How Bright Should Office Lighting Be?

how bright should office lighting be
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A factor that has been proven to have a major impact on employee productivity and employee health is the lighting of office spaces. In fact, when it comes to the design of your office space, proper lighting is one of the most crucial aspects you ought to take into consideration.

With that said, how bright should office lighting be? What are the effects of poor lighting? What are the benefits of ensuring that your employees have proper lighting in the office? The following article goes into all of these topics and more.

Why Concern Yourself With Office Lighting?

Poor office lighting, including light that creates glare or is too bright, may cause employees to lose their ability to focus on work because of fatigue, eye strain, and headaches. This often results in lower worker productivity and even absenteeism.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) conducted a recent study that shows that poor lighting adversely affects moods. A productivity and environmental conditions study by Cornell showed that when office lighting is too glaring, too bright, or too dim, employee performance trends downward.

A study by the National Institute of Health yielded similar results, finding that employees gain a better perception of the content of their work, are more comfortable, and have less eye strain when they are satisfied with their office lighting conditions.

Other studies demonstrate the benefits of natural light for workers, finding that a lack of natural light for employees leads to their being more tired, less active, more insomnia-prone, and more distractible. All of these factors reduce overall employee health and make them less productive. Thus, investing in proper office lighting will ultimately be a boon for your bottom line.

How Bright Should Office Lighting Be?

All of the factors discussed above reduce overall employee health and make them less productive. Thus, investing in proper office lighting will ultimately be a boon.

In determining how bright should office lighting be, there are different standards to take into account, depending on where your office is located.

Standards in the United States

The United States General Services Administration (GSA) sets certain lighting standards for many kinds of working environments. Their standards for office lighting in normal work station spaces for both open and closed offices are set at an illumination level of 500 lumens per square meter.

Other areas of the office have different standards; for instance, conference rooms require 300 lumens per square meter and elevator lobbies or entrance lobbies require only 200 lumens per square meter.

According to the GSA, the layout and design of the office and its lighting ought to provide illumination in even amounts across the entire office space. The design and layout of the lighting should also consider the shadows that office partitions or cubicle walls might cast. The lighting layout ought to be adjusted accordingly to mitigate these problems and shady areas.

The GSA says that fluorescent light bulbs and ceiling fixtures provide the best standards for office lighting. However, this may not be the most updated standard. Recent research has shown that overhead fluorescent lights in the office may have an adverse effect on health, causing problems ranging from insomnia to hyperactivity.

Standards in Canada

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) offers a fact sheet on eye discomfort in an office setting and how to prevent it. Many eye discomfort issues can be solved with good office lighting. Because of the visually demanding nature of office work, proper office lighting is an absolute necessity for maximum productivity and employee comfort.

Good lighting is defined as enough illumination for people to be able to see handwritten, printed, or displayed documents visibly and clearly but not to be blinded by light levels, which are excessively high (a factor of glare).

Poor lighting can affect the ocular system and can contribute to shoulder aches and stiff necks. Such problems may occur when employees try to read under conditions of poor lighting and adopt awkward or bad postures to attempt to do so. Good lighting conditions will provide sufficient light in the proper direction without causing shadows that obscure, offer decent (but not too much) contrast between the background and the task, reduce glare, and be of the proper type.

In order to reduce eye strain and discomfort, overhead lighting should be dimmed and diffused using filters. It notes that the 300 to 500 lumens per square meter level of light recommended for office settings is not a hard and fast requirement, but rather, one that applies only when a task lamp is not in use. The CCOHS also recommends that windows be treated with blinds that are adjustable and that matte paint and finishes be used on floors, walls, and furniture.

Standards in the United Kingdom

Lighting regulations in the United Kingdom are generally in line with those of the United States and Canada. For instance, an average of 200 to 500 lumens per square meter is recommended for office work.

In the Workplace Regulations Act of 1992, Regulation No. 8 states that each workplace must have sufficient and suitable lighting, which ought to be natural light, as much as this may reasonably be executed.

Utilizing as much natural light as possible is an excellent way to reduce eye discomfort and to boost overall employee health, mood, and productivity, which is why the UK regulations suggest using as much natural light as possible in the office.

how bright should office lighting be

What Type of Office Lighting Should Be Used?

