my office is fighting about overhead lighting, how to address an employee’s bad attitude, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. We’re having lighting wars … and half my coworkers want to work in darkness

Our cubicle farm office of about 90 people is undergoing “lighting wars.” One person asked to have the lights above his cube removed because the glare gave him headaches. That prompted another person to ask if the lights above her cube could be taken out, and then another, and another. When they found out that our facilities guy didn’t object to going up and down a stepladder 10 times a day, many people went along with it. Whole swathes of the open plan floor were suddenly plunged into total or semi-darkness, with no light source but glowing monitors. It seems to break along age lines, with people under 35 preferring the darkness. However, many of our jobs require people to look at faxed handwritten papers that are sometimes hard to decipher. I question how well that can be done by the light of a computer screen.

All of this might have stayed just an acceptable office fad if contiguous groups of employees hadn’t gotten together and declared their sections “light free.” New employees were given the option to have the lights above their cubes turned on, but not many did, knowing they were going against the will of the larger group. No manager wanted to step into this because they didn’t think it was worth the ill will. The capper came when a senior manager walked into a room on a dark, rainy morning and flipped on the overhead lights. She walked out a few minutes later, but had to return a second time and was surprised to see the entire room dark again, so she flipped on the lights again. This led one of the analysts to come completely unhinged and start raging at the senior manager at the top of her lungs, hollering and shouting. She had to be led out of the room and was sent home for the day – but she’s a whole ‘nother story. In any case, the lines have hardened: 1) lights off and the senior manager had no business flipping them on, to 2) who runs the show around here anyway? Has anyone had an issue like this? We have no policy about this because who would ever think that office lights would become such an issue?

The biggest issue here is your unhinged analyst who exploded in rage at the senior manager. Either this person is a problem in myriad other ways, or this lighting situation has been allowed to take up way too much emotional space in people’s minds. Or both. I think I’m guessing both.

Anyway, if people like it to be darker, let them have it be darker — as long as it’s not impacting the ability of other people to get the light they need to do their work. The concern is whether people, especially newer employees, are being pressured into accepting no lights because they don’t want to make waves with people who apparently feel quite strongly about this. Ultimately people’s right to work in space that’s sufficiently lit for their eyes and their work trumps other people’s preference to have it dimmer, so you’ve got to make sure that people who want light do truly get it. One way to do that would be to just turn the lights on everywhere (and you might point out to the people going overboard here that they’re going to ruin it entirely if they push your company into solving it that way), or to turn on just half the lights, or even to just buy lamps for anyone who wants them.

2. How can I address my employee’s bad attitude?

Reading yesterday’s post about the person sending the email to their boss and giving her the silent treatment made me wonder if you could share some tips about managing folks with attitude/professionalism problems like this.

I have to meet with a staff member this week who is generally good at her job but has become increasingly disrespectful and resistant to any direction. It came to head over an inappropriate email as well, though differently inappropriate, more disrespectful/borderline insubordinate. Her attitude makes it difficult for me to work with her, but every time I talk to her about anything she is so unpleasant about it and afterwards it is almost the silent treatment. Do you have suggestions for the manager to address the attitude without making the whole situation even more unpleasant? She wants quite desperately to be transferred to work anywhere but here, but doesn’t realize that her attitude is going to make that impossible. So I plan to make that clear in the meeting–but she is still griping about the time I told her they’d come up with a new procedure they wanted us to follow that was different from what she did.

I know I can’t make her respect me, but is there a way that discussing disrespectful attitude will result in better attitude and not just make the problem worse?

Managers sometimes worry that they can’t address attitude issues as straightforwardly as they would performance issues, but you can and you should. In fact, you should frame it exactly the the same way you would a performance issue — “what you’re doing is ___, and what I need is ___.” Just make sure that you’re specific about what she’s doing that needs to change (as opposed to just lumping it all under “bad attitude”). For instance: “Part of what we need in this role is someone with a cheerful, can-do attitude and a willingness to hear feedback. That means I need you to be pleasant to coworkers, participate in meetings, not roll your eyes or otherwise be dismissive when people talk, and be open to discussing areas where I ask you to do something differently.”

And if the problem is severe enough that it could conceivably lead you to replace the person without significant improvement, you should be transparent about that: “I want to be clear that this is important enough that without significant improvement in the next few weeks, we would need to move you out of this role.”

Also, read this.

3. Shouldn’t this CEO have asked me about salary?

During a second and final interview with a CEO, he didn’t ask me how much I would ask for a salary, although during the first interview with executive managers I did indicate a salary range after they had asked me to. I found it strange that a CEO wouldn’t ask me for a salary indication. What’s your advice?

He didn’t ask because he’s focusing on other things in his interview with you — and besides, someone else already asked you, anyway. The assumption is that you’re not going to give different answers about salary to different people, so there’s no need for him to raise it with you a second time. (But even if someone else hadn’t already covered it, I wouldn’t assume he would have — his role is to evaluate you in a more high-level way.)

4. How can I ask how likely I am to be laid off?

I work at a unionized nonprofit. Recently we were told that layoffs were possible if we didn’t receive renewal of a certain grant. It is possible that the grant will be fully funded, partially funded, or not funded at all. We won’t have a decision on this for a couple of months.

We were given a list of worst-case scenario positions that would be eliminated, and mine was on it. They were listed in no particular order. I think a partially-funded grant is more realistic than no funding, which likely still means some layoffs. My question is: How can I approach my boss and ask him how high my position is on the layoff list?

You could say something like, “Do you have any sense of where my position would fall on the list if we were to be partially funded but not fully funded?” However, it might not even be worth asking, since either way, your next move here should be the same, which is to start job searching. Your employer has given you this heads-up so that you can steps to be prepared if it does happen, and even if your boss told you that your job is last on the layoff list, you should still be actively searching. You’re not obligated to take a job if it’s offered to you, but if you’re laid off, you’ll be glad you had a head start.

5. Being forced to pay a penalty for leaving without three months notice.

When my friend started her new job, she signed a contract. That contract included a clause that stated that if she left within six months of employment there, she would be required to give one month notice; if she left between seven and 12 months of employment there, she would be required to give two months notice; and if she left after 13 or more months of employment there, she would be required to give three months notice. Failure to do so would mean she would have to pay her employer the difference in the notice she gives and the required notice, based on her current base salary.

Is that lawful? Does she have any recourse?

She’d need to consult with a lawyer to be sure, but since this would bring her pay for that period below minimum wage, I’d think it would run afoul of minimum wage laws if nothing else. If I were her, I’d give whatever damn notice I pleased, decline to pay this ridiculous penalty, and go instantly to the state labor board if they were late in paying my final paycheck — for all time worked — in full.

{ 354 comments… read them below }

  1. CanadianWriter

    Light bulb wars? What will they think of next!

    Half lit and half unlit would be a nice compromise, after the initial annoyance of everyone moving cubes.

    1. majigail

      That struck me as a solution too.
      The one thing I would say is if there are clients or others coming through the space, lights off is very uninviting. I have employees who also must be lights off and people hesitate to talk to them when lights are off.

      1. Koko

        I get migraines from extended time under fluorescent lights. Luckily, 1) I have my own office, where I can leave the overheads off, and I’ve furnished it with a floor lamp and a desk top, and 2) our building is LEED certified to run on as little power as possible and part of that is glass everywhere so that on a reasonably sunny day lots of light reaches even the interior offices.

        On rainy days it’s definitely a little dark in my office, but nobody seems to mind. We have a pretty laidback culture where my sense is that non-conformity to various common but ultimately meaningless offices norms doesn’t seem to put anyone off, and there are a few of us who have gotten floor lamps and never use our overheads. (Coincidentally, it’s the same group of us who also have blankets at our desks for when the A/C is too aggressive! I wonder if it’s because those of us who are light-sensitive are also more cold-sensitive, or if the building is just too damn cold and bright and we’re just the group who is most willing to make adjustments to our workspace to make it more comfortable.)

        Because of the LEED certification all our lights are also on motion sensors. Sometimes in a long meeting, the lights go off because nobody’s been moving for a while. With an entire wall out of windows on one side of the room it’s still plenty well-lit inside the room. It always feels refreshing when the lights go off and for a moment I always hope folks will just let them be, but inevitably someone starts waving their hands around in the air to get them back on. First world problems.

        1. Bea W

          I also work in a LEED building. Even the offices are glass. Do your blinds close and open automatically depending on the sun? That’s always fun when you have visitors.

          The lighting here is much better than the usual harsh florescent. The overheads aren’t glaring down on you, they are glaring up, as in the cover is on the side facing down, directing so that it’s less harsh. We also use a lot of reflective material to cut down on the amount of artificial lights needed. We have very few bulbs compared to other offices.

          Another feature we have is the ability to adjust the level. So it’s not a choice between on or off. The lights can be dimmed or brightened.

          I love my office space. A lot of thought went into the design to create a comfortable environment for employees. I wish more buildings had some of these features.

          I need a lot of light, but I am also cold sensitive. It does make sense to me that people who are more sensitive to light levels might also be more sensitive to other environmental conditions.

          1. Koko

            They’ve just installed those upward-facing fluorescents in our hall only weeks ago, but the offices still have the traditional rectangular ceiling panels. Sounds like you have pretty swank digs!

    2. Bea W

      This is a great solution.

      I can’t work in darkness. Not only can I not see, but I have SAD and lighting affects not just my mood but my overall headspace, especially in the morning, because i’m also a night owl and fond of napping. Mornings in darkness are the worst, and nothing makes me feel more nappy in the afternoon than a dimly lit room or a gray day. This would drive me as nuts as the unhinged analyst, but it has and would never occur to me to inflict my personal issues on an entire cube farm or blow up at someone over turning the lights on or off.

      Sunglasses and desk lamps – there are ways to adjust your comfort when you can’t move your desk. I understand accomodating someone with a legit medical issue, like migraines, but I think in order to maintain a productive work environment for the group, you can’t just let anyone change lighting in a shared space at will. Otherwise you end up with #1. No one’s personal preference should be dictating the working environment for everyone else. This situation is totally out of control.

      1. Lydia

        Your perspective is completely shaped by YOUR preference, though. Note how you started by saying, “I can’t work in darkness.” Thus, your conclusion of stating “This situation is totally out of control” seems more than a little biased.

        It’s not out of control for the people who appear to need darkness to work. If some people need light to work and some need darkness, the solution is to find working environments for the people who need darkness to thrive and work best and find lighted environments for those who need light best as well. And for people like you, who would like to force a lighted environment on everyone because that’s how you prefer it, (except in cases of what you see as disability) you need to step back and examine your own preference before you come to conclusions about what’s messed up. People work in entirely different ways; some are extroverted, some are introverted. Some need a lot of darkness to function well, others need a lot of light. Nothing is ‘wrong’ fundamentally about an environment, it’s a matter of need. As Alison specified in her reply, perhaps getting each invidual lamps would be a better solution. This was done in one of the offices I worked at because people did not like the harsh artificial lighting overhead.

        Another woman I worked with installed her own daylamps to help combat SAD in her cubicle. Different strokes, different folks.

        1. fposte

          The problem there is that this isn’t a collective, it’s an owned business, so that it’s not as simple as “your space, your rules”–none of it is really your space.

          1. Bea W

            Exactly – it’s not “your space”, and that’s a large part of my point. In the OP’s situation people are acting like it’s their own space and they dictate the rules, and they are being enabled to do so by management avoiding the issue.

            I actually agree with and made many of the same points as Lydia in my posts. So I don’t know where the “you need to step back and examine your own preference before you come to conclusions about what’s messed up” is coming from. I never said (and hopefully did not imply) it was out of control or wrong (never even used the word “wrong” what?) for someone who needed low light to work. I plainly said “this situation” – as in the situation at the OPs office where people feel pressured and someone yelled at a senior manager. It was not a personal judgement on anyone.

        2. Bea W

          I disagree. It’s actually not a preference. Like the first person in that office who had the headache issue, SAD and poor vision are also medical issues which an individual who has them has no say over. The person with headaches cannot simply decide to not have headaches, and the person with poor low-light vision can’t decide to just start seeing better in low light. Personal preference is liking the environment a certain way by free choice, and not because your body dictates a need. It is important to distinguish between the two when dealing with shared space.

          I spoke about my specific issue, to illustrate my own personal experience and understanding of the importance of lighting conditions on work. I understand a true need to adjust them in certain situations, and that it is not always a matter of personal preference. Because of this, I also understand the problems that occur when a bunch of people without a medical need for accommodation take advantage. It makes it that much more difficult on the few people who do truly need accommodation. The person that really needed the lights low because of headaches has now been put in an uncomfortable place where other people’s taking advantage unchecked is creating an bad situation for everyone in the office, including the original person with the physical need for an adjustment in lighting.

          Based on the OPs letter, it wasn’t clear to me that the majority of people in this office had a medical need. It sounded more like they were just asking to have the lights remove and someone was complying, and there were no checks in place to prevent putting portions of the room into darkness. That’s what I mean by “out of control”. OP didn’t indicate there were any checks on alterations to the shared work area, and did state that management refused to step in. It is “out of control” because it is a situation where there is no mechanism in place to keep things in check and balanced while allowing people who need really accommodation to get it.

          No manager wanted to step into this because they didn’t think it was worth the ill will.

