Office Lighting and Productivity

Thousands of safety professionals attended the Oregon Governor’s Occupational Safety and Health Conference (GOSH) last week in Oregon.  GOSH is one of the largest safety and health conferences in the Northwest.  There were more than 100 workshops and our staff was only able to attend a few of the presentations.

One of the most useful presentations we attended was “Advances in Office Ergonomics,” held by Rick Goggins, a Certified Professional Ergonomist (CPE) for the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.  Among other topics, Goggins spoke about how lighting and productivity go hand-in-hand.  He spoke of ways to improve the lighting in your office space to increase your productivity and mentioned,  “Light shining straight down is the worst way to increase light.” So what are your options?

Goggins discussed three different options to improve the lighting:

  1. Daylight
  2. Indirect lighting
  3. Task lighting

Daylight can increase your satisfaction at work.


The best alternative to harsh lighting and dim lighting systems is natural light itself.  Researchers in a study conducted in Britain and published in “The Responsible Workplace,” found windows are the number one determinant of the occupants’ level of satisfaction with a building.  Goggins also agrees, saying, “Daylight increases your satisfaction at work.”

This effect is due to lighting’s ability to affect the human body in two ways: directly, in the form of affecting what and how well we are able to see, and indirectly, in the form of effects on our mood, behavior, and even hormonal balance. Natural lighting renovations have been shown to result in happier workers, less absenteeism, and fewer illnesses, and, because better lighting encourages satisfaction among workers, it also results in increased productivity.

Indirect Lighting

Indirect linear fluorescent lighting directs light upwards towards the ceiling and, depending upon placement within the space, may also provide light to upper walls.

Goggins suggests using indirect lighting because it is less harsh than fluorescent light fixtures and it also can decrease shadows in your office space.   Here are some other benefits of indirect light:

  • provides soft and even illumination
  • computer friendly
  • no visible lamp image
  • increased perception of comfort within the space

On the other hand, professors at Cornell University conducted a study that showed the negative effects of these lights in an office.  Researchers found these lights were bothersome and made the subjects’ eyes tire and lose focus more easily.  Apparently, according to this study, direct parabolic lights also lessens productivity.  For the effect on your eyes alone, it may be better to opt for lensed indirect lighting for your ceiling fixtures.

Task Lighting


Task lighting gives each employee the right to get more light.

The visual capabilities of individuals of the same age can vary greatly. Older people need substantially more light to see than younger people. Research indicates the visual performance of those in their 20s is about eight times better than those in their 60s, and almost four times better than those in their 50s.  For these reasons, Goggins recommends using task lighting because because the user controls the lighting of his or her immediate work environment.

The key is “adjustable-arm” task lighting to give the user maximum control of the light level for optimal comfort. Our posture changes during the day and our tasks vary to some degree. If we have windows, light in the room changes from morning to evening.  In response to these changing conditions, we need to adjust the lighting levels directed on our work in order to reduce eyestrain and fatigue. By raising, lowering, and tilting an adjustable-arm task light, the user determines how much light is needed, and the best angle required, to avoid direct glare and reflections.

What kind of lighting does your office space use?  What do you like/dislike about it?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.