The above standards for the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom all recommend a level of light in the office with an upper threshold of 500 lumens per square meter. However, they also offer more specific recommendations on how this level of light ought to be obtained.

The United Kingdom says that as much natural light as is possible and practical ought to be used to meet this standard. The Canadian guidelines also offer a reminder that the 500 lumens per square meter recommendation is only for when the office space lacks a task lamp.

Overhead Lighting

Task lighting and natural light are, thus, two of the best methods for lighting office spaces. Of course, overhead lighting is usually necessary, as it is the most practical and overarching solution. However, overhead lights should be dimmed to reduce eye strain and glare, and task lighting should be used to make up the difference.

Overhead lighting that is too direct, bright, or intense can cause glare, eye strain and discomfort, headaches, and other health issues, all of which will lower employee productivity and morale. Overhead fluorescent lighting, in particular, has been shown to cause hyperactivity as well as sleeping problems. Overhead LED lighting can serve as a suitable alternative.

Natural Lighting

Natural light brings with it a host of benefits, such as enhancing the mood and morale of your employees as well as boosting their health, productivity, and quality of sleep.

However, the windows that allow natural light to stream in should have good blinds that can be adjusted to reduce glare at certain times of the day or at certain angles. Employees should not have to strain to read their computer screens.

Task Lighting

Task lighting that can be controlled by the individual employee is an excellent way to provide adequate lighting for each workspace without causing excessive levels of light or glare. Each employee can adjust his or her task lamp to meet lighting needs.

The best lamps for task lighting are usually gooseneck lamps because they can be pointed in any particular direction to shed more light on a particular area when necessary.

The Cornell and NIH studies mentioned earlier both found that individual, personalized task lighting is greatly beneficial for employees. Allocating each employee a task lamp so that each one can control the amount and direction of light is an excellent way to raise employee productivity, preserve worker health, and boost worker satisfaction.

Best Combination of Office Lighting

An ideal combination of office lighting would be a generous amount of natural light controlled by blinds during the day when weather conditions permit complemented by reasonable, not overly bright overhead lighting on days and, at times, when natural light is insufficient.

The natural light and dim or diffuse overhead lighting should be supplemented by task lighting, which should be provided to each individual so that each one can adjust the task lamp to suit his or her needs.

Other Considerations for Office Lighting

Here are other pointers to keep in mind when choosing the right lighting for your office.

Choose the Right Color Temperature and Size

Different light bulbs have different ranges when it comes to color and intensity. It is good to select a color temperature consistent throughout the office than on the warmer side. A color temperature mimicking natural daylight is best.

Light bulbs also come in many different sizes; usually, a smaller office will require smaller light bulbs.

Choose the Right Office Colors and Finish

When it comes to the color of the walls, floor, and ceiling, neutral colors should be used. Nothing very bright, dark, or extreme should be considered since more extreme colors can potentially reflect more light and produce greater eye strain and more unwanted contrast.

The finish of the walls and the furniture should also be matte, rather than shiny, to reduce the reflection of light and reduce glare.

For a Work Space with an Open Plan

If the design of your office space has an open-office feel and is not simply a bunch of cubicles, this can enhance the lighting design in your office. The lack of partitions and cubicles reduces the possibility of obscuring shadows and allows more natural light to reach the entire office.

An open-office plan design can create a sense of community, collaboration, and togetherness. However, individualized task lighting should still be provided to allow employees to adjust the lighting to their preferences and personal needs.

Computer Monitors and Lighting

A major consideration when it comes to office lighting is computers. It is difficult to plan a lighting layout when computers are taken into account because each computer screen is its own source of light. Computer screens are also somewhat reflective, which greatly increases the potential for glare and eye strain.

Do not place lights around the computer monitor or screen in order to avoid the image of the screen from being washed out. Ensure that natural light can be controlled with adequate window blinds so that sunlight does not cause the computer screen to be nearly unreadable. Lastly, make overhead lighting dimmer to reduce glare on screens.

The best lighting to use around computers is, once again, task lighting. This allows the employee to direct the lamp light away from the computer screen and eliminate glare while still providing adequate light for the workspace.


The lighting of your office space should be one of the foremost considerations when designing a workspace. Proper and adequate lighting (not too dim and not too bright) will improve employee health, mood, and morale and will lead to greater employee productivity, employee satisfaction, and, ultimately, employer revenue.

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