          One group of employees is effectively controlling the work environment not only for their peers, but apparently for management as well. If someone raging and yelling isn’t out of control, I hate to see what out of control would look like.

          If it were the reverse, and someone raged about not enough light, I would have a problem with it as well. That’s just not okay behavior.

        3. Jamie

          People have different preferences, but when that’s the case the default should be the norm in these kinds of workplace instances.

          The overwhelming majority of offices have lights on. Everywhere – if I went to my doctor and opened the door and all the lights were off in the waiting room and behind reception I’d wonder if they were closing and didn’t lock the door.

          Lights are the default and right to adequate lighting is outlined in both OSHA and ISO (where it applies) standards. If you have a dark office where no one uses lights that’s something you’d bring up to a new hire – because it’s unusual. Imagine if you were in an interview and they stated that btw they have electronic lighting in the office so people don’t work in the dark. That would be a bizarre statement because it’s assumed because it is by far the default in our society.

          It would be like an employer pointing out that they had indoor plumbing or that the company provided toilet paper – of course they do. It’s understood unless stated otherwise.

          Of course people should be allowed to work to their preference, when it’s not disrupting to the others – but to say that one’s preference to work in the dark is equal to a preference to an adequately lit area isn’t true. One is the norm and the other is an anomaly which they may or may not be able to accommodate.

          When there is a difference of opinion general standards should rule. Normal light trumps dark. A moderate noise level trumps shouting across the room and raucous laughter. The rights of non-popcorn burners and those who don’t cook bacon in the microwave trumps the rights of those who stink up the office.

          Unobtrusive trumps obnoxious.

          A world where every personal preference is given equal weight isn’t tenable. Working or living in proximity with others requires compromise – and everyone has to compromise if not one one thing than another as there are so many points of potential annoyance.

          1. Koko

            Perhaps it’s because I’m “lights on only when I need them” person, but I don’t necessarily take OP’s word for it that it’s actually dark/darkness and not simply not-bright. She mentioned the divide is along age lines. Those in their 20s and 30s whose eyes are still young may find a room naturally light by sunlight from the windows to be amply lit, while someone in their 40s, 50s, or 60s might call that environment “dark.”

            I question this simply because with so many people opting to turn the lights off, it gets increasingly less likely as the size of that group grows that it’s a preference for darkness rather than a preference for natural light. But I can’t count the number of times my mom came into a room I was in as a teenager/20-something and asked me why I was in the dark, when by my standards the room was not dark. The fact that OP says it’s mostly the over-35 set that needs the lights reinforces my suspicion that this may have an element of disparities in vision.

            1. Cat

              But (1) the OP says it’s dark enough that she thinks it would be hard to read a document; taking her word for it, that’s pretty dark; and (2) even if only people over 35 can’t see, that’s too dark; olds deserve to be able to read at work too.

              1. Jamie

                Get off my lawn. :)

                Olds…

                Why aren’t one of you bringing me soup and fluffing my afghan? Ridiculous I have to fend for myself at this age.

            2. Jamie

              That’s very possible. My reply was to Lydia’s post (paraphrasing) how some people need light and others need to work in darkness – so I was going off darkness as a premise.

              But if this is an age thing, all the more reason to adopt to the norm. If the younger people don’t need as much light that’s fine – my mom would say the same thing but I could still see when she flipped the light on but she couldn’t with it off. Everyone being able to see trumps some people being able to see.

              Besides, if this is the case the lights will be on for sure because no work place wants to actively promote a work environment where deviating from the norm is physically discriminating against those 35+. That gets way to close to the magic # of 40 where age discrimination kicks in in a legal way.

              1. EvaR

                As someone with summer SAD and migraines, the best part of my cubicle is that I WAS allowed to remove the overhead fluorescent bulbs. I literally cannot relax when I’m under them because I KNOW a migraine and mood changes are coming. However, I have to work with a lot of small printed documents on a daily basis, and I have a cube with lamps set into it, which I covered with colored shades to keep the heavy white light from bothering me.

                To be honest, the problem isn’t the lights or the not lights, no matter what reason, medical or personal, people have for wanting less light. The problem is that people are trying to bully or bother other people into following their preference. I knew I had found a good place to work when I was allowed to negotiate lower lights above my desk. Part of that involved moving to sit away from some people who love having sunlight to energize them during the workday, one of them would get angry when I would lower the window shade (to me, even with the window shade lowered, the fluorescent lights make it brighter than optimal and I wouldn’t even build office buildings with windows AND lighting if it were up to me.) and make rude remarks.

                Going back to the default just means a lot of people who aren’t comfortable, and I’m NEVER comfortable with “well (x) is the norm, so if it bothers you, even if it bothers you a huge amount, you’ll just have to deal with it.”

                I really like the lamp idea, especially if people are allowed to bring their own if they want- certain colors and types of lights are less stressful for people than others. More importantly, unhinged analyst needs to get told that her behavior was unacceptable and in the future, no one should be telling other people how to do their job if they aren’t their supervisor.

                1. Kelly

                  I’m also someone who get headaches from florescent lighting. At home, I also don’t turn the lights on too much because I have very good natural lighting.

                  From my perspective, the best way for the people who are more light sensitive to come to an accommodation is to frame it as a medical and productivity issue. They can say that the lights hurt their concentration so an adjustment would beneficial. The people who need more lighting can get desk lamps. If the productivity angle doesn’t work, then try the medical angle. A large number of people calling in sick or leaving early as a result of suffering from excessive migraines due to the lighting would drive both the medical and productivity arguments. Also, getting a doctor’s note requesting some adjustment be made may work as well. I’ve seen doctor’s notes for less serious medical issues be honored, even if the person got the note to get out of certain tasks and they were capable of doing them.

            3. Vicki

              It is physically impossible for a cube farm of 90 people to have the area be “amply lit”… “by sunlight from the windows” with the overhead lights off.

              1. EvaR

                I’d say that depends on the shape of the room and the size of the windows, but okay. The question is if you have lighting that you can control inside your building, including in the case of mine, task lights in the cubes, what on earth are the windows that provide unstable lighting conditions throughout the day and make the lighting uneven based on where you are sitting even doing there?

          2. Bea W

            My mother was a deliberate popcorn burner. Lost a number of microwaves that way. Those bags will catch fire if you’re not careful!

          3. Girasol

            Most places are lit, true, but in a store or waiting room the lights are appropriately placed. In the average cube farm the lights are evenly spaced on the ceiling and the cubes are unevenly spaced below, so some people have light in their eyes all day long. I need dark to read a screen if I’m to do it effectively for eight or ten hours a day, even though 35 was a long time ago for me.

            Two solutions I’ve seen: lights off but allowing a small desktop task light for those with greater light needs, or lights on and cube shades. They’re using some fetching picnic shades over cubes in our office now. Less ideal but helpful is to move the desk surface to a different wall of the cube (assuming there’s another the right size) to face away from the offending light.

            1. Vicki

              The shades sound cute. :-)

              And much better than removing the lightbulb that is over your cube… and mine.. and Wakeen’s.

        4. OhNo

          I have to disagree with you, Lydia, about Bea being biased. Making a maintenance guy remove light bulbs left, right, and center because the workers don’t like the lights? Even if he is okay with going up and down a stepladder every day, removing bulbs makes it sounds like it has gone way overboard.

          I totally agree with you that it would be ideal for everyone to have a space that works out best for their needs. But as fposte said – this is NOT their space to change. That would be like me going into work one day and saying, “I work best in open areas, so I’m going to ask the facilities people to knock out this wall over here.”

          If they work best in darkness, they should ask to have a dimmer switch installed, or ask to have seating rearranged so that half the lights can be turned off. But they should not be yelling about people hitting the light switch, and they should not be making maintenance workers remove light bulbs.

  2. Purple Dragon

    #1 – Lighting Wars
    Our company had a similar issue, although not as overboard. We ended up getting in a workplace occupational health and safety rep and they did an assessment and made recommendations that the company implemented as policy. Maybe there’s a similar organisation where you are ?

    I’m amazed that everyone isn’t going home with splitting headaches only having their screens for light ! Maybe some people are but aren’t willing to rock the boat.

    1. Josh S

      In an old workplace, some folks had issues with glare-induced headaches. Facilities installed some filters/shields over the fluorescent lights and the problem was solved for those folks, without dimming the overall light too much for others to do their work. (It was dim, just not THAT dim.)

      Also, early in the morning, many folks who came in early would keep the lights off. It kept the environment quiet/subdued so people could get work done instead of constant questions/interruptions. But once the day got going, the lights would come on and people understood that the lights were ON.

      Figure out a cultural norm to establish, either ‘lights off zones’ where folks can have their dim light, or times of day or something. Set the schedule, let it be known that “This is how it is going to work from now on”, and stick to it. Don’t let people complain too much.

      If it doesn’t interfere with work, it shouldn’t be a thing. But as soon as it becomes an efficiency or performance issue, it’s time to get a handle on it.

      1. A Bug!

        I worked in an office that had something similar. They called them diffusers, but they looked different from the ones I was used to – the clear plastic “bubbly” panels – and were rather like a big, deep grate that kept you from being able to see the light directly.

        I think the overall lighting level dropped a bit when they were installed, but not to the same degree it would have to turn a bunch of the lights off.

      2. KarenT

        We had the same issue and our facilities staff were able to find anti-glare flourescent light bulbs. Some people thought they were a miracle cure, and some found they didn’t help at all.

      3. Jennifer

        I’m a person who gets glare headaches. I had them take some (but not all!) of the lights out above my cube in one of my old offices and it still didn’t help. They already have shields over them, so oh well on that. I’ve been to the eye doctor and everyone is out of options for me on that score anyway. But I don’t want to work in the dark either (as the OP pointed out, sometimes I work with actual paper), so I just down several Excedrin a day and deal with it. That’s life, you can’t control much of your environment, especially if at least one other person is in it.

        I don’t think it’s reasonable to have the entire cube area–or half the office’s cube areas–totally freaking dark though. Have a dim area, sure, but no lights at all is ridiculous.

        1. KrisL

          Jennifer,

          I found wearing a hat that shaded my eyes from the overhead lights helped a lot at preventing headaches. It won’t help with the PC screen, of course, but sometimes just making one thing better seems to help overall.

          1. Girasol

            I tried a hat once too and it worked. It looked a bit odd as “office casual,” but it worked.

    2. snowglobe

      When I complained about my office lighting giving me headaches, I learned that OSHA has minimum lighting requirements for office workers. I had to get a doctor’s note asking for an accomodation to have my lighting lowered (and they were only able to accomodate me because I have a private office. People who are frustrated working in the dark should check into the OSHA regs.

      1. BCW

        I hate fluorescent lights as much as the next guy, and i feel like there must be a compromise. The woman losing her mind over it seems like such an overreaction to it though that I’m stunned.Lamps seem to be the easiest, so why don’t you just get those for the people who want more light? I guess it also depends on how much (if any) natural light your office gets.

        1. Bea W

          Desk lamps really aren’t an adequate replacement for room lighting. They help add to the light in a specific space, but aren’t great if the room is too dark. I’ve used desk lamps and under-shelf lighting, and it’s either not in the exact place I need it most or it’s much harsher than overheads or both and it can also create more eye strain. It’s really a supplement, not a replacement, for room light.

      2. fposte

        What I’m seeing is 30 foot-candles for offices, with a broadening to 20 to 50 foot-candles for workstations generally.

        Unfortunately, I don’t know what that means–I’m finding translation into lux, but not into lumens, which is the only luminance measure I have any sense of, and it looks like the conversion rate is dependent on how the light spreads anyway.

        1. RG

          There are converters online – it’s an English (foot-candle) to metric (lumens) conversion.

          But yeah, probably still depends on how focused/diffuse.

          1. fposte

            Yes, the converters are all “per square meter”–so 30 footcandles is 322 lumens per square meter.

            That actually seems pretty low to me, so maybe the OSHA concern is limited to the theoretical.

        2. class factotum

          When I was in Ecuador, there was a drought, which meant limited electricity from the hydroelectric dam. (Or something like that.) So there were rolling blackouts. As in, the yogurt I bought at the corner store was bad because the refrigerator cases were turned off at night. As in, the traffic lights didn’t work, so the cops had to direct traffic. And as in, at the post office, the lights were off and the employees were working by candlelight. I wish that had been in the days of digital cameras instead of film, because I would have so many cool photos.

        3. The Cosmic Avenger

          I posted a top-level comment below that cites recommended lighting levels for reading/study as anywhere from 25-100 footcandles. That’s a huge range…because it varies widely by age.

    3. Em

      My splitting headaches come from the overhead fluorescent lighting and having the lights off is literally the only way I can continue working when I have a migraine. The screen light isn’t ideal either – but obviously absolutely necessary to continuing a work day. Even if I weren’t having a headache/being affected by the light personally, but knew that a coworker was, I would try to be considerate enough to leave the lights off because I know how awful it can be. That said I was lucky enough to have my own office, so I didn’t have to worry about affecting others with my choices.

      However, The fact that the OP is so dismissive of this is really disconcerting to me. If this is not an “office fad” but people who are having eye strain/migraines from the overhead lighting I don’t think the OP should be laying on the guilt about asking the company/facilities manager to accommodate. Until you’ve spent days getting sick to your stomach and lying in bed in the dark unable to do anything else though, I guess it’s difficult to appreciate how awful migraine by fluorescent light is, and I know migraine/eye strain is not something you can see the same way as fever/flu.

