Can better lighting improve productivity in your business?

I started my working life 1992 in a PCB manufacturing facility in the north of England. It was a baptism of fire into the world of work; the manufacturer in question had just been acquired and was in the process of being turned around in what was, and still is, a hugely competitive electronics industry.

"Someone had sprayed in a local bus stop outside the factory: ‘Alan M***** is a Bas****’."

My boss was a guy called Alan, a man who left no cost stone unturned, even if this meant getting rid of a few hundred people or replacing a staffed full service canteen with a row on vending machine – that’s what had to be done to save the business.

Alan was a seasoned turn-around expert, who was proud that on a previous mission he knew he was starting to make a difference when he drove home at night and found that someone had sprayed in a local bus stop outside the factory: ‘Alan M***** is a Bas****’.

So what has this got to do with lighting? Well, as the cost cutting ideas rolled on I found myself removing half of the florescent tubes in multi lamp fixtures, as an instant energy saving measure. It did work – we reduced lighting-related energy by 40 per cent in a matter of days, which was a big number on a 24/7 factory. Nobody really noticed, as they were more concerned about the loss of jobs and bacon sandwiches from the canteen than the loss of a few hundred lux on the working plane.

The strange thing was, this particular factory was built in the 1930s and had north light windows, so was bathed in daylight. However in the 1980s it was modernised and someone installed a false ceiling to give a the place a more modern feel, at the same time blocking out all of the north light windows, which then meant the factory needed constant artificial illumination and the free light was wasted above the ceiling.

"Put a proposal on Alan’s desk which says that giving people access to daylight, and the right type of artificial lighting can improve productivity or reduce errors."

This meant that for six days a week during the winter months, I never got to experience natural light. I entered the building when it was dark outside , and left when it was dark outside. It was a strange existence.

Despite Alan’s best efforts, the factory rumbled on for a few more years, and eventually closed unable to stop the tide of manufacturing drifting to the far East to factories with lighting probably a hundred times worse.

The challenge lighting always faces in the work place is that it is seen as a pure cost, not as a productivity tool which can affect your mood at work and how well you can perform tasks. I was amazed to hear a presentation at our retail conference about a lighting design approach which resulted in a 12 per cent increase in sales.

If this continues to be the case, then I’m sure retailers will crawl over broken glass to adopt it. My thinking is, does this sort of approach stack up in the work place? Can lighting drive productivity increases, improve how people feel about their employer or how often they are off sick?

There is a growing body of evidence which says it does, but not many people have turned this improvement in to hard cash. Put a proposal on Alan’s desk which says that giving people access to daylight, and the right type of artificial lighting can improve productivity or reduce errors. Then he may change his penny pinching ways, and reduce local vandalism!