How To Get Better Lighting and Air?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about ventilation and lighting:

I work in an enclosed office setting without any windows or natural ventilation. The only windows that provide natural lighting are in the front of the office where our two supervisors are located. These windows do not open, they are merely for adornment. Our office is often referred to as a rat maze. The infrastructure is similar to that of a scientific experiment model.

My personal office is located in the interior of this model. I am a 46 year old, Italian woman in menopause; thus, I am naturally hot blooded and moody. The majority of my co-workers are cold blooded. In the winter, the average temperature set on the thermostat is 74 degrees. I haven’t worn sweaters in years (even before menopause). It is easier to put clothes on than to take clothes off. With energy at a premium rate, we should all abide by reducing the thermostat to help the earth and pocketbook.

The artificial fluorescent lighting is very draining. There are no parabolic louvers on any of our light fixtures; hence, the direct flow of light is hard on those of us that wear contacts. In a nutshell, I am hot and going blind. Not to mention that I am exhausted by the end of the day. All of these things are very draining to our bodies. It makes for an uncomfortable work environment. This is a state-operated facility and it is an act of congress to make change. Any suggestions? I have five years to retirement.


Hot and Bothered

Dear Hot and Bothered:

Your work setting does sound uncomfortable in many ways, and not one in which I would want to work—but it is not unusual for an office setting, and seems to have been that way for awhile. Thus, it is not likely to be changed to any great extent.There are only two approaches to take: See what can be done organizationally to minimize some aspects of the overall situation, or do some things to minimize your own discomfort. Start with what you can do personally, because it is quicker and more likely to happen.I think it will be better accepted to simply say that you are uncomfortably hot and have problems with your eyes because of your reaction to the lighting, than using the argument about energy or being naturally hot-blooded or some other argument.

The fact is that if you were comfortable you probably would not be bringing up those issues, so this is simply a personal issue for you and perhaps a few others. Not all Italians get hot, but you do. Not all women going through menopause get hot either, but you do. Not all people who wear contacts are bothered by fluorescent lights, but you are. There are probably people in your large work area who fit all of your descriptions, but who feel fine or at least better than you do. I say that to point out that sometimes people who want assistance with a personal issue, try to make it a larger issue and no one buys it. For one thing, there will always be someone around who has the same situation, but who is not bothered. Better to just stick with your personal discomfort. If almost every employee is experiencing significant decreases in effectiveness, that would be something to bring up.The only thing that will significantly help the lighting will be new light fixtures, or somehow adapting the ones you have. If enough people are bothered, perhaps there could be a group request to look into the matter for the next budget year.

The OSHA website talks about monitor glare and mentions a few things about lighting. You might also want to suggest using a softer light bulb to reduce glare. Many of them are available now, and only cost a bit more.I have found it helpful to have my own small lamp on my desk. I don’t know if there is any scientific basis for it, but I think it tends to offset some of the glare.

Consider getting a “sunshine” light that has the spectrum of natural light. I had one of those for awhile and liked it, but found it to be a bit too bright.In your case, you may find extra light adds to the heat of your area as well, which might be a problem. You may also want to research or ask an optician about which sun-glass lens would work best to reduce glare but not put you in darkness. A male friend of mine wears those at work. They are so light they are barely noticeable, but they reduce glare and rest his eyes. He also uses eye drops a couple of times a day and says his eyes never bother him anymore. If you wear contacts, you probably have an optician you could talk to.

As for temperature, buy a small fan to circulate air, and sip cold water throughout the day. Both of those lower your body temperature. And, it sounds as though you are already ensuring you don’t wear layers or tight clothing.Regarding your comment about it being easier to put clothes on if the temperature is lower, rather than the reverse, that is actually not true for helping people be comfortable at work. The coldest part of most people who get cold are their hands, feet and face, and those can’t easily be bundled up. It is easier to put a fan directly on oneself than to have many others wear gloves while word processing!

There is no easy solution to these issues, I realize that. Perhaps you could check to find out what other state offices in your area are doing to make things more habitable for everyone. Or, you could ask your supervisors if you could look into developing a work group to discuss ways to make things better.Your goal is to find solutions to the problem without becoming a problem, and that is always a difficult goal to achieve! By focusing on what you can do on your own, then on what might help everyone or the largest majority, you will show your team focus and personal responsibility.Best wishes.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.