Can workplace colours affect the way we work and think?
Posted by Hayley Blacker on 28/07/2016
Complexity in colour: can workplace colours really improve employee wellbeing and productivity?
In modern day society, many people around the world spend a considerable amount of time in enclosed rooms and buildings, such as offices. Therefore creating a workspace that can potentially help with motivation, productivity and wellbeing is more important than ever.
Colour and Mood
The debate as to whether colour can affect our mood, productivity and general psychological wellbeing has been argued throughout history and continues in contemporary psychology. The question as to the relationship between human behaviour and colour is not a simple one. One of the first studies to look into the relationship between colour and mood was in 1979 by Schauss in a study on American prisons, it was found that by painting the walls pink, aggressive behaviours reduced. These findings became so widely accepted that prisons all around the U.S and Canada followed suit.
Lack of research?
There is a wealth of psychological research suggesting that colour can have a significant effect on mood, however the research on colour and employee productivity is less substantial.
Real world examples
It’s important to look at how psychological theories on colour may have impacted companies to implement colour into the workspace to improve productivity and wellbeing. Corporate giants like Google are reported to have A/B tested different colours around their office space to assess which colours can have different effects. For example it was found that purple had a negative impact in the work environment, as reported by CBS.
Unsurprisingly Dulux have used their own paint colours to enhance aesthetics in the aim of increasing health and wellbeing. Builders Space report that Sonica Bucksteg, a colour expert at Dulux claims that “businesses should always consider the use of colour to promote a positive image, as well to establish an environment where people will prosper”.
How we use colour
In our office designs we use colour in a multitude of ways, whether it's to separate departments or highlight features colour will enhance a workspace.
A prime example of this is CPI Books, where the use of colour really transformed the office, paying attention to the details such as coloured screens, carpets and even painting the ductwork blue to make it stand out.
Different colours - different effects?
Workplace colour is an important consideration that can influence employees performance and productivity, according to a study conducted at the University of Central Lancashire. This leads to the question of why, and if different colours have different effects.
Red can be ideal for stimulating the brain which can sometimes increase heart rate and respiration rates as found by a study by The University of Texas. Dr. David Lewis supported this hypothesis when it was found the colour red can increase tension when subjects were tested on a variety of tasks in ‘colour booths’. However not all research supports this hypothesis, as reported by The Telegraph, red can actually be perceived positively by employees, and can be good at motivating people.
Blue and green have a significant amount of supporting evidence about their potential positive effects. For example a study by The University of British Columbia, found cognitively blue and green can have a calming effect. Therefore it could be suggested if the office environment is of a stressful nature, these colours may help relieve that stress if they feature frequently. Dr. David Lewis suggests that blue was the all-round winner for enhancing mood and helping brain function.
Other colours may also have a specific effect on people’s mood. Yellow was suggested to be to be good for energising and evoking enthusiasm among employees. Entrepreneur suggests that yellow is an optimistic colour that can help stimulate creativity. White can be a good colour to make a space look bigger, and according to Digsy can ‘inspire optimism’.
After reading the evidence on how different colours may have different effects it would not be surprising if someone would jump the gun and paint their whole office yellow to inspire creativity in their employees. However the relationship between colours and human behaviour is multifaceted and more complex than these findings would suggest.
Why colour is important to us
Zoe Parr, one of our designers, has her say on the importance of colour in the workplace after designing the colourful office of Ultimate Finance featured in the picture to the left.
"Colour in an office creates a vibrant and upbeat workspace. With just the use of a bright colour palette the design and feel of an office can be lifted drastically."
Complexity in colour
To assume that colour can improve wellbeing and productivity on its own would be reductionistic and unrealistic. It is almost impossible to accurately measure the exact causality and cause and effect of wellbeing, mood and productivity. These variables are complex in their nature and can be affected by many different aspects in and outside of the office environment. The classic study by Kwallek et al suggests that colour schemes alone may not have any discernible impact on productivity. But it was found that interior workplace colour could affect mood.
The link between colour, wellbeing and productivity is tentative, yet a link still exists. We think that colour cannot be the sole contributor on productivity and wellbeing. Nevertheless colour is clearly an important aspect of office design that can impact upon how we work.
“businesses should always consider the use of colour to promote a positive image, as well to establish an environment where people will prosper”
- Sonica Bucksteg, Dulux Colour Specialist