      1. Xay

        I used to have the same problems – I’ve had an office and a cubicle where the overhead lighting was so bright that combined with the glare on the screen, I had terrible headaches. When I had an office, I could just turn off the light and use a softer standing lamp. The cubicle was harder – it never even crossed my mind to ask to have the overhead light removed and I doubt that would have happened considering it was a government facility. In the end, I just bought an anti-glare filter for the monitor and took lots of screen breaks.

        I think sensitivity depends on how much time you spend looking at a screen. In my case, I am extremely near sighted and I tend to get eye strain headaches if I spend a lot of time looking at screens – but I know this so I build breaks into my work where I use paper or e-ink instead. I wouldn’t dismiss as an office fad, but rather an outcome of a point in society where people spend most of their work day, not to mention their leisure time, staring at backlit screens which isn’t great for your eyes.

      2. fposte

        The problem is that that goes both ways–a lot of people need light to work effectively and to avoid headaches of their own. Then there are, as noted, the OSHA rules. If you’re in an open cubicle farm, it’s not as simple as saying that the lights should be out if any of the workers suffer problems from it.

        1. Em

          Agreed – my problem is more with the OP’s dismissive attitude, as if this is obviously just people trying to be difficult or part of a fad. It may be more than that. I feel sympathy for people who have legitimate issues (be it that they need the light brighter or dimmer, or don’t want people using perfume in the office, etc) and get labeled as “difficult” because of it. I know there can be people that are difficult for the sake of being difficult of course, but I’ve been miserable on a number of occasions and said nothing because I didn’t want to ruffle feathers or be “that” coworker.

          Your point about OSHA is definitely important to. Hopefully there is a way (through some of the great suggestions here) that they can come to an acceptable compromise. .

          1. Colette

            I think there probably are a couple of people who have legitimate health issues, but this situation sounds like it’s gone far beyond that. I’ve worked in cubicle farms my entire career, and while there are usually a couple of people who the lights negatively affect, most people are fine. I’d guess most of the people in the OP’s office just prefer it darker.

          2. Who Are You?

            I didn’t find the OP to be dismissive. I also went back and read the post and it stated that only one person had a legitimate complaint with the light and the others, upon realizing that their maintenance person was okay with removing lights, jumped on the bandwagon seemingly based on personal preference.
            I understand having a real, medical issue but too many times people claim that they have a medical problem with things that other people do (lights, noise, scents, etc) and then complain endlessly about it and lobby for everyone else to change instead of dealing with the issue themselves. That’s what this sounds like. People don’t like light and so they are insisting that the office be dark. I have mild sensory issues so that a lot of stimuli at one time bothers me. Because it’s not something that keeps me from functioning in the real world my doctor will not prescribe medication but has offered some helpful advice for workarounds. These include noise cancelling headphones that I wear at my desk at work, occasionally wearing sunglasses or a baseball cap when the lights inside get to bright, etc. It’s not reasonable to expect the world to adapt to me. I need to be the one to adapt.

            1. Marcy

              #1 OP here. Didn’t think I was being dismissive at all! And no, no one but the first person ever claimed any medical reason. No doctor’s slips were ever requested.

              1. Em

                Gotcha. Sorry then – I read it as the first person had a light removed for headache and then a second person asked for it when they realized that was a possibility and so on, and presumably got out of hand later and people were just asking for them to be taken out with no reason.

                I still hope the initial person doesn’t get punished for it if they have a legitimate reason. Like I said here is hoping for peaceful compromise for you all!

            2. Tinker

              My observation is that with some things, people start overclaiming in the medical domain precisely because of the attitude that “personal preference” and “real/legitimate” don’t overlap — so, for instance, people claim to be outright allergic to foods when in fact they don’t like them or have a non-allergy intolerance to them, because nothing short of claiming an allergy will get the tomato-bearing hordes to go away.

              Granted that there’s a balance to be had there, but I note that a persistently inflexible environment that puts people up against things they don’t like has a way of eliciting degenerate behavior patterns.

              1. Mallory

                ” . . . people claim to be outright allergic to foods when in fact they don’t like them or have a non-allergy intolerance to them . . . ”

                I think people do this a lot, too (NOT to invalidate people who do have actual allergies or minimize the intolerance than isn’t an allergy).

                My daughter had a reaction to a couple of medications when she was in the hospital. She wasn’t allergic to them, just sensitive, but her nurse told me to say that she was allergic to them for future doctor’s visits, because — according to her — that is sometimes the only thing that gets taken seriously.

                Left to my own devices, I would have spent time specifying that it was a sensitivity and not an allergy. I do still wonder how much that sort of escalation devalues peoples’ claims regarding having an allergy, but on the other hand, I’m not going to risk having my daughter exposed to those meds again because “sensitivity” isn’t a strong enough word, whereas “allergy” is.

                1. Jamie

                  I do it with meds – because there are a couple that my kids and I have where it’s not technically an allergy but it’s a severe adverse reaction – but they don’t give you the allergy bracelet unless you check allergy. To me if our adverse reactions will result in failure to breathe or a pulse rate of 180+ then we’ll call it an allergy if that’s what it takes to make sure no one sticks us with the wrong thing.

                  But for food I have always been so careful, since I have a zillion food aversions I tried the allergy thing in early grade school and my mom, the nurse, put the kibosh on that immediately. I needed to own my own refusal to eat things and not hide behind a fictional medical excuse.

                  As an adult I can’t imagine trivializing real food allergies by lumping my very stringent preferences in there.

                  But for medicine – I am with you 100%. I am not splitting hairs on the semantics between allergy and adverse reaction. If being treated with it will cause my kid to stop breathing damn skippy he’s getting the fluorescent sticker that says so in giant letters on his chart. Front and center.

                2. fposte

                  Huh–I hear exactly the opposite from medical folks, that classifying something as an allergy when it’s not is going to lead to risks in urgent situations when they’ll then add steroids to counteract the allergic substance or opt for something less effective to avoid anaphylaxis. I wonder if this is kind of an ongoing controversy?

                  Mind you, I’m with Jamie that they’re making some of this problem themselves by not having a “sensitivities/bad reactions” category as well as an “allergies” one.

                3. Em

                  How is sensitivity defined as opposed to allergy? Where do you draw the line with that? (Honestly curious!)

                4. fposte

                  @em–autoimmune response. It’s not the stuff that makes you sick, it’s you.

                  What I think is happening here is a semantic convergence–“allergy” is becoming synonymous with “serious reaction” and “sensitivity” with lesser ones. But that’s not technically true–there are lots of non-serious allergies and serious sensitivities and reactions, because it’s the immune component, not the severity, that makes it allergic. Medicine’s going to be really sorry if they lose hold of this, because it’s only going to get worse on the screwing up of treatment.

                5. Mallory

                  The meds that my daughter was given caused involuntary muscle movement: just twitching in her hands and feet at first, then larger involuntary movements with her arms and legs.

                  Her dad and I called the nurse in to look at her, and the nurse phoned the doctor. She came back and said that the doctor had ordered those meds stopped immediately.

                  When we saw the doctor the next day, he said that once a person starts having involuntary muscle movement with those particular medications, it is possible to result in permanent neurological damage.

                  So yeah, agreeing with Jamie, I’ll ignore that it’s not technically an allergy and say what I need to say to keep her from having a severe adverse reaction.

                6. fposte

                  @Mallory–not disagreeing with “you gotta do what you gotta do.” I just think medicine’s screwing itself by not creating a label for this that isn’t allergy, so that if your daughter’s given the wrong med in the hospital they don’t go for the epinephrine.

                7. Mallory

                  @fposte: Oh, I wondered after I read my post if it looked as if I thought you were disagreeing with me. I didn’t; the comment just fell underneath yours after I hit the first available “reply” button. I was really just expanding on the tale of what my daughter’s issue was.

                8. Zillah

                  Yeah, I actually frequently do this with foods. There are some foods that I am truly allergic to, and others that I have a severe intolerance to. The worst intolerance – wheat – is actually the most severe food issue I have. Eating any will leave me with a migraine and feeling generally ill.

                  However, people tend not to understand “intolerance,” and assume that that means it’s not serious. When I can explain and when I think that the people I’m talking to will understand the distinction without devaluing it, I’ll actually get into it, but when I’m not sure of my audience, I’ll often just call it an allergy – people take that more seriously, and I don’t want to end up with a migraine because people hear “intolerance” and don’t understand that yes, it is really important that they read the labels before they add something to a dish.

                  It’s unfortunate, but I can see why people would mislabel something because people don’t understand how serious what’s actually wrong with them is.

              2. fposte

                I’m still thinking about this, because right now I simultaneously agree and disagree. I agree that saying you can’t have what you want unless there’s a medical reason does make people likelier to medicalize. However, I think a lot of other things (as Ann Furthermore iterates below) more on the flexibility end of the spectrum encourage people to medicalize as well, and that a lot of people don’t differentiate between a legitimate personal preference (I legitimately hate the smell of mint) and one that’s required to be acted upon (I am not entitled to have my workplace ban mints and gum or change the cleaning products).

                I do agree with where I feel you’re headed–that workplaces should allow workers to do what suits them if it’s not costing any more or affecting anybody else rather than requiring Reasons for something that isn’t a big deal.

              3. HM in Atlanta

                I have a food intolerance that will put me in the hospital if I ingest the food (pistachio and mango – which are related foods). I don’t have a reaction to just exposure, so it’s not classified as an allergy.

                Restaurants don’t take intolerance seriously (resulting in an ER visit last year, thanks to a themed chain steakhouse that ignored this). Some waitstaff also seems to think that if you’re exposed to a food, and you don’t have a trouble breathing and swell up, that it’s not really a problem.

      3. Ms Enthusiasm

        I didn’t get the sense that the OP was being dismissive. She didn’t mention in her letter that people were experiencing migraines / eye strain. It just sounded more of like a preference thing. If it is the case that certain employees do get headaches then I think those should be looked at on a case by case basis, but otherwise there does need to be a policy in place to cover the entire office.

      4. Marcy

        #1 OP here. I must clarify something. These people were not sick or ill from the overhead lighting. The first person may have had glare issues, the rest just liked the dark environment and banded together. Did not mean to be cavalier but no one requested this due to migraines.

        1. A Teacher

          and I understand its on them to tell their employer what accommodations they need, some may be silent suffers. I have a dark classroom with a wall of windows so we only use natural light, Migraine sufferer here. I don’t complain to my boss but overhead lighting leaves me sick for days if on too long.

          1. fposte

            But it sounds like in the OP’s office there are silent sufferers in the darkness, so it’s not like darkness gets rid of the silent sufferer problem.

            1. A Teacher

              Oh, I agree. I’m just saying it seems like there may be people that are on both sides. Even I like light sometimes–like if I didn’t have the windows I’d probably do a bank of lights on and a bank off myself, and the analyst was rude in how she handled it for sure.

          2. Anne

            I was silently suffering until a few months ago – my previous work refused to make accommodations for my migraines, one of the triggers of which is fluorescent lighting, so when I changed jobs last year I didn’t even think to try to get my new workplace to make changes. Then a few months ago someone transferred in from a different department who also gets migraines, but knew from her longer tenure at our company that facilities was willing to take out light bulbs, put in black-out blinds, etc.

            So now we have lights turned off whenever either of us is pre-migraine, with copious desk lamps for those who want more light, and fewer sick days due to work-induced migraines. Most of the others in our group are fine with the lights being out when we need it, and we’ve tried to reduce the impact as much as we can, but with more than one migraine sufferer present it can sometimes be a while in between lights-on days.

      5. Bea W

        I didn’t see the OP as dismissive. It sounds like it started with one person who had a legit medical need, and then a bunch of people a personal preference took advantage of the situation. I find it really hard to believe that many people in the same office all had the same medical condition. You might get one or two people who really need the accommodation, but in my experience trapped in offices since the 90s, it really is not that rampantly common.

        Also, having a medical condition does not excuse anyone from ripping the Big Boss (or anyone else) a new orifice for switching on the lights when walking into a dark room. I understand it’s awful. I know people who are in that boat, but they have somehow managed to refrain from either inflicting it on everyone else or popping off when someone flips on the lights. A simple, “Please leave the lights off. They give me terrible migraines.” is sufficient. No need to even raise one’s voice, never mind throw a tantrum.

        1. KrisL

          I agree; this isn’t just a fad. Different people need different amounts of light. But the tantrum was totally wrong.

      6. Vicki

        I doubt this is people who are having eye strain/migraines from the overhead lighting when it has gone as far as the OP describes.

        In a group of 90 people? The OP describes: “Whole swathes of the open plan floor were suddenly plunged into total or semi-darkness, with no light source but glowing monitors.”

        She’s not exaggerating. I have worked in two companies exactly like this. The description of the senior manager flipping the switch? I know what square footage tends to be covered by a set of switches in a 90-cube layout because I’ve worked in those.

        Statistically it is not possible that all of these people have a medical issue. They just “like it” dark.

    4. AMG

      We have this issue in my Huuuge office. People put beach umbrellas over their cubes if they are migraine and/or light sensitive. Or, get desk lamps and dim the lighting.

