As workers spend more time in the office than ever, employers are turning their attention towards increasing productivity. A 2016 report by the US Bureau of Labor confirmed that workplace productivity is declining from previous levels.
These declinations account for billions in lost revenue for businesses of all sizes, including yours. Sure, there are numerous productivity boosting tools available. The internet and technology was supposed to make our lives easier. However, a recent survey by Microsoft shed some light on the so-called “productivity paradox.”
While digital tools do have the power to make us more efficient, they can also have the opposite effect. A barrage of emails, apps, notifications, reminders, and more can actually make us more distracted. Not less.
The answer to solving the productivity problem may be less complicated.
Light And Health
The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (of “The Hippocratic Oath” fame) hypothesized about the effects of light on human health. Continuing throughout history and up to modern times, physicians have made great strides towards understanding how light levels and exposure impact mental cognition, health, mood, and yes, even productivity.
To begin, let’s re-examine how we think of “light.” One common term which is often used within the industry is “temperature.”
Temperature is measured in kelvins and is a numerical representation of the color which is emitted at certain temperatures. In the context of lighting, the “temperature” of the light is not necessarily an indication of what most of us think when we hear “temperature,” i.e. “how hot or cold is this object?”
While this definition is basically true, try not to think of it in terms of the actual “heat” being emitted. Rather, consider how that temperature presents it self in ways we can see, and more importantly, feel.
Think of a metalworker heating up a piece of steel. At low temperatures, the steel will begin to turn orange, yellow, or reddish. As the steel becomes hotter, the colour will change to a whitish hue. At the highest temperatures, the steel will appear bluish-white.
The white-blue colours are considered “cool” colours (even though they are the “hottest”). The orange-red-yellow colours are considered “warm” colours.
How Do These Hues Impact Behavior and Productivity?
In a study conducted by the Journal of Circadian Rhythm, workers were asked to self-report on their ability to concentrate and complete tasks in a given environment.
“Individuals in the intervention arm of the study showed a significant improvement in self-reported ability to concentrate at study end as compared to those within the control arm”
Overall, workers who were exposed to higher temperatures of light (“cool” fluorescent lighting) reported improved performance, fatigue, and alertness over the control group. In addition, reports of daytime sleepiness also decreased by 31%.
This is particularly noteworthy as the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reports that productivity loss due to lack of sleep may cost organizations as much as $2,000 per employee per year.
While there are several factors which may impact workplace productivity, not all are within the control of your organization. The environment in which your workers perform their tasks, however, is.
Warmer colours (soft yellow, red, etc) is more closely associated with cozy, intimate settings. For instance, soft candlelight during a romantic dinner, dimly lit restaurants, and so forth. You may encounter these hues in a spa or other leisure settings.
Cooler hues are more closely associated with alertness and professionalism. For this reason, work areas such as offices, conference rooms, and medical offices should employ these colour hues to help maintain focus and concentration.
The impact of light on health, well-being, and behaviour is well established both within scientific literature as well as practical, real-world observations. Any business which is concerned with maintaining a productive employee pool should first look to the environment they are providing for their employees and whether it is making the best use of light and colour for productivity.