Too much or too little workplace lighting can affect worker productivity and the bottom line.

And now, the last installment in this mini-series of workplace environmental problems – workplace lighting.
As facility owners, managers, designers, and contractors, we’re asked to walk the fine line between providing enough light and saving energy. And as many of you are aware, that’s not necessarily the easiest thing to do. We need lighting for obvious reasons, but workplace lighting and other power expenses add up.
At some facilities where owners are trying to cut energy costs, the solution is to scale back workplace lighting.
And at the other extreme, the reaction to occupant complaints regarding inadequate lighting might include installing more lighting or adding more powerful fixtures.
When lighting reduction strategies are well planned and thought out, facility owners and managers sometimes realize great benefits. When the lighting levels aren’t right, though, the Law of Unintended Consequences can strike.
When we don’t have the right amount of light, bad things can happen.
Too little light:
  • fatigue
  • eye strain
  • headaches
  • lack of productivity
Too much light:
  • “scratchy” eyes
  • glare
  • headaches
  • lack of productivity
So- too little workplace lighting – bad things can happen. Too much workplace lighting – bad things can happen. Hooray.
What’s interesting is some of these side effects are too often blamed on indoor air quality (IAQ) issues. After all, what’s gotten more press, mold and other IAQ problems, or poor workplace lighting? So facility owners and managers may spend big bucks chasing down IAQ issues, when the real problem may have to do with lighting.
There are simple ways to cut costs and help the environment.

There are simple ways to cut costs and help the environment. Just make sure to avoid creating workplace environmental issues.

What are the psychological effects of too little or too much lighting? That’s difficult to say (and even more difficult to quantify), but the effects are real. And the effect on our bottom line is difficult to measure.
When you’ve spent too much time in a poorly lit area and then gone outside, how did the change in lighting affect your mood or how you felt? Sometimes the “breath of fresh air” helping us feel better may also have something to do with the change in lighting.
Or maybe going from an intensely lit area to a more subdued environment can have a calming effect. Kind of like going to your favorite restaurant. Some may be well lit, but sometimes the most relaxing places have more subtle lighting. In my case, I’m lucky enough to have enough daylighting in my office to have a well lit office, and sometimes intentionally work in a darker space in order to prepare drawings.
If you’re having workplace environmental issues, make sure to rule out (or in) lighting as a potential cause. Don’t assume lighting is not a problem.
If designing a facility, make sure you’re taking into account the realistic use of the space (and don’t forget the building codes of course!). Sophisticated lighting strategies and controls are great, but if the occupants are going to bypass the controls…
I had to get that in because almost 100% of the facilities I see with automated lighting controls operate with the lighting control system bypassed.
I have friends who work in facilities with automated systems, and they hate having to get up and dance to make sure the lights stay on. I hate to say this, but at some point someone’s going to blow out a knee rushing to get up and get the lights turned back on after the office is plunged into darkness.
If modifying or renovating a facility, make sure the existing or planned system will work. Sometimes less is more, and more is less, at least as far as having happy, productive building occupants.
I’ve enjoyed writing this mini-series of blog posts dealing with unique workplace environmental problems.
How do you deal with lighting issues at your facility? Please share your stories with me, and I’ll be glad to share with others (after changing names and places to protect privacy).
If you’d like more information or help on how to solve your organization’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), or improve your workplace IAQ, please call or
email me
Stay well-lit (but don’t take that the wrong way!), my friends.