        1. AMG

          it looks funny. An old factory floor with no windows converted into a cube farm with a bunch of beach umbrella scattered throughout.

  3. kas

    #1 – Lighting

    I remember having lighting wars … in high school. Some students wanted lights off during presentations while others wanted it on. I can’t believe people are taking this so seriously.

    #2 – Bad attitude

    Reading questions/posts like this anger and confuse me. I refuse to believe there are adults that behave this way. What is wrong with people? I’m a calm and relaxed person but if I worked with someone like that, I could not ignore their behaviour. I’d have to say something …

    1. Op #2

      Well it is being addressed, that is why I wrote, to get advice on how to address it. The situation went on as long as it did because of some administrative turn over and the possibility of a reorganization.

      1. kas

        Oh I wasn’t referring to your situation, my comment was just about what I would do. I can tell you’re trying to address it.

    2. BB

      #1- High school is exactly what I thought of. I’ve always accepted it as ‘this is the office, this is what an office looks like’ We aren’t even given options in our office although it would be nice to have maybe half the lights on, half off. But I’m shocked at how big of babies people are being about it! Lighting would strike me as a ‘it’s nice to have an option but I’m not gonna throw a fit over it’

  4. PK

    We’re having a similar lighting debate at my work right now…. thankfully without anyone needing to be sent home. However, our office has taken a position similar to AMA’s… to keep all lights on, hard stop. People doing a similar role need to sit next to each other, regardless of whether we have similar lighting preferences, so we can’t have a dark area and a lit area. Unfortunately I fall into the camp of getting a headache when the lights are on– they’re very bright and harsh! So I’m looking forward to hearing other commenter’s suggestions and solutions to this!

    1. GigglyPuff

      Do you wear glasses? Transition lenses might help, I wore them a while ago (so they might have gotten better), but they never truly lost the “sunglasses” when I went indoors. I stopped wearing them because I realized my eyes were actually becoming more sensitive to sunlight because of them…but they might help someone who is already sensitive but doesn’t want to do the sunglasses indoors thing.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.

        Or, you could buy glasses that have some tint, but not quite full-sunglasses tint. Zenni has really cheap options and you can do different colors of tint at varying levels of opacity.

    2. Sharon

      One job I had not too long ago was in a building with the absolute BEST lighting I’ve ever seen. It was flourescent of course, but the lights were hung from the ceiling and aimed UP. The light bounced against the white ceiling tiles and diffused all over the room. It was bright enough to read paper easily but there was NO glare and it had a very soft “feel” to it. I LOVED it and I’m one of those too-much-light-haters who prefer to be in a dark room rather than glary overlit rooms.

      Another solution that I’m surprised the OP didn’t mention: for the people who didn’t like working in the dark room and had to read faxes on paper…. most cubicles come with task lighting, don’t they? I wonder why that wasn’t used?

      1. Mike C.

        I have this as well, and the diffusion is really, really easy on the eyes. It’s as if the ceiling itself filters out some of the harshness of the lighting, it’s a great way to do things.

      2. Del

        Oh, that sounds like a really lovely lighting solution! I wish our office would do something like that.

      3. Jamie

        This is what we have now and it’s fabulous.

        I do get migraines from certain kinds of lighting, but I personally don’t like an unlit room in an office.

        This may be just because of my own experience, but I worked with someone who had an interior office (open plan, but single occupant) and they always kept the lights off. With no outside light coming in it was actually quite dark – and since the main filing cabinets were in there people were always reticent to come in and turn on the lights – but without it it was really hard to go through the files.

        This was a preference and not a health issue, but it did make people walk on eggshells about bothering them and as silly as it sounds I felt it, too. Something about coming into a dark room with only the glow of a monitor felt intrusive.

        They admitted to me, later after they had given notice, that it was deliberate as people bothered her less when the lights were off. The problem was what they needed to “bother” then about was her job.

        Not the same case with all non-lighting people to be sure, but for myself I’d be okay with someone killing the OH lighting if they replaced it with a lamp or something.

        I just would find it odd to go to someone’s desk to speak to them and not be able to see properly or have to ask them to turn on a light. And absolutely the less outspoken employees or people new to the team will go along with the group think on this and no one should have to work in the dark if it’s not their preference.

        There are so many lighting options I don’t think no lights at all is a professional solution – but again, maybe this is just me.

        1. Mallory

          ” . . .people bothered her less when the lights were off.”

          It does feel more like you’re intruding on someone’s personal space when the lights are off. One of the people here likes to work in a dark office (she has a lamp, but it’s draped with a dark cloth to dim the light from it even more than the lampshade does). It’s almost like you’re walking into their home instead of into an office.

          In my old semi-private office (I was the only occupant, but there was a faculty Xerox machine in there), I used the turned-off light to indicate that I was on a break. The faculty would still come in and use the copier, but they wouldn’t ask me about work stuff if the light was off. I’d always turn the light back on when I was back “on”.

      4. Vicki

        Task lighting isn’t the same. Also, some of us get the glare headache reaction when there is one small bright spot in an otherwise dim area.

        1. Vicki

          And then there are the people in the really dark rooms who want nothing but the monitor light and get vocally upset when you turn on the “task light”.

      5. Anthony

        They didn’t use task lights because they preferred to push their beliefs and opinions on their co-workers.

    1. Chinook

      #2 not only is your employee not good at her job because of her attitude, but I suspect she wrote in yesterday to complain about your phone conversations.

      1. Op #2

        Haha, except I am extremely single and almost never have a personal phone call of any nature. The only personal related phone calls I’ve ever made were on my lunch break and related to making dentist appointments. Plus we don’t actually work in the same room.

        I actually still believe she is talented and has a lot of potential, mostly because after I sent off this e-mail to Allison, following an extremely sternly worded e-mail letting her know we’d be sitting down to talk about this, she was actually very professional and dropped the attitude. It is possible she can change if I let her know how serious the issue is.

        1. Harper

          Well, that is a hopeful turn of events! Maybe this is going to be a wake up call for her. I think some people like that are just bullies and when someone pushes back, they back down.

          1. Noelle

            And I think also some people just don’t realize what they’re doing until they’re actively confronted with it. That is why it is so much better to address the issue. If someone is truly not aware or is acting this way because they they’re getting away with it, they’re not going to change.

            When I was a teenager, I would very often engage in “silent treatment,” and it wasn’t because I was trying to be passive aggressive but because I was insanely over-sensitive and was afraid I’d cry if I tried to talk. My music teacher would call me out on it (nicely) and over time I got more comfortable receiving criticism. Also, after receiving so much criticism – er, constructive feedback – from years of music lessons, I was much better prepared for a job.

            1. fposte

              I think we’re talking there about the difference between withdrawing and stonewalling/sulking. The latter means that you’re not engaging in free conversation about *anything*, not just the problem, because you’re trying to punish the other person (as in yesterday’s post).

              1. Noelle

                Oh, that is a good point. I still think addressing the problem head-on is the best way to go, but you’re right that the scenario I used isn’t exactly what’s happening here.

        2. louise

          Dear Alison,

          My boss makes calls to the dentist within earshot of me. She *knows* I can’t afford the dental insurance and that I am really self-conscious about my chipped front tooth. How can I get her to stop making these calls? I just feel so terrible about being dentistless.

        3. Windchime

          It’s good to hear that she was able to change her attitude after your talk. I worried a little bit about Alison’s initial wording that she might have to be “moved from this role” if her attitude didn’t improve; I know some people who might think that “moved from this role” = “I’m finally getting my transfer to the other department!”, not “I’m getting let go.”

        4. Lily

          One of my bosses would send an email naming the issue before we got together to talk. I could never sleep before the meeting, but it certainly enabled me to get over my defensiveness by the time we met! Does anyone else besides the OP do this?

        5. Not So NewReader

          I know this is a bit radical but here goes… I think that if a person cannot speak during the work day it is time to for that person to reconsider if they can do the job.
          I have seen varying degrees of this. One coworker would not speak to me no matter what. I could have told her the place was on fire and she would not have responded. This extreme type of behavior is mostly what I am thinking of when I say this.

          However, I have seen coworkers speak only when spoken to. Most work environments require communication of some sort. How can a worker be doing their job if they are only speaking when spoken to? (This has nothing to do with shyness and everything to do with anger in the example I am thinking of.)

          Part of any job is to be reasonably accessible through out the work day. Communication does not come with an on-off switch that one can randomly shut off at one’s choosing. The employer is paying the employee to be available for a given time period. This includes talking about work matters.

          The extreme coworker at the top of my post here, I felt was causing a safety issue by her unwillingness to communicate. We were doing a lot of physical work around potentially dangerous equipment. Routinely, a second set of hands on something would be needed or sometimes a second person was needed to keep an eye on something for a short time. My coworker was not accessible for these situations. (She would act like she did not hear me say anything.)

          Basic conversation regarding work day matters has to happen in order for work places to function. (I don’t mean that people have to act friendly or be chatty.)

        6. Cassie

          Glad to see she dropped the attitude. I’ve had a couple of discussions with the higher-ups about attitude problems of one individual and their stance was “well, that’s her personality, what can we do about it?”. To me, personality does not necessarily equal behavior and it certainly doesn’t have to in a professional workplace. But it’s like they didn’t even want to bother trying to talk to her about it.

  5. Bystander

    We had a lighting war. It was for lighting on an overnight shift. The majority felt it was better for their internal clocks to have lights off (I.e., they had less insomnia.). The minority had eye strain when the lights were off. People got passionate about it because in both cases it affected their quality of life.

    If you’re going to let groups vote to turn the lights off, you need to provide desk lamps on a sign up basis. Once we had desk lamps in place, everybody was happy.

    1. KAZ2Y5

      When I work the night shift, we turn every other fluorescent light off. We still have enough light, but no more headaches.

      1. KJR

        No pun intended, but I think a light bulb just went off in my brain. I’ve never heard that fluorescent lighting could cause headaches. I have very bad headaches at work frequently, so I am going to turn my light off and see if there is a difference. I am in an office by myself, so while I may get some comments, it won’t bother anyone else.

        1. Bea W

          Florescent lighting can definitely do that as can too much or inadequate light. Do you work on a computer? The glare or light from the screen can cause headaches too, or even not having the right prescription glasses or needing them when you don’t have them will cause headaches. if just turning down the lights doesn’t give you 100% relief, try turning down the brightness on your screen or getting an anti-glare filter.

          If you wear corrective lenses, have your eyes checked and talk to your optometrist about your headaches. There are various things that can help reduce eye strain, a different prescription for computer work, tinted lenses, special coatings on lenses, tweaking the prescription. I keep thinking of a friend of mine who was having terrible headaches. Turned out her vision had changed, and the culprit was her glasses. Changing the prescription took care of it.

  6. JessA

    Why can’t the people who want it darker just wear their sunglasses? Wouldn’t that be easier and much more cost / resource effective than having a facilities manager remove the lights from the ceiling (for those who don’t want lights) and buying lamps (for those who do need light)?

    1. Bystander

      I personally get headaches from florescent light directly overhead, and I have tried this. I got eyes train from how dim it made the monitor. Turning up the monitor brightness wasn’t enough to overcome it.

      1. Harper

        I do, too — so I have sympathy for the no-lights people. Of course, I also can see how it would look sort of … eerie to have pockets of darkness in an open plan office.

      2. Bea W

        I think there is a hood or an attachment or something for monitors that can help this? Trying to look at a washed out monitor is the pits.

        1. Bystander

          The suggestions in this thread were great. My current desk doesn’t have a florescent light directly over-head so I’m not having an issue. However, we get shuffled around pretty frequently, so the next time this occurs I’m going to try out the monitor hood suggestion as well as the hat suggestion.

    2. Mike

      Polarized lenses don’t work well with computer monitors, phone screens, etc.

      Plus, it is weird to talk to someone indoors when you can’t see their eyes.

    3. theotherjennifer

      we have a person who does this – Stevie Wonder style – and while I sympathize with the occasional headache, this is more of an attention getting act on her part. And when we have clients come through the office it is off putting to see a person wearing sunglasses sitting at a computer. We did remove one of the bulbs from over her desk and it seems to help.

        1. Tinker

          Maybe I’m just unlucky, but I’ve never had great luck with any sort of glasses-over-glasses scenario — they don’t tend to feel stable or comfortable, they shift my prescription glasses around on my face, and they degrade the quality of my vision to a degree that I find to be a continual faint annoyance. I wouldn’t really call it a viable solution to a day of office work, at least for me.

          Part of this probably influenced by that I’m astoundingly nearsighted, which means that fiddly things that wouldn’t bother other people so much tend to be important for me (for instance, because of tedious optical reasons, it takes a smaller shift between the optical center of my glasses and my pupils to give me whanging headaches). I’d imagine that people who have outright visual sensitivities (I by and large don’t) could well be similarly incompatible.

          1. Jamie

            I hate them, too. My husband and eldest son swear by them, but I can’t see properly.

            I don’t know if it’s because they don’t fit as securely on plastic frames (both of them wear wire frames) or because of my astigmatism, but I get a weird fishbowl effect.

            The same as I do when my lens area is too big. I hate that because I look better with larger frames (I wore glasses in the 80’s – anyone remember Julia Sugarbaker’s frames?) With the severity of my astigmatism I need a narrower field of lens otherwise I get a weird fishbowl effect that when I turn my head everything goes fun house mirror and makes me super dizzy. Just what you want when driving.

