Lighting for better health and performance in the office

Work results, behaviours and job satisfaction. Light not only affects our well-being but can also be used as a tool to assist us with spatial awareness, distance assessment and navigating an environment. Poor lighting makes us tired – while good lighting, combined with interior design, can highlight and invite us into different environments and zones in a workplace. All with positive effects on health and performance.

You have probably experienced your eyes compensating for poor and weak lighting in your working environment, with headaches and neck, shoulder and back tension as a result. You may also have found yourself yawning and having difficulty staying awake when the lighting is dim. This is natural, fundamental biology. Darkness makes your body think it is time to sleep and causes the hormone melatonin to be released, making you tired. This is good at night, but not during the day when it is better to have light that will release cortisol to make you alert. Evolutionarily speaking, humans are conditioned to a life outdoors in daylight where we, and our eyes, function optimally. Today, many of us spend much of our lives indoors and need to supplement daylight with electric lighting to perform and keep us healthy.

Totality, with variety

So how good are we at harnessing the power of lighting? Henrik Clausen is a light researcher and head of Fagerhult Lighting Academy. According to Henrik, awareness of the aesthetic qualities of lighting is relatively well established. However, the deeper connection between light and health is an area that has been developing recently. "In the early 2000s, we discovered that we have extra receptors in the eye that impact us in different ways, such as controlling our circadian rhythm. In care environments, it is easier to make the connection between lighting and well-being than in offices or schools, but even in these environments we know it is strong," he says. The basis of all lighting planning is to use several different types of light. The starting point is to supplement natural daylight with other differentiated lighting. The classic division is based on the idea of three-part lighting, which is often referred to as general lighting, functional lighting and accent lighting.

It’s about covering different needs and creating a functional and stimulating totality with variation and dynamism. Think of when you walk in a forest and the light falls in from different directions in a clearing, it is in a way the ideal lighting.

Henrik Clausen, light researcher and head of Fagerhult Lighting Academy

Three types of lighting

General lighting

General lighting complements daylight and provides the right basic light level. It illuminates, assists with basic navigation and ensures that the area is well lit at any time of the day and in any weather.


Functional lighting

Functional lighting provides your eyes with the best conditions for performing your work tasks. The exact lighting you need depends on your individual needs, the type of activity, and the conditions of the specific space, but it is always important to have even lighting throughout your working area. A tip is to hold a pen straight down on the work surface – if it only casts one shadow, your lighting is falling correctly. The light should be dimmable for individual adjustment.


Accent lighting

Accent lighting, also known as decorative lighting, gives an extra touch, creating the atmosphere and emotional experience of an environment. It can consist of dimmable spotlights or suspended lighting that enhances the feeling of a specific interior design solution, but also lighting that helps with navigation, invites you to sit down in a quiet lounge area or encourages creativity at a project table. There may also be raking lights on walls to enhance or diminish one's perception of the environment.

In addition, there is the ever-important daylight that makes you alert, positive, healthy and improves your quality of sleep. Therefore, indoor lighting should resemble daylight as closely as possible and we should preferably never be more than three metres from a window. It is beneficial to take a short outdoor walk during the day to increase the amount of daylight you get.

Flexible individualised lighting

These are the rough strokes. The need for light then varies daily and during the year, depending on what the task is, not to mention throughout one's life – older people tend to need another kind of light and more of it than younger people. Flexible solutions such as positionable arms, dimmers and the ability to illuminate zones and types of environments with different lighting enhance the employee experience. Being able to individually control lighting has many advantages, simply because we all have different preferences and needs. Some may prefer to start the day with a bit dimmer lighting, while others may need brighter lighting to perform optimally. Feeling that we are in control also makes us feel secure and comfortable in an environment. In short, lighting is an important cog in the holistic ergonomics wheel. One expression used in this context is Human Centric Lighting.


It’s about trying to recreate the natural circadian rhythm daylight provides using artificial light. The concept may be new, but our view of lighting is and always has been that it should be based on people’s needs and make life and work easier for everyone.

Henrik Clausen, light researcher and head of Fagerhult Lighting Academy

Enhance your interior design solution with light and illumination

In other words, daylight and electric light fundamentally affect how we perceive a room, perform in it and our emotions, but the quality of light is also determined by how the illumination and the interior design interact. The best result is achieved when architecture, lighting and interior design are planned together, as furniture colours and textures affect the whole. Planning interior design and lighting in conjunction creates a stimulating environment that has a positive effect on employee health and performance. By "painting" with light, you can draw a person's attention or enhance their visual impression of an environment. It is a common mistake to utilise only flat light, i.e. only one type of fitting. Flat light lacks contrast and shadows and the environment then ends up void of clear delineations and dynamics. You can compare this to having only one type of furniture in your working environment.

Some basics to consider:

Bright colours reflect light

When it comes to human biological needs, it is important that there is sufficient light in the right place to positively impact well-being and performance. Remember that bright colours more easily reflect light and will result in brighter environments. The darker the colours of an environment, the more lighting is required. Indirect, reflected light from walls, ceilings and partition and desktop screens is just as important as direct light.

Consider contrasts

Avoid excessive light contrast between your work surface and the rest of the work environment, as it makes it more difficult for the eye to adapt. Choose a gentle colour or natural wood for your tabletop to avoid disruptive contrasts and to achieve an even light distribution on your work surface. Use TV screens for presentations instead of projectors, as they provide better contrast and do not require you to turn off the lights in the rest of the room.

Keep glare to a minimum

Do not place desks facing a window, as it may be too bright. Nor should you have a window behind you as the outdoor light will reflect on your screen. Instead, place your desk beside the window so that daylight comes in from the side. If the light is too bright, use blinds to adjust the daylight.

3 tips for better lighting

types of light

The key to good lighting is having different types of light. Always start with daylight and then add general, functional and accent lighting. These different types of lighting create a functional whole, highlighting specific environments and providing good variation in a room.

Sufficient amount of light

In the northern hemisphere, daylight is in short supply during parts of the year. This needs to be compensated with electric lighting to maintain performance and health. When we get too little light, the hormone melatonin is released making us tired and potentially causing headaches, while higher light levels release cortisol, making us more alert and helping us perform better. 


Our need for light changes throughout the day, year and our lifetime. The ability to control and change our lighting means that it can be customised to our needs, the individual and the activity at hand. Feeling in control affects well-being and security and has a positive effect on our ability to do our job optimally – and also helps us be more energy-efficient.

Sustainable lighting for new needs

At the organisational level, flexible lighting helps to future-proof the business, but Fagerhult’s product manager Cecilia Niva also talks about the higher electricity costs and the increasingly important sustainability aspect. "The need for light is rarely constant in all rooms and around the clock so we don't want to waste energy where it doesn't do any good. With automated lighting control, we can reduce electricity consumption significantly," she says. Another aspect that has emerged in recent years is how light should be adapted in our meeting environments to not only function in physical meetings, but also in digital and hybrid meetings. We not only want to look good on screen, but we also want lighting to promote human communication without disruptive shadows.   

Even in physical environments, if the light quality is poor, it will be difficult to interpret our counterpart’s reactions and facial expressions, a problem that is made worse on screen. For video conferencing, the basic rule is to have cylindrical lighting coming straight on from different angles.

Cecilia Niva, product manager at Fagerhult

Kinnarps creates total interior design solutions focusing on sustainability and ergonomics. We shape tailor-made solutions that promote well-being and success. No matter where you are in the process with your space, we would be happy to contribute with knowledge and guidance to create the best environments for you and your organisation. 

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