Building the eye-friendly workplace

In the 21st century, the field of behavioral economics has made respectable an idea that most of us probably already knew in our guts to be true: People don’t always act rationally. Our guts may be right on that one, but more often what we feel to be intuitively true leads us to buy into fallacies that don’t hold up on further examination. We believe that because we’ve already put so much time into a project, we need to keep plugging away even after it’s become obvious it won’t succeed. (The sunk cost fallacy.) We think because tech stocks keep going up, they’re going to go up forever. (The hot-hand fallacy.)

In short, humans are emotional animals. Our guts don’t always lead us in the right direction, whether it comes to money, relationships, or our health. To get to where we want to be, sometimes we need a nudge.

Office designers in the 21st century are starting to get this. Today’s most progressive workplaces do so many things to maximize productivity, culture and comfort—designer furniture, shuffleboard table, music, great snacks, gourmet coffee, high-quality swag, maybe even an on-site gym. The insight: happy, engaged employees are more productive employees. Companies do well by promoting wellness. These built-in nudges guide employees to the kinds of behaviors that make them better workers, which in turn generates returns for the company.

But there’s one area where companies themselves could use a nudge: eye health. Six-and-a-half hours of each workday are spent looking at some type of computer screen. That number grows to eleven hours total if you include screen time outside of work. It’s an environment that puts eyes at risk of strain, which can lead to vision problems, headaches, and other health problems down the road.

Companies can aid their workers’ eye wellness by encouraging them to use their vision benefits. In particular, HR managers can remind employees to get their annual eye exam, where they can talk to their doctor about whether computer vision glasses or anti-reflective coatings like TechShield Blue are the right choice for cutting down on workplace eye strain. These reminders can be built into a wider program of encouraging eye health that includes workspaces designed to be eye-friendly.


Lighting that’s optimized for a conference room may make that designer table look great, but did you consider the glare from that big window? A key concept for office designers to keep in mind: “brightness ratio”—how well-lit a workspace is compared to its surroundings. Too little contrast can cause strain by making it hard for workers to see what they’re doing. But too much contrast can also cause strain, according to guidelines published by the American Academy of Ophthalmology: “When your screen is much brighter than your surroundings, your eyes have to work harder to see.” The “temperature” of lighting in the office also matters when it comes to eye health: short of providing the real thing via ample and well-placed windows, workplaces should strive to approximate natural light.


Dry eyes can sting, itch, and even lead to blurry vision. Yes, you can keep a bottle of eye drops on your desk. But employers should stay on top of humidity levels in their offices to proactively combat this unpleasant condition. In too many offices, climate control consists of two settings: heat when it’s cold, air conditioning when it’s hot. Especially with today’s smart thermostats and mini-humidifiers, companies can expend minimal effort to keep the office climate more friendly to workers’ eyes.


Employers have gotten smarter about ergonomics. Work lost to repetitive strain injuries has proven costly in recent decades. But workplaces need to be smart about ergonomics for the eyes, as well. Screens should be large, crisp, and easy to see. Position them at about arm’s-length to ease the strain that comes from sitting either too close or too far away. And encourage employees to follow the “20-20-20” rule to exercise their eyes: Every 20 minutes, spend at least 20 seconds focusing your eyes on something at least 20 feet away.


Beyond 20-20-20, the setups of our screens themselves should be optimized for eye comfort. Glare and reflections on screens force the eye to constantly re-adjust to stay focused on the screen itself, which causes fatigue and strain. Office designers should consider laying out desks to avoid strong reflections coming from windows or light sources. At the same time, you can minimize glare and reflection by controlling lighting to cut down on excessive contrast.

Offices designed for eye health don’t take a lot of extra products or technologies; it just takes awareness that a few simple changes can give workers the nudge they need toward better overall eye health. Combining conscientious design choices in an office with encouragement to get that annual eye exam can help employees work better and make companies more productive, supportive environments.

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