbs should provide for the best option. Unfortunately, the harsh glare these products produce causes many people to experience migraines. In combination with the competing flicker of the computer screen, it may also lead to eye strain. So you can see, the relative brightness is only part of the equation. The type of lighting is also important.

The best way to light a workspace is twofold. First, there should be some form of general lighting for the whole area, and most experts recommend 6,500K bulbs (which mimic natural light but remain constant, unlike the rays that filter in through the windows). In addition, each employee should be given the option for task lighting in order to add a little extra illumination to their own workspace. A desk lamp with a swivel head is ideal since it can provide targeted light as needed. For personal lighting, halogen bulbs are probably the best bet. They are intense like fluorescents, but they tend to be on the red end of the spectrum rather than blue.

According to a 2009 study published on ScienceMag.org, this spectrum helps workers to be more accurate and productive. This doesn't necessarily mean you need to pull down the roller blind to block the outside world (a room with a view has been proven to reduce stress, which also increases productivity). But when it comes to providing adequate and appropriate lighting for workers, you should definitely provide multiple options, especially if you'd like to see an uptick in productivity.

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