            I still miss big jazzy frames. Yes, I am secretly Elton John.

            1. Bea W

              My vision is horrible. I can’t see well with the clip-ons either. I have wonderful large and glamorous sunglasses, but I definitely get some of that fishbowl thing going on when I wear them, not bad enough to not drive with them, but it makes me sad. I had no idea it was related to the size of the lens. :( Luckily for everyday glasses I look better in smaller frames, because my head and facial features are small (except my nose!), but sunglasses, you want better coverage and more Elton John.

              My Dr. accidentally transposed the astigmatism correction for my right eye on my last prescription, and WOAH!

              1. Jamie

                I’ve had that happen – I put on the new glasses and promptly fell off a curb, reached to grab a railing to break my fall and was off by about 2 feet and face planted right in the street.

                Turns out those numbers on the script matter!

          2. fposte

            I’ve actually been lucky with those, which is good because my eyes are really hating this spring.

            Realistically, I don’t think sunglasses are a solution in this situation anyway, but if an employee offered the “but prescription sunglasses!” response I’d go for the “but the drugstore!” counter.

        2. Hlyssande

          Then you run into people like me, for whom weight on the head actually contributes to the headaches anyway. This is why I went from waist-length hair to supershort in the last six months. Even my hair was too heavy.

          I sometimes wear a lightweight visor, though. And it helps more than the sunglasses have.

          1. Bea W

            I have this issue. Extra weight on my head will give me headaches. I have super thick heavy hair too. What kind of cruel design is that?

          2. Mallory

            I get a headache, not from weight on the head, but from pressure, even if it’s very slight (like from visors or headbands). Usually the pressure of new glasses will give me a headache if they squeeze any on my nose or behind my ears.

          3. Vicki

            My hair doesn’t give me problems but headphones do. Whenever anyone advise using headphones in a noisy cubicle environment, my response is “but then I’ll have a headache in an hour.”

      1. Elizabeth West

        I found these little clip-on sunglasses at Walmart. They work well enough to get me from one place to another. If I were going to the beach or something, however, I’d wear my contacts and regular sunglasses.

    4. Headachey

      It turns out that wearing sunglasses regularly indoors can actually make your eyes more light-sensitive. A better option, for those who experience eyestrain, headaches, or migraines from fluorescent lights is to wear glasses with a specific reddish tint (FL-41) when working under fluorescent lights.

      They didn’t work for me, but keeping the overhead lights off and using a combination of natural and task lighting does help. Fortunately, my office-mates also prefer to keep the overheads off, so no lighting wars here.

      1. Jamie

        I had those back in highschool and they didn’t work for me, either – the few times I tried.

        I’d only whip them out during tests, because I really hated how they looked on me – not quite sunglasses but this smokey rose color. I felt like my gramma.

        And it would be fine for someone with a severe eye issue where they are a medical need, but I don’t think a room full of people wearing sunglasses is professional, if it’s just because they prefer different lighting.

        And absolutely agree with the commenter up thread about sunglasses not working anyway. I’ve tried it at home, when working through a migraine, and in the office when I was here alone and it’s too much of an over-correction and I can’t see my monitor well.

        1. Headachey

          I think one part of what I’m questioning in this discussion is the belief/argument/assumption that allowing employees to exercise some control over their physical environment at work is unprofessional. If someone works better with the lights off or different types of lights, let them do so. If someone prefers to wear sunglasses or grandma’s rose-colored glasses to work more effectively in the existing conditions, let them. If someone prefers a stand-up desk, a pretty lamp, sticky notes all over their monitor/cube, etc. – you get the idea. If we’re treating people like adults and trusting them to get their work done in a professional manner, then let’s also trust them when they say that certain changes to their environment will help them to do that work better.

          It’s apparent that in OP#2’s case, some folks are not acting professionally by discouraging others to express their preferences or yelling at supervisors – I’m not condoning that. But I can tell you that when I worked in facilities/commercial property management, I saw much happier, productive employees in office spaces where they were free to choose or change (parts of) their environment to suit their preferences. What’s unprofessional about helping/allowing people to do their best work?

          1. Jamie

            I don’t think I’ve ever said that allowing people control is unprofessional – I think people should have as much control over their personal workspace as possible, as long as it doesn’t interfere with others or the business itself.

            But using different lighting, or no lighting as long as people can see to do their jobs properly – there is nothing wrong with that.

            But if you have an office with no external windows and there is no lighting except the monitor – that’s very dark and absolutely people feel weird coming into your office because it feels like they are intruding. Or when they need to be in there for something and have to turn the lights on to see and feel like they are disturbing you.

            That’s been my experience – and yes, it’s unprofessional imo.

            But if there is enough light for everyone to go about their business then people should do what makes them comfortable.

      2. Bea W

        My chiropractor installed reddish tinted diffusers over the overhead lights in his office. I find it easier on the eyes.

    5. Anne

      Because the light that causes the problem is (generally) coming from above/around people, not in front of them, and thus is not dimmed at all by wearing sunglasses.

      Plus what everyone else said about polarized lenses, prescriptions, and so on.

  7. Brett

    #5 My public sector workplace has an ordinance on the books that can make me forfeit an entire year of salary as a fine if I leave to a vendor, and this has held up in court in other jurisdictions. The penalty is probably a breach of contract penalty rather than any withholding of pay; similar to how mine is a civil penalty instead of anything directly affecting my wages. Question is whether or not it would fall under restraint of trade or any other typical challenges to employment contract penalties.

    1. ScaredyCat

      I had a similar clause in my contract, the previous company. I basically signed that I’d give the company 3 months notice, in case I resigned. If I didn’t give them 3 months notice, I would have to pay the company 6 months’ worth of my salary.

      A lot of people claimed it was illegal, but I signed the contract willingly, so it was all my fault. And yes, job searching proved to be a royal pain… but not wholly impossible.

      I know of some ex-colleagues, whose new companies paid the sum, so they could leave “on the spot”, but I would never have accepted such a thing.
      On the one hand, this would have burned a bridge with the company you were resigning from.
      On the other hand, I would’ve been much too indebted to the new company.

      1. Sunflower

        Can I ask what exactly was the purpose of this clause? I understand in a case like Brett’s where you might be leaving to go to a client or vendor but what reason did your employer give for requiring this clause?

        1. ScaredyCat

          They didn’t exactly give a reason for it. I’m assuming this clause was introduced so that the projects worked on by the employee could be handed over in a less rushed manner, or something.

          1. BB

            Hmm do you know anyone who didn’t give the notice and didn’t pay? I feel like this has to be a scare tactic because I see the likely hood of 1. being able to give 3 months notice. or 2. your new employer paying it for you or 3. paying it yourself without looking for an out just pretty unlikely.

        1. ScaredyCat

          Hm… I don’t remember, would have to check.

          I know that they also promised to give a 3 month notice period in case of a firing. Though I heard about people who were let go instantly (for gross misconduct).

    2. rando

      Agreeing to breach of contract damages ahead of time is called liquidated damages. However courts do not enforce aliquidated damages clause if it is designed to penalize the breaching party instead of compensate the non breaching party for the breach.

      Do you have a citation for a case where a clause like that was upheld? A years salary seems like a penalty. I could see a month’s salary I could see being upheld but a year is extreme.

      1. Brett

        The problem in my case is that it is a law, not a contract, so it is perfectly okay for it to penalize instead of make whole.

        1. Anna

          Can you explain that a little? The workplace can’t make laws, so where did this ordinance come from? And is it local or federal?

            1. Chinook

              I agree – if you work for the government, they can create exceptions to current workplace laws that can only be changed by said government. This is why it is illegal in Canada for the RCMP to form a union and neither federal nor provincial/territorial laws can apply to them (unlike every other police force in Canada) and it takes an Act of Parliament to change it. They are stuck in a legal limbo because their boss is directly answerable to Parliament who also appoints him. This situatino made sense when they were created as a paramilitary force 130 years ago and sent off to quell a rebellion but not so much now.

        2. anon

          Laws are invalidated by courts all the time. Just because it’s a law (ordinance) doesn’t mean it’s legal.

          1. doreen

            Yeah , but in my case ( and probably Brett’s ) it’s an ethics/conflict of interest violation and while a court may invalidate a specific statute/ordinance, no court is going to throw out the entire concept of enforcing public ethics/conflict of interest laws. There are any number of places I can work after I leave state service- but I can’t appear before my former employer in a matter for two years , I can’t work on a contract regarding my former employer for two years, and I can never work on a matter I worked on as a state employee. And you as a taxpayer don’t really want me working as an expediter of building permits two months after I quit working for the building department, giving a contract to the alcohol rehab that’s going to hire me after I retire in a year, or quitting the prosecutor’s office and joining the defense team of someone I was prosecuting a few weeks ago.

            In my state, these laws and fines don’t only apply to state employees. The same commission also deals with lobbyists, elected officials , political parties , candidates and yearly financial disclosures for all of the preceeding categories ( up to $40K in fines for not filing that)

          2. Brett

            Just like doreen said, this is an ethics law. The compelling public interest for ethics laws is very high, and some extremely negative consequences for a few employees are not going to be enough to get a law thrown out.

            These laws are also intended to prevent employee poaching. In the case of private companies, they get less leeway. But for public agencies, the public has a strong interest in not having government employees poached, so anti-poaching measures are much more tolerated in the public sector than they are in the private sector (the vendor who does hire me can be disqualified as a vendor or pay a steep fine too).

            The more “local” you get, the tougher the laws can get too. It may seem like a big deal to me that I have to move a couple of hundred miles away to get a job, but that is not very huge compared to statewide or federal ethics laws that can impose restrictions across entire states or the entire country.

    3. AmyNYC

      The only place I’ve seen such large notice periods is in a specialized private school, but I don’t think there’s a financial penalty if you can’t work your three months.

    4. BB

      I would see this as a scare tactic. Maybe a year of salary can be worth taking someone to court over but 3 months? In the majority of cases, I don’t see how that can be worth it to a company.

  8. Fucshia

    #1 – Can you consider an alternate lighting method besides fluorescents? For people prone to headaches from light, they are the worst.

    I think desk lamps would be the ideal solution. Then they can be turned off or on as needed.

    Or you turn on all the lights, but let people put up cube tents. I don’t know if that’s what they are really called, but they providea roof to the cube to block the light.

    1. Noelle

      I was thinking desk lamps too. Although I’m surprised that some people want NO light, because I always find the eye strain is the worst when I’m looking at a computer in the dark.

      1. Jamie

        All this talk of people wanting to work on a screen in the dark is taking me back to my childhood and the oft repeated refrain of “Turn a light on when you watch TV, do you want to ruin your eyes?”

        And a similar lecture each night I was caught reading under the covers with a flashlight.

        “Turn a light on if you’re going to read or you’ll ruin your eyes.”

        “Can I turn my light on?”

        “No, it’s bedtime – go to sleep.”

        As a parent I now understand that at a certain point in the day logic just deserts you and you spout nonsense to just get 5 minutes of quiet time before you conk out yourself.

    2. Tinker

      Dude. When I was a kid, I had one of those mattress tents that fit on like a sheet and have rods to make the tent part. It was camouflage.

      I so, so want a cube tent. In camouflage, please. And then I’ll bring in my compass and hiking backpack and books about adventures on mountains and read them by flashlight until one in the morning.

  9. Chocolate Teapot

    1. The lighting saga is one of those examples of how people can become very terratorial at work. I happen to be lucky as my desk is next to a window, so I get a good supply of natural daylight. Would lamps solve the problem in this case?

    1. Celeste

      #1 I’ve never been someplace that will allow lights off; interesting. I’ve known people who had trouble with lights, and they would just wear a hat or visor to reduce the effect. Then we got a new dress code that disallowed head wear, unless you had a doctor’s note. I think they handle it case by case when somebody has a religious reason for wearing head covering.

      I think lamps would help a lot, and there are always conference rooms for talking with somebody who does want or need the overhead light.

      I do think that if it’s going to be policy that the lights aren’t turned on in an area, there should be a sign by the switches in order not to repeat the scenario of somebody turning them on, off, on. I do not excuse the unhinged lady, not one bit. I just think a little notification of the deviation is in order.

    2. Vicki

      I had a desk next to a window. It was heaven.

      Then we got a third cube-mate who would walk in every morning 2 hours after I got there and pull the blinds shut. (Given the shortage of natural light in the average cube farm, he was cutting it off for himself, for me, for our other cube mate, and for everyone between us and the interior corridor.

      If you can’t sit near a window because it’s “too bright”, please please, please tell your manager. I guarantee you will have co-workers lining up to change places with you. But don’t pull the blinds!

  10. Mike

    #1) I feel the pain of “wrong” lighting. One office I was in my desk faced a window which looked out onto a white building that really reflected the sun light at the worse time of day. Another office my desk was close to the wall of windows which looked at another building that had a ton of windows that reflected light. Several times I’ve had to grab the laptop and sit somewhere else for an hour to let the sun pass.

    1. iseeshiny

      Me too! In my office right now I have a wall of windows behind me, and on sunny days I have to remember to turn the lights off in the afternoon or I will get a migraine, even through the blinds. I can handle bright lights on their own but not the combination of fluorescent and natural. That said, my office mate is a really good sport about the lights and just turns on her desk lamp.

