office with lots of natural light and different zoned spaces to allow flexibility in workspace

How to help others live their light ideal

If you’re an employer or in charge of an environment where people spend a lot of time – for example, hospital, nursery, school, college, university, care home, prison – you can play an important role in helping people to meet their light nutrition needs so that they can be happier, healthier and more productive all year round.

It can be a challenge to meet the needs of lots of individuals within a single environment. However, if we put people’s wellbeing at the heart of creating environments and cultures then we can design in flexibility to help everyone meet their own individual light nutrition needs.

What are the benefits of helping your people to live their light ideal?

For employers, staff costs, including salaries and benefits, typically account for around 90% of a business’ operating costs. If you can improve staff productivity then you get a better return on your investment. It is estimated that replacing an employee can cost SMEs £12,000. Research by Deloitte in partnership with Mind found that poor mental health costs employers up to £45bn each year, but for every £1 spent on supporting their people’s mental health, employers get £5 back on their investment in reduced presenteeism, absenteeism and staff turnover. In a study by office supplier Staples, 80% of UK workers said office lighting was important to them. A Future Workplace and View study in the US revealed that improved air quality and light are the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness, and wellbeing.

In healthcare settings, research has shown that patients recover quicker from operations, spend less time in hospital, need less pain relief, experience less depression and there are also disinfectant properties.

1. Tune into your own light nutrition needs

One of the first things that you can do is to consider how your environment makes you feel and what barriers you have to meeting your own light nutrition needs in the space you’re in. Getting used to tuning into your own needs provides a great starting point for being able to empathise with other people’s needs.

2. Speak to your people about their experiences

Once you have considered your own needs and barriers, open up conversations with other people that spend time in your building. You could share with them that you have been considering how the environment makes you feel as a first step and you’re interested in whether other people have the same or different needs. Let them know that you’re open to making changes where helpful and possible.

Some questions you could ask them are:

  • How do you feel about the environment you’re in?
  • Do you experience any discomfort such as migraines?
  • How well do you sleep?
  • What would you change about your environment, given the chance?
  • How do you spend break times?
  • If you don’t go outside during the daytime, what stops you?

3. Generate problem-solving ideas

There are usually lots of things that you can do to help improve the environment that you and your people are in, once you bring your awareness to it. Some changes you’ll be able to make yourself. Others, you might need to work with your building manager or landlord on. At this stage, just take the information you have and generate ideas, no matter whether they seem possible to change right now or not.

To get your ideas flowing, here are some possibilities you might consider for your environment and people:

Environmental changes

  • Give people additional task lights for their workspace to allow them to vary their own illumination levels while working or doing activities
  • Make specialist SAD lights available – this could be for individuals in their workspace, in a quiet room or easy area, or have a pool of the lights that people can use when they want
  • Have flexible temporary shade available for windows and desks that individuals can use if light is bothering them but without blocking out all light for others not affected
  • Consider if you have people situated in the right places – people that spend most of their day in your building or a particular room should be given priority for natural light – don’t have support and administrative staff in deep plan offices with little or no natural light while having employees that move between environments a lot (e.g. teachers, lecturers, doctors, business development staff, senior management) not occupying their offices that have lots of natural light. This is often the case because people of greater seniority have the ‘perk’ of access to natural light. See if you can change this or give flexibility for their rooms to be used by others when they’re not in use
  • Check whether you’re using the lighting scheme in your workspace as intended by the lighting designer – do you have lights out? Have you moved desks to different positions that might be causing glare for some people? A lighting consultant would be able to help you assess this if needed
  • Consider which lights you have in different spaces – a thoughtful change to your luminaires can make a huge difference to your people’s wellbeing
    • Are they high quality?
    • What colour temperature and brightness are they and is that appropriate to the room’s main use – e.g. cooler and brighter for workspace and activities, warmer and dimmer for relaxing areas
  • Is there anything in front of your windows that is blocking natural light? Large filing cabinets and cupboards, tall screen dividers, pull-up banner ads and large plants can all affect light levels indoors while outdoors overgrown trees or hedges can make a big difference
  • Assess how the colour of your walls, furniture, soft furnishings and decorations work for your people at different times of the day and year and in different light conditions – do they reflect light or absorb it? Consider how you use your rooms – if it’s one people spend the most time in through the daytime working or doing activities, you might want to maximise light with a lighter scheme. Relaxing spaces might take some darker colours to make the environment cosy
  • If you have a bright space that isn’t being well used currently, (e.g. lobbies, reception areas, wide walkways) consider putting some seating near the windows for people to take breaks in natural light when they don’t feel like going outside or to give them some flexibility over where they work or do activities
  • Could you provide an outdoor bright sheltered area that people can get outside without getting wet? Smoking shelters are a good example – but provide one for people who don’t smoke
  • If you don’t already have outdoor space for people to use, is that a possibility? Any seating in a safe area can be used for break times and if you can make the space pleasant with outdoor plants all the better

