It can be a difficult proposition to approach your employer and acknowledge that the company work environment may be affecting your on-the-job performance. But you’re not alone. The truth is fluorescents and other harsh lighting can have a dramatic impact on how we feel in the workplace, and it can be exacerbated further by known chronic conditions such as migraine or fibromyalgia. So how can you convince your employer to allow for certain accommodations that reduce the negative effects of light? We have a few strategies that may help.
Start with your direct superior, but involve HR if necessary
The best action to begin addressing the issue is by taking it up with your boss. In addition to respecting the corporate chain of command, it is likely he/she has a greater understanding of the company’s process for implementing these types of changes. You might also reasonably expect that individual to want to invest their time and effort in improving the employee morale and productivity within their immediate purview. At minimum, initiating a conversation with your direct superior can open the dialogue on the issue and help you gauge their willingness to address it.
If your boss is reluctant or unaware of the process, it may make sense to involve your Human Resources representative or department. In many cases, they will have directed guidelines for the best remediation alternatives. In addition, the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) states that employers must “provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees...except when such accommodation would cause an undue hardship.” The HR department should be aware of these concerns and be equipped to address them promptly.
Support your business case with facts
Your doctor can be one of the most important resources when it comes to addressing light sensitivity with your company. A great tip is to have your primary care physician or specialist provide a note that explains that light triggers or worsens your condition and subsequently give it to your boss or HR department. In addition, it may make sense to document any corresponding loss of productivity that affects the business. If certain tasks were negatively impacted as a result of how the office environment made you feel, then documenting them over an extended period of time can help bolster your argument.
Separately, many employers may not be aware of the harmful impact of lighting. Here are just a few noteworthy statistics that you can offer:
- Fluorescent lighting has been shown to double the rate of headaches reported by office workers.(1)
- Studies indicate that 80% to 90% of people have photophobia—or painful light sensitivity—during a migraine attack.(2-5) Additional research has shown that certain wavelengths of light can trigger attacks.(6)
- One study noted that more than two-thirds of individuals who experience a migraine attack during a workday resulted in lost productivity - either through absenteeism or presenteeism.(7)
- These indirect costs of headaches associated with migraine specifically have been estimated as high as $24B in lost productivity for United States corporations.(8)
This is powerful information that reflects not only the pervasive nature of light sensitivity and migraine, but the tangible impact it can have on business activities.
Highlight value of small changes
Sometimes, it is the smallest of changes that can yield exponential improvements, and it is important to emphasize that your requests to minimize light triggers in the workplace does not (as the ADA regulation states) create “undue hardship” for the business. Perhaps it is starting with overhead fluorescent diffusers for your office or work area; maybe it is the addition of a desk or floor lamp; or the purchase of anti-glare monitor covers. Additionally, given that research shows certain tinted eyewear can reduce attacks by as much as 74% as well improve overall light sensitivity and eye strain, the simple act of authorizing your use of this product may be all that is necessary if your work requires authorization. And of course, the sum of any or all of these can make a huge difference on how you feel and how you perform at work.
Another tactic you might utilize, as suggested by Alison Green in US News & World Report, is to encourage a trial or test period. Request to allow any of these activities to be run on a short term basis, such as two weeks, and note if there were any improvements in your health and/or productivity. This will help reduce friction on the part of those decision makers who might otherwise be concerned over major policy changes for the company. Again, it is important to document during this time period and report back with tangible data. In our experience, this is one of the best ways to create these types of changes because it is much harder for an employer to say “no” to a trial, and it is even more difficult to roll back new policy after it has been implemented, especially if it is effective.
Do you have any other suggestions for convincing your boss to address light sensitivity issues? Tell us in the comments below!
1. Wilkins A, Veitch J, Lehman B. LED lighting flicker and potential health concerns: IEEE s standard PAR1789 update. Energy Conversion Congress and Exposition 2010;171-178.
2. Choi JY, Oh K, Kim BJ, Chung CS, Koh SB, Park KW. Usefulness of a photophobia questionnaire in patients with migraine. Cephalalgia 2009;29:953-959.
3. Rasmussen BK, Jensen R, Olesen J. A population-based analysis of the diagnostic criteria of the International Headache Society. Cephalalgia 1991;11:129-34.
4. Russell MB, Rasmussen BK, Fenger K, Olesen J. Migraine without aura and migraine with aura are distinct clinical entities: a study of four hundred and eighty-four male and female migraineurs from the general population. Cephalalgia 1996;16:239-45.
5. Solomon S, Cappa KG, Smith CR. Common migraine: criteria for diagnosis. Headache 1988;28:124-9.
6. Tatsumoto M, Eda T, Ishikawa T, Ayama M, Hirata, K. Light of intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cell (ipRGC) Causing Migraine Headache Exacerbation. International Headache Congress Symposium OR3. 2013 June.
7. Landy SH, Runken MC, Bell CF, Higbie RL, Haskins LS. Assessing the impact of migraine onset on work productivity. J Occup Environ Med. 2011 Jan;53(1):74-81
8. Burton WN, Conti DJ, Chen CY, Schultz AB, Edington DW. The economic burden of lost productivity due to migraine headache: a specific worksite analysis. J Occup Environ Med. 2002 Jun;44(6):523-9.