    2. Ellie H.

      I sit in front of a giant east-facing window and although we have super high ceilings and theoretically a great view, I have to keep the shades closed until mid-afternoon or it’s too bright, which is really too bad. I’m really sensitive to light and would love dimmer lighting. I love it when it is really overcast and then I can have the window open all day.

    3. Alex

      I get a lot of flack from my coworkers here for my dark office – I have a nice floor lamp that I use, and I close all of the blinds and turn off all of the overhead lights. It’s sort of a shame though – the view from the windows is lovely. We have a park with a pond, ducks, flowers, etc, but even natural sunlight really increases my eye fatigue. I’ve got both monitors on the lowest setting for brightness as well. My coworkers think I’m a vampire. They’re probably right.

      1. Chinook

        I would give a coworker with a great view who hides it behind curtains a lot of flack too. If you don’t need/want the natural light, why wouldn’t you take an inside office (real question, not snark)?

        1. Arjay

          I can’t speak for Alex, but in our building, we were randomly assigned spaces without any opportunity to provide input. Seat changes, including phone and computer moves, are charged to the department at something like $800 a piece. Move requests are seldom approved without a solid business reason that goes beyond “has to close the blinds on a nice view.”

          1. Jamie

            Wow – I wouldn’t mind a kickback from that IT department.

            I’m trying to figure out how to get to that figure even if you had to run cable and install jacks and I’m drawing a blank.

        2. Bea W

          True! I have seen this, where employees with windows have the blinds drawn because they prefer dark, and that means the rest of us away from the windows don’t get the natural light. That always kind of drove me nuts, because it was the one person out of 30 others who had total control over the window situation, and you can’t really tell that person to suffer their glare or headache or not being able to see their monitor for the sake of opening the blinds. That’s not good either.

          The solution here seems pretty simple, move the people who dislike being right in the sun’s path away from it, and put the people who want more light closer to the light. It kills me that people who don’t care about having a view or outright dislike the window are stuck there when other people would love that spot, and you could switch them off and have both types be happy with the arrangement. I think the problem is office bureaucracy and politics though, at least that was it where I’ve worked. At my current job, it costs like $1000 to move an employee from one desk to another even if you can get it approved to begin with. So you’re stuck with what you get.

          1. Lora

            I always wonder where these price tags come from. Nobody has ever been able to produce an itemized bill. I rather think the pricing racket is made up from the Division of Clear Blue Skies, or possibly the Chief Rectal Extractor, just because it’s kind of annoying extra work and they figure people are just whining and if you give in on this it’ll never end until everybody has massage chairs and full-spectrum desk lamps and decent coffee.

            1. Bea W

              Well, there’s the $50 for someone to move and plug in your computer, and lunch for the guy who has to press some buttons to reroute your phone line. The rest is a combination of Annoyance Tax and the cost of a bottle of hand sanitizer for the Chief Rectal Extractor.

          2. Alex

            I used to work in a cubicle farm setup with huge sweeping windows on one side of the floor – they moved me from farthest away to closest to the windows, and despite my requests and then complaints about decreased job satisfaction, they just wouldn’t move me back because they worried it would create musical office cubes. I wore sunglasses for awhile, then I quit. It was such an easy fix for them to move me back, but they wouldn’t do it.

            These darn sensitive eyes! It’s kind of like thermostat wars – you just can’t make everyone happy.

        3. Alex

          We only have 4 I individual offices, all facing the same view. Nobody is missing out because of me :)

    4. Anne

      I feel your pain. We face north, with large windows, but there is a building directly north of us that also has a lot of large windows. Between the windows and the small parking lot between the two buildings there is a wicked amount of glare pretty much any time the sun is visible in the sky, despite that fact that we don’t get a lot of direct light most of the year.

      Overcast days are my favourite by far.

  11. FiveNine

    OMG I already have so many issues with eye strain and headaches I would be seriously stressed out if suddenly half my coworkers wanted the lights out on top of it.

  12. MR

    Since people apparently can’t be adults, it’s time for one of the senior managers to settle the lighting issue once and for all. Plus, if I would have been on the receiving end of that analysts tirade, I would have just fired her (of course, I don’t have a tolerance for that type of behavior from people above the age of 12, but that’s just me).

    1. theotherjennifer

      actually where we are, in Mass, it’s some kind of code or safety violation to have the bulbs off. The facilities guy came in and turned them all on and we all suffered, we managed to get one bulb in each light turned out and that seems to be good. It’s an office for cryingoutloud – deal with it or get another job.

  13. Sara M

    My husband really loved his “roof” over his cube. It blocked the pesky office lighting and helped him concentrate. When he got one, all the other engineers bought them too. I don’t know what brand he had, but it’s the type of thing like this:

    https://www.cubeshield.com/

    1. Jennifer

      Oh, this looks nice. I think I’d need bigger ones though…those look like they’d cover my cube corner but not to the point of my monitor/headspace.

    2. Nicole

      I love that and could have really used it at my old job as I got headaches a lot from the bright/flickering lights. I’m going to bookmark it in case I need it in the future. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Dan

    #5

    AAM, since you rarely get contract related issues, I don’t think your readership is too well versed in them. Why did you advise that you aren’t concerned with the notice/payback issue here? I’d pe pretty hesitant to do that without consulting a lawyer first.

    1. Grace

      #5 – The employee can also post this legal question, for free, on www dot avvo dot com for an employment lawyer in that state to answer.

      1. Grace

        #5: The employee can post their employment law question on the “ask a lawyer” (free) section of www dot avvo dot com.

  15. Too early

    #2 – If her attitude issues are a new thing and not something that you have always dealt with, it is possible that there is something else that’s going on. I’d approach her with a sense of concern and ask if everything is okay.

    I am dealing with something similar at work (anxiety issues), and it was something I wasn’t even aware of was affecting me at work, until my manager pointed them out. I don’t think I was ever disrespectful, but I definitely had an “attitude problem” that stemmed from other things.

  16. UK Anon

    Health and Safety gets a bad reputation over here, but I am going to appreciate it today! It certainly solves issues like lighting problems…

    1. MissM

      There ARE such regulations in the US, however OSHA rarely inspects office environments (they focus on more dangerous work environments) so most office managers are unaware of the rules.

  17. Lindrine

    Hmmm is this my office? A very similar situation happened where I work. I am one of the people who does like the “darker” lights put in over my desk, but I work by a huge bank of windows so I have a lot of natural light. I would rather have a lamp for task lightning than overhead light, but that is just me. And if the rule is “lights are same for everybody” I just shrug and move on with my day. And cover the top of my cubicle (just kidding). It’s nice to have options, but not cool when people create drama and pressure others over it.

  18. Joie de Vivre

    I had a similar lighting saga with one of my teams. It started with just one migraine sufferer having the lights turned off over her desk and it snowballed into the entire floor being dark with the exception of a few lighted areas.

    Like the OP, at first none of us managers wanted to get into the debate, but it got to the point we had no choice. We brought in a health and safety rep to evaluate the lighting and he suggested moving the ceiling fixtures to be over the aisles instead of the desks, removing one out of the three bulbs and changing the remaining two bulbs to ones that gave a softer light. At considerable cost, we made the changes and moved the migraine sufferer to the darkest corner in the new set up. There was still some grumbling from those that preferred the darkness, but it soon passed.

    1. A bright individual

      I’m surprised that with respect to lighting nobody mentioned Seasonal Affective Disorder yet. I need bright lights, especially in the winter, or I can’t function. At one time I had a cubicle where no natural light could possibly penetrate and the company used minimal lighting with the 34 watt fluorescent lamps that flickered all day long. Saying I was miserable was an understatement. I put in several halogen desk lamps and my cube was so bright that there was a white patch on the ceiling above me. It still wasn’t enough and I had to fight falling asleep all day long but it helped somewhat.

      1. Chinook

        I think SAD hasn’t come up because it is truly a regional health issue (I.e. California law is probably silent on the issue). But, winter lack of light may be why I have never been in a cubical without task lighting and why no one bats an eye at someone with their own lamps at their desk.

        1. Anony Mouse

          Chinook,

          I’ve worked in several areas and based on your avatar I guess you are in Calgary. I’ve worked there and remember the winter sun coming up at 10AM and going back down at 2PM. If I didn’t brave the -20 to -30 deg C lunchtimes temperatures to go outside I wouldn’t see sun till springtime. This issue I mentioned above was in a more southern location, although not California.

          1. Chinook

            BTDT. This year was worst than most ebcause it always seemed to be overcast (unsual for sunny Alberta) and I always preferred a sunny -40 to a grey -15 (Celcius). But, the brain does adapt slowely over the season and, on Saturday, when there was 2 feet of new snow on the ground, I was literally questioning all the clocks in my house because it was 8:30 pm and bright outside! This messed me up more than the weeks fo grey weather ever did.

            1. Al Lo

              It’s amazing how our perception of light and weather go together.

              One of my favorite days of the year is DST day, when even though Calgary’s weather still feels super wintery, summer feels possible, since it’s suddenly light until almost 8 PM overnight.

              When I lived in California, it threw me off more than anything to be outside in November with mild, warm weather but dark at 6 PM. My internal clock had no idea what time it was supposed to be. In my experience, warm evening + dusk/dark = 11 PM.

              (And yes, this past week was the opposite of that. I kept staying longer at work than I’d intended to, because grey + snow + light outside = 4:30 PM, not 8:30 PM.)

        2. Lydia

          You want to look into buying something like this. Regular light, no matter how much of it you use, won’t do it. You need specific SAD therapy lights (because of the UV and ion issues.)

          This will also keep you from annoying those around you and allow you to target yourself. Worked really well for several women in my office who suffer from SAD.

          http://www.amazon.com/NatureBright-SunTouch-Plus-Light-Therapy/dp/B000W8Y7FY

          http://www.amazon.com/Lightphoria-000LUX-Energy-Light-Lamp/dp/B004JF3G08/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1398184311&sr=8-2&keywords=SAD+lights

      2. RG

        SAD needs a specific wavelength of light. Light in general helps, but you need something that will put out UV rays (and then use it in limited doses).

        1. Hlyssande

          This is why I love my Verilux Happylight that I got for christmas one year. Two hours a day during the darkest part of winter makes things so much easier.

          It does give me headaches, though.

      3. Bea W

        I did, but my post was later. I worked for a few months in a dark area with no windows. I brought in an actual SAD light to have at my desk to try to ease the misery and mostly the feeling sleepy part, but it was no substitute for natural light. I had never been next to a window before either, but at least the room had natural light. This was like working in a cave.

        I’m in the northeast. I use a light box at home from roughly Oct-Mar, though some years it can be as early as end of Aug/early Sept and well into April. I also use them for really dreary mornings or consecutive rainy days when I start feeling irritable. I have a sunrise simulator alarm clock, because getting up in the dark is just near impossible. :-/

  19. C average

    We’ve had lighting wars, too, and I’m solidly in the prefers-to-work-in-the-dark camp.

    I know some of you are going to laugh at this, but there’s something about fluorescents that is just not conducive to creativity (I’m in a creative role with a lot of deliverables), and I really struggle to do good creative work in what feels like a harshly-lit environment. When I need to do my best work, I come in very early so I can work with the office to myself and have it lit the way I prefer (i.e., minimally) or arrange to work elsewhere. If you see creative types hanging out in coffee shops or open areas within office buildings and wonder why they’re there when they have perfectly good office or cube space, I’ll bet for a lot of them it comes down to lighting preferences.

    It is really hard to engage creatively and do good work when, all the time, a nagging voice in your head is saying, “The lighting in this place is giving elementary school/hospital flashbacks! I just want some control over this aspect of my creative environment.”

    1. Cat

      I get that, but it sounds like this workspace is so dark people can’t read anything that isn’t on the screen. That is just unsustainable.

    2. OriginalYup

      I get what you’re saying, but I think OP#2’s workplace has crossed the mental line from “reasonably accommodating different preferences” to “not making my workplace exactly like I want it is inhumane oppression and HOW DARE YOU SIR.”

      I like how various other posters handled it, by bringing in experts to assess the environment & tweak the layout. That seems like a sensible evidence-based way to address considerations like yours while not losing sight of the other people who need different conditions in order to work well.

      1. C average

        Yeah, I definitely get that in most larger workplaces there probably needs to be A Policy if some sort to prevent each person from freestyling the lighting in their cube space. It’s the dismissiveness toward the concern that bothered me. Lighting can and does really impact morale and productivity. If your workspace feels like an interrogation room, wanting to change the lighting isn’t unreasonable or crazy.

        1. OriginalYup

          Yeah, I think a lot of workplaces are hesitant to even open the door on this conversation because of cost, and also because they want to proactively shut down the unreasonable requests before they emerge. For every reasonable person I’ve worked with who just wanted slightly different lighting or desk layout to accomplish X, there always seems to be that counterpart who won’t be comfortable until they can lie on a divan being fanned with palm fronds while smooth jazz plays in the background. The powers that be see the unreasonable coming down the pike and think, “No! We will not discuss the lighting! Next will be the demands for Snuggies and foot massages!”