Behavioural changes

  • Where possible offer flexibility to allow people to work on their own individual schedules – different chronotypes will mean that some people want to be up and active early while others are better later in the day
  • Allow people to set their own break times where possible so that they can help keep their circadian rhythm entrained by eating at regular times
  • Encourage people to take breaks and have meetings outdoors or to use bright indoor areas next to windows flexibly – whether they’re based at your property or remotely
  • Give your people flexibility over where they work or do activities and relax so they can take advantage of brighter spaces – sometimes getting away from usual work or activity spaces can allow for different thinking – e.g. creative, strategic and problem-solving
  • Make healthy snacks readily available – in autumn and winter giving in to carbohydrate cravings can make us even more sluggish and impact our mood
  • Harness the natural energy shifts of you and your people where possible and align tasks to the energies – for example, reflect, review and do long-term strategic planning in winter. Do your annual tactical planning, kick off new initiatives, do decorating and deep cleaning in spring. Hold events and activities, have sales pushes, tests and make organisational changes in summer and early autumn. Wrap up projects, do stock takes and restock in autumn
  • Recognise and allow for individual differences in the seasonality of your people where possible – social gatherings, networking and intense activity might be unwelcome in winter for some people, while others might be at their most comfortable then, while being uncomfortable in summer

4. Plan and implement changes

Some of the ideas you have will be more doable than others – it’s about doing what you can. Plan to tackle the easiest and cheapest ones first so you get some momentum going. Check in with people to see if the changes are helping, then move on to the more tricky and expensive ones once you’ve got more buy-in from the other changes. Depending on your organisation, you might need to create a study to help you make your case.

For some of the changes, you might find it helpful to work with a lighting designer or consultant, interior designer or wellbeing specialist. You might need to get permission from your landlord or building manager for some changes if you don’t own the building and working with professionals could help you to make the case more effectively.

Some of the changes will also need for your organisation to work on its culture – demonstrating trust, in particular. Often you’ll find that you can make environmental changes and encourage behavioural changes but there can be a major barrier to people making full use of the opportunities you’re offering. Disapproval.

Even when an initiative is approved and early adoptors start to change their behaviours or make use of some of the environmental tools on offer, disapproving comments and looks from managers, colleagues and peers can stop people from meeting their needs. This can discourage others from starting to make changes if they see or hear disapproval towards others. It isn’t easy to catch this going on, so you’ll need to plan how you’ll get buy-in and monitor results.

Helping your people to live their light ideal isn’t just one thing, one time. It’s encouraging a regular awareness and dialogue about how their environment and behaviours make them feel, helping them to identify what they need and supporting them to meet those needs. Making small changes can make a huge difference to everyone’s energy levels and mood.

Being happier, healthier and more productive will have a positive effect on everyone’s lives inside and outside of your building. It has a ripple effect, helping your people be the best they can be in all their roles, whatever goals you’re all reaching for.


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