Lighting Services Explains: How can circadian lighting design improve workplace productivity?

You might be astonished to learn that in addition to the standard 37 hours a week we spend in work, the average UK worker will rack up an incredible 9,024 hours of unpaid overtime over their career – or 4 extra hours a week. In fact, for a large part of the year we spend most of our daylight hours in the workplace.

It may therefore also seem surprising that while energy efficiency has been a key factor in specifying workplace lighting over recent years, less attention has been paid to the effects of lighting on staff health.

The WELL Building Standard™ is set to shift the focus. Administered by the International WELL Building Institute, its aim is to improve human health and well-being through the built environment. WELL (as it’s known in the industry) sets evidence-based performance requirements in seven concepts – air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

What is circadian lighting design?

Circadian lighting is just one of eleven criteria that WELL specifies as part of a healthy approach to lighting design. In simple terms, it’s about ensuring that lighting is designed to match our circadian rhythms – a 24 hour cycle which synchronizes bodily functions in humans and animals.

“The body responds to a number of zeitgebers—the external cues that align physiological functions to the solar day in this cycle,” explains WELL. “Light is the most important of these zeitgebers, keeping the body’s internal clocks synchronised.”

Circadian rhythms can influence a number of important biological functions, including alertness, digestion, sleep and hormone release – factors that can greatly impact on an individual’s health, wellbeing, and ultimately – workplace productivity. “Lights of high frequency and intensity promote alertness, while the lack of this stimulus signals the body to reduce energy expenditure and prepare for rest.” Explains WELL.

What to consider in circadian lighting design

Lighting designers must ‘support circadian health by setting a minimum threshold for daytime light intensity,’ says WELL. This should be measured in ‘Equivalent Melanopic Lux’, a proposed alternate metric to traditional lux, which measures the biological effect of light on humans.

WELL recommends that a light level of at least 250 equivalent melanopic lux should be present at 75% or more of workstations, measured on the vertical plane, facing forward, 1.2 m above the finished floor (to simulate the view of the occupant). This light level should be present for at least 4 hours per day for every day of the year. The aim is to improve staff alertness and energy when natural daylight is lacking.

What lessons can we learn?

So, what do we take from all this? Here at Lighting Services, we take the view that while energy efficiency remains a key factor in lighting purchasing decisions, it’s clear that more attention must be paid to evidence based initiatives such as the WELL Standard. If more influencers in the supply chain put healthy buildings on the corporate agenda – the results could be remarkable.

By way of example – in a study of a WELL Certified office building, 92% of employees said that it had a positive effect on their health and well-being. The effects of this could be tremendously positive for a company’s bottom line: reduced sick days and improved productivity could achieve huge financial benefits that, if quantified, will soon be difficult to ignore.

At Lighting Services, we like to keep at the forefront of lighting trends and technologies. If you need advice on how to use circadian lighting to boost employee health and wellbeing, drop us a line.