          1. C average

            In our light war, to be clear, it didn’t start out with anyone acting like a special snowflake. One bank of fluorescents burned out and the group working in that area preferred it dark and didn’t ask facilities to replace the bulbs. Other adjacent groups began asking how they could get their lights disabled, too, and thus began the light wars. It didn’t seem that anyone actually LIKED the fluorescents–it was more a This Is A Business Environment And Must Have Fluorescent Lights stance. Since we don’t have clients in our area and the workforce expressed a preference that’s actually more energy-friendly, it seemed crazy to me that a few high-level management folks with offices of their own should decide the issue, seemingly without considering our input.

            1. Jamie

              For those of you who want to make the case to check out feasibility of lighting changes there could be some serious ROI.

              I don’t know the specifics regarding the before and after bulbs for us – but when we went from the harsh fluorescent lighting to this softer diffused deal we have now there was a pretty big financial incentive from ComEd. They covered part of the install and with the new service plan and reduced rates for doing this (they were pushing it) it paid for itself in less than a year. And that was to do the whole building – which is pretty huge.

              So while yes, it’s expensive to replace all the lighting – more and more buildings are moving away from the old resource intensive lighting to a better system for economical reasons. So if I were miserable about lighting in a building with the old flourescents I’d google potential incentive programs with your utility and see if they offer something.

              Because it would be pretty cool to get what you want while also getting credit for saving the company some serious cash on the electric bill.

      2. Lydia

        I think a lot of people have missed the fact that lamps can be brought in. And hopefully managers are lighting the hallways… because if not, that’s a hazard.

        In my old workplace, we never had the overhead florescents on. I don’t even ever remember there being a discussion about it. Somehow by mutual consent, everyone just had brought in their own individual lighting to their cubicle if they wanted, and it was lovely. Of course, this office had a lot of natural light from the sides… many windows. If you’re working in an office without a lot of windows on the sides, I suppose things would be more dire.

        1. Us, Too

          I think this depends on the layout and size of your building. In our lighting wars, the situation was complicated by the fact that we didn’t really have “hallways” per se. Imagine a huge warehouse with windows on the exterior walls and nothing inside but row after row of cubicles. When the overhead lights were off above the cubes, it meant that an entire warehouse sized space was dark except for tiny pools of light from desk lamps unless you were one of a handful of people near an exterior wall. The vast majority of the cube farmers weren’t, though.

    3. Andrea

      Oh, I believe it. I’m a writer, and I work from home, near a sunny window and with non-fluorescent lamps. It makes a difference.

      I’ve always heard that fluorescent lighting is bad for the eyes, anyway. Not sure if that’s true.

  20. Op #2

    I have to say as unpleasant as it must be–lighting wars sounds very entertaining, though that is because I don’t have to work in the dark!

    Anyway, an update from OP#2.

    Before I wrote to AAM I had sent a strongly worded e-mail in response to the inappropriate e-mail, requesting a sit down conversation to get on the same page as far as my expectations. Because she has a habit of doing an end-run and going to higher ups when something happens she doesn’t like, my boss has requested she be present to let her know this wont work and to communicate the seriousness of the issue. I sent the e-mail to AAM dreading going into work and confronting an angry staff member, but surprisingly she was professional, apologized for the miscommunication and asked for clarification on what I’d asked her to do that she’d refused to do in the earlier e-mail.

    We are still sitting down to talk–she needs to get the feedback about the whole issue, and know I see a pattern of behavior that is concerning. But I feel more confident that she will be able to change and at least fake being pleasant.

    1. LQ

      Sounds like you are taking some good steps to move forward on this. This is clearly someone you want to try to keep in the position, but I would warn you that someone with a bad attitude absolutely will impact others they work with and that is something to take into account.

      I had a job I despised that was an obscenely long commute. It was extremely difficult for me to be upbeat, especially when I was pretty much commuting for so long I’d have to get home and go directly to bed. No hobbies, no fun, nothing but buses and job that sucked the life out of me. So I can empathize with the employee. Something that might be very helpful is a clear plan for escape. (Assuming you can transfer them to a different location/job that they would be better suited to.) If you resolve Y problem, produce 5000 widgets, and maintain a positive attitude, you will be moved to Z location more suited to you as soon as a position opens up. If you do skip any of these steps we won’t be able to move you.

      If this is the job the employee signed up for and it is all you can offer then just be up front about that and maybe it isn’t a good fit.

    2. Oy vey.

      Coming from the other side, I regret to inform you that no matter how pleasant she’s acting, given how disrespectful and resistant she was in the beginning, she’s probably taking it personally and still seething with resentment even if you can’t see it.

      My manager tries to manage my every minute (seriously, she calls and makes surprise visits to “check up” on me) and we got into a big blowout a few months ago. I lost because the boss decided to back her so now I’m all compliance and sugar and rainbows while I secretly wish misfortune on her. It definitely affects my motivation to innovate and elevate my work to make her look better (I have several projects that she can’t claim any sort of responsibility for so I mostly work on those).

      1. Colette

        If you’re taking it personally, seething with resentment, and working on things that don’t help your manager, you need to be looking for a new job.

      2. Lydia

        Honestly? Do you know that everything you’re doing is actually going to make yourself miserable in the end, not your manager?

        Right now you actually sound pretty miserable. (No offense.) It just also sounds like you can’t see that.

    3. Anon College AA

      I’m glad things are looking better. Since this meeting was including your boss as well, I think you need to also watch how the employee acts when it is just the two of you – make sure she is just as respectful and professional when your boss isn’t around. I’ve been in a few unfortunate situations where an employee believed that they didn’t need to respect their immediate supervisor for whatever reason (personality conflicts, racism/sexism/ageism, any number of not acceptable reasons) but they “played nice” when the bigger bosses were around. This especially seemed to be true of one employee in particular who liked to give the run around to our immediate boss in favor of jumping up the chain of command 2-3 levels, and it took a lot of documentation of insubordination to convince the higher ups, who then finally issued a reprimand that she MUST respect the authority of the immediate boss.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yeah, and I usually think that pulling in the manager’s own boss is kind of undermining to the manager’s authority — it sends the signal that she doesn’t have full authority to impose consequences on her own.

        1. Op #2

          The meeting hasn’t taken place yet, and my boss wanted to be there for it as she was dragged into the whole thing and is worried this employee might sue. One of the things I want to address is not coming to me with issues, and going right to admin. I think it will help to have my new boss back that up. It is tricky for me because I feel like both my performance and this employee’s performances are up for review with my boss there. Especially because the boss is so new.

  21. Cat

    People think the senior manager “had no business” flipping on overhead lights when coming into a weird, dark work area during the day? There are “light free” zones where new employees are pressured never to use their lights? Someone freaked out and had to be escorted from the building because the lights were turned on? Sorry, but this whole situation is insane. The only possibilities that make this even sort of make sense is that (a) you’re actually living in a weird post-apocalyptic novel and your office is gradually being taken over by a creepy no-light cult; and (b) actually, I am really only coming up with (a).

    Anyway, this is nuts. Workplaces need to be sufficiently lit that people can read a piece of paper. If people want some of the fluorescents removed, sure, but there need to be minimum lighting standards or else employees and visitors are going to start falling into the jungle pit traps and tripping over the severed heads and whatever else whackjob things are lurking around the office. Imagine the workers comp claims.

    1. Contessa

      To be fair, (a) could also be living in a post-apocalyptic novel where turning on the lights would give away the office’s location to invaders . . . unless that’s (b).

      Your make a great point about worker’s comp claims. The office’s worker’s comp insurance carrier will not be amused (translation: premium hike) if someone trips in the dark and injuries him/herself. Sometimes worker’s comp claims result in state OSHA investigations, too, so the office would get a double whammy.

      1. Cat

        That’s a good point. If the zombies are attracted to light, I can see the logic in leaving them off.

        1. Jamie

          If that’s the case my people will be lighting their places up like the tree at Rockefeller Center.

          I read a theory once that when the Zombies come they will save IT for last – so once we see everyone else starting to fall then we’ll put our escape plan into action.

          After we properly shut down the servers and lock the door to the data centers. Just because you’re running for your life is no reason not to do things properly.

          1. Chinook

            Jamie – you have to explain – why would zombies go after IT last? Is it because they have sympathy for their own kind?

            (Chinook now runs and hides while sticking out her tongue)

            1. Jamie

              Ha! It was a cool post from an IT forum where someone was just goofing around and in his story we’re last. For some reason it’s stuck with me, but now I want to find it because I don’t know if there was a reason.

              Although I would assume the reason is the same as why you have to finish your broccoli before you get desert…because you have to earn the good stuff!

    2. LBK

      Agreed, I can get on board with the idea that the lights are causing issues for a significant number of people (although that alone strikes me as odd) but the fact that this is causing so much drama is absurd. These are grown adults working here, right? And presumably these aren’t strobe lights? Personally I’d be very annoyed if someone was pressuring me into having the light shut off over my cube, and asking me to get a desk lamp to convenience yourself even if it’s inconvenient to me is downright rude.

      1. Cat

        And given that we know people physically removed the lights in their cubicles and then were still upset that the senior manager turned other lights on, we can deduce they’re leaving the walkways totally unlit too which is just not okay.

          1. Judy

            I’ve never worked anywhere in a cubicle farm that has an “off” switch for the emergency lighting. Usually there are strategic lights that don’t turn off over the aisles. These are the ones that are wired through backup batteries (and a generator if the place has one)

              1. Chinook

                You don’t have emergency lighting in your office? Do you atleast have lit signs near exit doors? If not, that should be a safety issue because how many people keep a flashlight in their desk drawer for mergencies? At the very least, there should be luminescent floor markings (like on an airplane) to show you how to leave the bulding during an emergency where there is no power.

                1. fposte

                  Maybe in new builds. What you’re describing is pretty unusual in most older office buildings in the US.

                  We have emergency lighting attached to the exit signs that goes on in the event of a power failure. It’s not on if the lights are merely turned off.

                2. Bea W

                  I’ve been in buildings where the emergency lighting was some floods on top of a box that I think had a battery. It wasn’t tied in to the overheads.

                3. Cat

                  Yeah, my building may well have some kind of emergency lighting that goes on when the power goes out (I’ve never been in the building when that’s happened) but we don’t have “runner” lights. I know because I’ve been here after hour when all the common area lights are off and it is legitimately creepy.

    3. OriginalEmma

      This actually reminds me of the Cory Doctorow short story “When Sysadmins Ruled the World.” Are you sure you don’t live in a science fiction universe, LW?

      1. Technical writer (Jen)

        I loved that story! The perfect mix of two of my favorite things: geeks and the apocalypse.

  22. GigglyPuff

    I’m fortunate enough at my job, my cubicle has built in shelves above the computer screens (actually took me almost two months to realize I had built-in lights under them), so I don’t get any glare. I definitely prefer lower light, though, mostly because my current pair of lenses turned out to be cheap, so I get the worst glare from everything. Luckily the light directly above my cube has always been burned out and I never bothered to ask them to replace it. Plus the area where I do most of my work has the lights shut off anyway so there isn’t light interference when digitizing.

  23. Lily in NYC

    Re Lighting Wars: What a bunch of babies. I don’t have lights because of residual complications from a bout with ocular shingles (something you never want to endure!). A few other people decided to get rid of their lights and everyone acts very maturely about it. If someone wants more light in a darker area, then they are free to put a lamp on their desk.

    1. Anonylicious

      “Ocular shingles” are the scariest words I’ve heard this morning. I’m sorry you had to go through that!

      1. Lily in NYC

        It was two years ago and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my eyelashes are never going to grow back (I’m missing about 1/3 of them in one eye). And it looks like someone stubbed out a cigarette a few times around my eyebrow. I’m not even going to mention the week of agonizing pain. Get the vaccine!

    2. fposte

      I don’t know; that sounds like it’s the workers’ obligation to purchase and acquire their own lights if they don’t want to sit in the dark, and that seems untenable to me. I mean, it sounds like you make it work (though I’m wondering about OSHA on this), but I don’t think it’s a good default.

      1. Gilby

        Yeah.. how do you say that to a new worker ?

        ” We don’t provide lightenting to this office…. but feel free to buy a lamp if you want to see what you are doing”.

      2. Elysian

        I agree – regardless of regulations, employers should provide at least the basics required for the job. Lights, chairs, some kind of work surface… It would be really unreasonable to stick a laptop on the floor in the middle of a dark windowless room and say “This is your workspace. Feel free to buy lamps, a desk, or a chair, if those would make you comfortable.”

        Even though florescent lights are horrible, I don’t think we can fault people who don’t want to work in the dark. It shouldn’t be their obligation to bring lamps.

      3. Lily in NYC

        Oh, we pay for desklamps. I should have mentioned that it sounds like our office is not nearly as dark as OPs. Most people who have no lights have their own office – I am one of the only people in a central location without lights, but I have a doctor’s note (not that anyone asked for it).

  24. Anna

    #1 – sounds like things have gotten wayyyy out of proportion, and it is NOT ok to yell at a senior manager (or anyone) but I definitely fall into the anti-fluorescent lighting camp. Fluorescents tend to give me a headache and I do think they negatively affect my productivity. As does the “cabin fever” I get from absolutely no exposure to natural sunlight all. day. long. Thankfully, this is my last week in my cubicle farm position, and next week I start a new job with my own office and a window, and I can turn off the overhead lighting if I wish!! Don’t mean to brag, just want to say thanks to Alison for all the job hunting tips!

