Flick of a Switch: How Lighting Affects Productivity and Mood

Business.com / Business Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Studies have shown that office lighting plays a major role in employee productivity. Is your lighting optimal for worker performance?

Lighting — the good, the bad, and the ugly — can have a significant impact on your concentration and your productivity.

In fact, your overall feeling of health and well-being can change with just the flick of a switch.

ecent research highlighted by Philips Systems shows a significant link between light and circadian rhythms, otherwise known as the “built-in clocks” that determine your sleep cycle, stimulation, and relaxation.

Lighting has also been found to decrease depression and improve mood, energy, alertness, and productivity.

Related Article: Want Your Employees to Be More Productive? It’s Time to Redecorate

Given that a study conducted by the American Society of Interior Design revealed that 68 percent of employees complain about the lighting situation in their offices, how can businesses design their workspaces with lighting that delivers the optimal place for employees to think, create, and collaborate?

To learn more about the costs associated with not addressing lighting issues in the workplace, we turned to HOK, a top global design firm. Here are three examples of lighting projects HOK has designed that have provided lighting conducive for a productive workplace environment.

The Flexibility of Lighting Controls Affects Productivity

HOK transformed an abandoned 1930s power plant in Lansing, Michigan, into a new national headquarters for Accident Fund Holdings, Inc., in 2011.

There they installed lighting controls for individual workstations and shared multi-occupant stations. Natural daylight that flows through the building’s energy-efficient windows, which were also installed by HOK, allows electric lighting systems to be dimmed down.

The interior of the national headquarters for Accident Fund Holdings, Inc.
The interior of the national headquarters for Accident Fund Holdings, Inc.

“We have found, based on the work that we have done, that control of an environment, whether it be lighting or temperature, helps people feel better about their perceived productivity,” said Emily Dunn, a senior consultant based in HOK’s New York office.  This lighting flexibility allows employees to create the atmosphere they need to be productive at work.

Daylight Enhances Human Performance

In collaboration with Dechert Law Office in Washington, D.C., HOK designed a flexible environment that allows attorneys to practice law more productively. The design firm used glass partitions for all offices and soft indirect lighting to “create airy volumes that blur the distinction between interior and perimeter space.”

A view of Dechert Law Office’s reception from the elevator lobby
A view of Dechert Law Office’s reception from the elevator lobby

HOK also incorporated daylight features to help employees regulate their circadian rhythms. When these rhythms are offset, people experience stress, but a building that incorporates daylight can enhance human performance. In fact, a report by the World Green Building Council found that workers exposed to daylight are 18 percent more productive.

Related Article: Stop Wasting Time: Tips to Raise Productivity and Reduce Procrastination

Lighting Design Depends on the Atmosphere You Want to Create


There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution to lighting in the workplace. According to HOK Lighting Director Tom Kaczkowski, lighting design “depends on the atmosphere that we are trying to create within the work environment.”

In King Abdullah University of Science and Technology’s case, the graduate-level research university in Saudi Arabia wanted its interior to promote innovation and creativity. HOK delivered by tailoring each space to its intended use.

Inside King Abdullah University of Science and Technology’s Library; Image courtesy of HOK
Inside King Abdullah University of Science and Technology’s Library

For example, the conference space was situated in a “shaded, passively cooled outdoor concourse” with a hint of sunlight to produce an inviting environment that keeps workers alert. The academic library, designated as a room to keep people relaxed, was fitted with warm lighting to instill a sense of comfort.

Smart organizations know that enhancing the performance of their people keeps companies growing and actively innovating. Thoughtful lighting design can be a powerful tool to increase employee performance. There are real costs associated with not addressing lighting issues at work and they could be fixed with the simple change of the bulb.

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