Is the Air and Lighting in Your Office Making Staff Less Productive?


Smiling office worker happy with environmental ergonomics in the office (air and lighting).

Few people realise the impact office light and air quality has on ergonomics and productivity. Office ergonomics has expanded to include more than workstations. We now know that environmental factors including air and light quality impacts on the health, comfort and productivity of workers. Improving lighting and air quality at work can increase employee wellbeing, happiness and productivity.

What Causes Poor Indoor Air Quality? 

Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) occurs when there is poor ventilation in the building. The indoor air can’t escape and the outdoor air can’t easily enter the building. Poor IAQ can result in ‘sick building’ syndrome.

There are many things that contribute to poor indoor air quality including: 

  • Design and maintenance of the building
  • Level of moisture and humidity
  • Pollutants and odours

Indoor Air Pollutants 

There are a variety of pollutants found in many buildings. The number and type of pollutants can change rapidly. The three main groups are chemical pollutants, biological pollutants and particles.  

Chemical Pollutants

Many of the items in an office such as the furniture, carpet, paint and equipment emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Cigarette smoke, cleaning chemicals, spills and gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide can all affect air quality. Some chemical pollutants are toxic and some are relatively harmless.   

Biological Pollutants

Biological pollutants include bacteria, fungi, mould, viruses, pollen, dust mites, and animal dander. These pollutants are caused by condensation, water spills, poor maintenance of filtration & ventilation systems,  and by occupants bringing in the pollutants on their clothes and shoes. 


We can see some particles such as dust floating in the air, but many smaller particles aren’t visible. The particles can occur from photocopying, printing, building and fit-out work or they may have come into the building through the ventilation system.  

How Do You Improve Office Air Quality?

A research study by the Green Building Industry found productivity increased by 11% when workers had access to more fresh air and less pollutants.

Some workers are more sensitive to poor air quality than others. Biological pollutants are the main cause of allergic reactions and episodes of asthma. If a worker is suffering from constant allergies, they can’t be as productive as they might be without the sneezing and puffy eyes. A worker with asthma may take sick leave to recover from an attack. When staff realise their asthma or allergies are worse on work days, it could be time to find a new job. 

Other workers may not experience any warning signs about their unhealthy environment. Many people don’t know they are being exposed to pollutants and don’t make the link to their short or long term health problems. Exposure to high levels of pollutants over time can cause respiratory problems including lung cancer.  

  • Improving indoor air quality can be achieved with a few changes:
  • Install an air infiltration system to clean the air
  • Maintenance of air infiltration system
  • Ensure people smoking outside the building stand well away from doors and air intake units
  • Open windows for fresh air (if possible)
  • Add some indoor plants to the office décor
  • Swap chemical cleaners for greener options 
  • Reduce the clutter and dust on surfaces

Good Office Lighting Makes a Difference

Unless the fluorescent is flickering, you might not notice the lighting in your office. Poor lighting could actually be hurting your eyesight, causing tiredness and lowering productivity. A survey of workers in the US found 68% of employees are unhappy about the lighting in their office. Artificial lighting needs and preferences can differ between workers depending on the tasks they perform. 

Common Office Lighting Problems

  • Insufficient light - office is too dark 
  • Computer screen glare - lights are too bright or poorly positioned
  • Bad lighting layout and distribution
  • Flickering lights

How Can You Improve Lighting in Offices? 

Just like air conditioning, it’s difficult to get the lighting just right. What many people agree on is the need for more natural light over artificial light. Most workers want to sit close to an office window because it can reduce eye strain. Natural light can reduce depression, improve your mood, energy, alertness and productivity. Some employers have even renovated their office to include more windows because they believe natural light makes workers more satisfied. Recording less absenteeism, fewer illness and greater productivity.  

Blinds and Curtains

At different times of the day (and year), the amount of natural light coming into the office changes. If possible, maximise the natural light to help with worker’s circadian rhythm, the sleep-wake cycle. Install blinds and shutters so the natural light is easily blocked out if it’s causing a problem with glare on computer screens or shining in someone’s eyes. 

LED Lighting

Old style lighting may need to be upgraded to energy saving LED lights for a better quality light. Dim lighting can cause eye strain, headaches and fatigue which are all sap productivity. Before making any lighting changes, make a seating plan to maximise access to natural light without monitor glare. Check that all workstations have adequate overhead lighting that won’t cast shadows. 

Consider Colour Temperature

Consider the colour of the artificial light. A study showed workers felt happier and more alert working under blue-enriched light bulbs because it lowers the level of melatonin. Warmer tone lights provide more comfort and can make workers feel calm. Some smart offices change the temperature of their lights throughout the day. They start the morning with a more blue light and move towards a warmer yellow light later in the afternoon. This helps prepare the body for sleep that evening.  

Ensure there are no light sources in front of workers shining in their eyes. The light can cause squinting, eye strain or for the worker to sit in an awkward position to avoid the light that it may cause them a musculoskeletal injury. Individual desk lighting is a good option for workers who feel the overhead lighting is inadequate for their needs.            

Improving the environmental ergonomics of your workplace will help improve staff productivity. Environmental ergonomics and promoting workplace health and wellbeing, go hand in hand. 

Your business can also make other small changes to improve the health and wellbeing of your staff. Take a look at our seven easy ideas you can try. 

If you have any queries about office ergonomics, visit the Ergolink showroom, or call us on (08) 9240 7066 or contact us online.