Boost Employee Productivity by Managing Blue Light Exposure

Kara Johnson, MD, FACS

Kara Johnson, MD, FACS

Theres no shortage of warnings about the effects of too much screen time on our eyes. Physicians warn that the blue light emitted from our computers, phones, tablets, TVs and other devices has the potential to damage our retinas over time, as well as cause more immediate symptoms of eye strain, also called ocular fatigue, which may include blurred vision, headaches, dry eyes and other temporary discomfort. 

But another detrimental effect of too much blue light has not been discussed nearly enough: the strain it puts on the quality and quantity of our sleep. For business leaders, this can translate into a steady drain on employee productivity and morale. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to put a stop in this drain, effectively lifting productivity and performance across the board.

How Blue Light Affects Our Bodies 

Over the past year, as meetings have turned into Zoom events and work-from-home policies have people staring at their devices at all times of the day and night, Americans are being blasted with blue light like never before. Its not always a bad thing, blue light. During the day, it serves to stimulate and energize us. But in the evening, it throws off our circadian rhythms and blocks the melatonin pathways that help us sleep. (The hormone melatonin is essential to a variety of physical processes, so suppressing its production can lead to issues ranging from sleeplessness, anxiety and depression to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer.)

Eye damage ” in particular, accelerated macular degeneration ” is emerging as a by-product of too much blue light as well. While scientists dont have conclusive data yet, since this particular area of study will require several decades of data collection, experiments completed on animals portend a future in which the use of electronic devices with screens will need to be regulated in the workplace.

Research Supports the Case for Blue Light-Filtering Glasses

A natural result of the negative effects of blue light on circadian rhythms is compromised productivity. Sleepy employees simply cannot perform to their fullest. A recent research study  found that the simple practice of wearing $69 blue light-blocking glasses for two hours a day not only boosted productivity but also resulted in higher work engagement, an increase in helpful behaviors and even higher customer ratings.

Barnes studied 63 managers and 67 customer service representatives, asking each to wear blue light-filtering glasses for two hours before bedtime for one week. Either the previous or the following week, the same participants were asked to wear a different pair of glasses during the same daily period for a week. They were not aware that one pair of glasses blocked blue light while the other did not, and they were not advised as to any potential changes in sleep or performance. 

When questioned afterward, the study groups reported:

• 5 to 6 percent longer sleep

• 11 to 14 percent better sleep

• 8 to 9 percent higher work engagement

• 17 to 18 percent more helping behaviors

• 12 percent fewer negative work behaviors

Managers self-reported their performance to be 7 percent higher during their blue light-blocking week. For the CSR study, customer evaluations were averaged across the workday; ratings were 9 percent higher during their blue light-blocking week. 

Actions You Can Take

Achieving such positive results at such a low cost per employee is promising for company leaders everywhere. You can protect your employees health while strengthening your business simply by providing them with glasses and guidance for how to use them. (Dont count out future OSHA compliance, either: Once the effects of blue light are more fully understood, we can expect to see new employee safety regulations.)

But glasses arent the only protective measure you can take. Here are some simple ways to combat the negative impacts of blue light on employee health and productivity:

• Education. Tell employees what they need to know about the effects of blue light and how they can take steps to protect themselves in addition to implementing the measures you provide ” modifying their routines to limit evening exposure, using night mode apps and maintaining an eye-healthy diet, for example.

• Blue light-blocking glasses to protect your sleep. There is an important distinction between yellow glasses to protect your sleep and the almost-clear glasses to protect your eyes.  The $69 blue light-blocking glasses Barnes used in his study are great, but Ive also seen some in the $20 range that can be effective. Its just important to make sure they block the blue light. That means they should have yellow lenses.  This often makes everything around you look funny, but thats how you know its protecting your circadian rhythm.  While a bit pricier, the glasses from Melanin Products offer a much more visually comfortable solution to the yellow glasses and are actually classified as a medical device because their science has been validated by the FDA.

• Screen protectors. Protective covers for computer monitors, laptops, tablets and smartphones are very effective in blocking blue light and require minimal daily effort. They offer a one-and-done solution, which makes them the easiest measure you can put into place. You apply them to the computer or device, and thats where they stay. No need to remember to put on glasses. These screen protectors are excellent at preventing the slow, blinding damage to your eyes, but we dont have sufficient evidence that they are adequate protection of your circadian rhythm.  There are a couple of companies out there that do a great job with protective products, including Reticare® and EyeSafe” they provide the science behind their products so that you know exactly what youre getting.

Its not difficult to mitigate the risks of blue light exposure in the workplace, but it is important to address this issue soon: Every night of mediocre sleep brings another day of suboptimal performance.

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