    1. the_scientist

      I also have an office with no windows and during the dead of winter I was really struggling with random insomnia, which is quite unusual for me. I eventually realized that it likely stemmed from not having a window, therefore no natural light exposure, and not leaving my office to get some fresh air/light at lunch. Since in the dead of winter here it was dark when I arrived at work and dark when I left work, I was essentially getting zero sunlight. Making the effort to step outside even for 10 minutes during the day really helped.

        1. Chinook

          It may also help to get an alarm clock that also wakes you up with light so that it simulates sunrise (and sunset if you use it before goign to bed to read by). It atleast tricks the brain into thinking it is time to get up. Once I am fully awake, I then turn on every light in the house to simulate daylight and usually only have dim lights in the evening when I get home unless I need task lighting.

          1. Monodon monoceros

            I might get one of those next winter to use in addition to my light therapy lamp (we already have too much daylight again – now I’ve gone back to blackout curtains in the bedroom to block the 4am sunrise). I have read that the light alarm clocks are helpful for waking up, but some of them don’t have the UV that is necessary to really get the benefits of light therapy.

  25. the_scientist

    I sympathize strongly with the “no light” people in the Great Lighting Wars, because I find I get headaches and eye strain from fluorescent lights. I also currently have an office that has no windows, so no option of natural light. Guess what my office’s revolutionary solution to my problem was? A desk lamp! I also have a “task light” or whatever built into my desk, which means that between the two I have plenty of light for reviewing documents but don’t have to deal with the harsh glare of overhead lights.

    This solution works well for me because the only people who visit my office are my co-workers. They have all commented on my lack of overhead lighting ( I guess it’s a bit weird to come across your co-worker working by themselves in a semi-darkened office), but now many say they like it and have followed suit.

  26. Marcy

    OP #1 here. AAM hit it on the head with her insight about the unhinged analyst. She’s a real character and an eccentric in the best of circumstances. I think management would love to get rid of her but there are complicated reasons why that hasn’t happened.

    As for all the good advice, this environment is very function- and process-oriented, so people of various functions sit near each other. Thus the “light-loving lilies” and the “shade-loving hostas” cannot really sit together. (When we interview a new person would we ask: Lily or hosta?) However, I’ll say that after the blow-up, even the analyst’s closest companions seemed to realize she had gone so overboard as to threaten their preference.

    Green eye shades! I liked that advice. I prefer light myself but but I always wear a visor when I work outside in the garden.

    1. Blue Anne

      >When we interview a new person would we ask: Lily or hosta?

      Oh dear. Not phrased exactly like that, I hope. :)

    2. Anonsie

      It doesn’t sound like there are really any people who really want the light back, though, are there? If it seems like most everyone wants it dark and no one’s asking for the light back, leave it dark.

      I work with a number of people who’ve unscrewed the lights above their desks but have lamps, actually, because the different light source alone helps.

  27. Ann Furthermore

    #1 – Lighting Wars

    This will probably get me branded as a cold-hearted and unreasonable shrew, but I would have no tolerance at all for antics like this. How ridiculous. It’s a place of business, not anyone’s personal home or zen-den.

    If I were running the OP’s workplace I would announce that all the overhead lights were going to be turned back on, effective immediately. Now, florescent light is obnoxious, no doubt, and you can get bulbs that simulate natural light which is much more pleasant. I would replace all the bulbs with those, and make it clear that the matter was now closed, and that the next person to tamper with the overhead lighting, either by doing it themselves or getting a facilities person to do it for them, would risk finding themselves out of a job.

    1. iseeshiny

      That’s a fair stance, I guess, but for some people it is, in fact, a legitimate medical issue – when I get migraines I lose half my field of vision to horrible dancing blue and yellow flickering light patterns. Sometimes I vomit. Also my head hurts. Migraines can be a pretty big deal, and I have the neurologist’s bills to prove it. So it’s fine to say people can’t mess with the lights without permission (I actually agree that’s approaching ridiculous) but some people do require reasonable accommodation and not just to be prissy.

      1. Ann Furthermore

        I do get that there are people with legitimate medical issues that would require some accommodations, which is reasonable. But I feel very strongly that the number of people who really *do* have these issues (such as you) and the number of people who just think they do is pretty significant. This is something I feel pretty strongly about — perhaps wrongly — but I think that we (at least in the US) are evolving into a nation of hypochondriacs, and I don’t think the fact that the US is the only nation in the world where pharmaceutical companies are allowed to advertise their products is just a happy coincidence.

        My husband and I spent almost a year fighting with his ex over child support when his daughter moved in with us. Her stance was that she couldn’t afford to pay any at all, and part of the reason why was because of all the prescription medication she had convinced herself she had to take. She provided a list — a LIST — of all her myriad mental health issues that required medication. Not just 2 or 3 things, but a list of 8 or 9. For years, she was convinced that my stepdaughter needed therapy, was subject to panic attacks, and could not manage her stress. She tried numerous times to get my husband to agree to let her take my stepdaughter to see therapists to get her the medication she “needed.” My husband refused every time. Now that she lives with us, she has never had anything even faintly resembling a panic attack. This is a kid who gets straight A’s in school, works 25-30 hours a week, has lots of friends, and is a very straight arrow with no interest in drinking, drugs or partying. She’s got a great head on her shoulders and has been blessed with tons of common sense.

        My 5-year old was very, very shy when she was a toddler, and was slow to start talking. At our pediatrician’s recommendation, we got her some speech therapy. I never thought the issue was anything more than her being very stubborn, but it was free and couldn’t hurt, and just in case there was a problem, it was better to identify it early-on. The last part of the program was for her to go to a once-a-week preschool. I told the teachers that she would probably never totally warm up to them, because she’d only see them once a week and never have a chance to get comfortable with them. At the end of the semester, they told me they thought she was exhibiting signs of a condition called “selective mutism” and when I read the literature they gave me I found out that it’s basically a fancy term for being shy, and that the recommended treatment is PROZAC THERAPY. Prozac. For a 3 year old. We’ve got her in an excellent daycare and the teachers at her school are fantastic, and now she’s a happy, outgoing, talkative girl, described by her teachers as a “leader in the classroom,” and this was all achieved without drugging her.

        1. HappyLurker

          Kudos to you Ann! I feel very strongly as you do, about the over medication of our children and our society!

          1. Ann Furthermore

            Thanks for this, I’m definitely going to read it. I think there definitely is a place for all these drugs, but people are horribly over-medicating themselves, and their kids. This whole “magic pill” mindset that people have is, in my opinion, very dangerous.

            1. fposte

              I think it’s part of a broader interventionist mindset that’s included the medical profession as well–I’d relate it to the great Choosing Wisely initiative (a product of the major medical associations, so not exactly a fringe initiative) last year that outlined how many common medical tests and procedures *aren’t* needed or appropriate in certain situations.

        2. Technical writer (Jen)

          It’s starting all over the world… a friend’s 6 year old daughter was having behavior issues in class, so the doctor recommended Xanax. For a 6 year old! That’s insane.

        3. Saturn9

          Thank you for seeing fit to dismiss a real psychological condition on the basis that your 3 year old was misdiagnosed.

          I agree that too many people are quick to medicalize normal issues (especially in children and especially by a certain type of authority figure that seems to take it as a personal challenge when someone smaller and weaker than them is apparently refusing to conform to their will) but pretending these conditions don’t have a real neurological basis in some people isn’t the way to fix that.

      2. Ann Furthermore

        And I do get how horribly debilitating migraines can be. A woman I work with has suffered from them for years, and it got so bad that she took a few weeks of medical leave to have a procedure where some of the nerves at the base of her neck were essentially severed, with the idea that the pain would not be able to travel all the way up to those receptors to her head. It worked, kind of, but she still gets them.

      3. Jamie

        when I get migraines I lose half my field of vision to horrible dancing blue and yellow flickering light patterns.

        Absolutely. But just like how people using the word allergy diminishes it for true sufferers of allergies migraine has become similarly diluted.

        I have had migraines since age 7 and countless times throughout school a teacher didn’t take it seriously until I vomited in class. I also lose huge chunks of my field of vision and when particularly bad I lose all sight in my right eye.

        My right eye also gets all squinty and twitches and I sometimes get ocular hematoma without even touching my eye.

        So if someone has migraines triggered by lighting, that’s going to be pretty apparent to anyone working with them if they don’t fix the lighting because even without vomiting and eyes turning blood red a migraine isn’t an invisible ailment. For those people accommodating their lighting is no different than having a ramp for those in wheelchairs. It’s making a reasonable change so people can do their jobs.

        One of my instant triggers is the smell of tar – so I couldn’t get a job on road construction and ask them to accommodate me because that smell is an inherent part of the gig. But I can’t think of an instance where lighting would be a hardship to accommodate for those who truly need it.

        The problem is when people who don’t need something want to co-opt it because it’s an attractive accommodation, to them.

        Now, when it comes to lighting if it can be done without inconveniencing those who need light I don’t see why one would need a medical note. Someone prefers a lamp to OH? Okay. But when it gets silly like this and there is the danger of people working in the dark because they don’t want to go against hive think – then someone needs to step in and make sure it’s adequate based on normal standards and those who need accommodations get them. Period. Everyone else can either ask to tweak theirs politely or suck it up.

        It’s not home, there needs to be compromises.

    2. CAA

      This actually happened at one of my previous companies! As a group, the employees who were in cubes preferred to leave the main overhead lighting off. We had about 1/4 of the lights that were part of the building’s emergency exit system and couldn’t be turned off, so it wasn’t dark, just pleasantly dim over the cubicles. Those of us who were in offices had floor to ceiling windows and a glass wall on the interior side so there was plenty of natural light in addition to the cubicle task lights and emergency lights.

      We got a new CTO who was like you about lights. He’d built a very successful east-coast high tech company whose name you’d recognize, so he was considered quite a catch when he agreed to move west. He walked through the office on his first day, turned on all the lights and decreed they stay on forevermore before going back to his corner office upstairs. 30% of the engineering staff resigned within that first year (2011) and the company is now out of business. I myself left 6 months later, and that CTO was the primary reason. The whole thing about lights was an indicator of his general attitude towards employees.

      My current place has a mix of people with cube roofs, overhead lights off, desk lamps, etc. Every once in a while, the HR/Facilities guy walks through and gripes about how this doesn’t look uniform. I just keep telling him he’s not in the navy any more and programmers are more productive when they’re happier, plus it’s saving him on the electrical bill, so it’s to his benefit to ignore it. We do let him turn on the overhead lights if clients are coming through for a tour, though most of them would happily accept the explanation that quirky California programmers just prefer to work in the dark.

      1. Mike

        > We do let him turn on the overhead lights if clients are coming through for a tour, though most of them would happily accept the explanation that quirky California programmers just prefer to work in the dark.

        As a CA programmer I must say: The light, it burns us!

    3. Us, Too

      Having had this EXACT experience described by OP (including shouting matches in the workplace over it), I’m with you on this now. I originally thought we could all just get along, but found that this was not the case. People grew completely unreasonable and almost cult-like in their preferences. So, hindsight being 20/20, I’d create a policy from the outset if I could do it over again.

      If someone has a legitimate medical complaint requiring different lighting conditions, they are free to go through the normal ADA request process if they need accommodation. Otherwise, it’s your job and you’re free to look for another one if the working conditions don’t suit you.

      1. Ann Furthermore

        Well that’s the thing — people go so over-the-top with stuff like this that it’s distracting and removes the focus from why people are there in the first place — to work.

        I’ll again quote my husband, who tells all the people he hires the same thing on their first day. I used this quote in a thread yesterday too:

        “We’re not here to hold hands and take long warm showers together. We’re here to make money.”

        1. Jennifer L

          Rather hard to make money though if you don’t listen to your employees and they resign because they know the place up the street is going to accomodate their preferences.

          This is a sharp East Coast/West Coast divide. If you live on the West Coast you’ve likely worked in an office that has a lot of natural sunlight and allows people to adjust their light as they like. It’s a completely different environment that many East Coasters are capable of grasping (or are probably capable of picturing.)

          1. Ann Furthermore

            But I’m not an East Coaster. I live in the West. I’ve been working in corporate settings for 25 years and I’ve never seen behavior like the OP mentioned in her letter. Not even anything even approaching it. The most ruckus I’ve ever seen over lighting was people complaining because it took the facilities people a couple days to come change the florescent lightbulb that was flickering overhead.

            It’s work, it’s not home. You’re there to do a job and earn a living to support yourself. Like I said, many probably think I’m an unreasonable shrew, but people who have hissy fits about things like lighting (unless there’s a legitimate medical issue) to me are people who suffer from Delicate Flower/Special Snowflake syndrome. And the delicate flowers and special snowflakes minimize and de-legitimize the people who really *do* have issues that they need to have accommodated. That’s what pisses me off more than anything else.

          2. Cat

            Having lived in both places, I think it’s a mix – not every building in the west coast is a fancy LEED-certified building with natural light; there’s plenty of dreary suburban cubicle farms there too.

          3. Us, Too

            I’ve worked on the west coast and didn’t have this issue there. I had this issue in Austin, TX, of all places.

          4. Us, Too

            re: resigning over lighting wars.

            I’m pretty sure 99% of workplaces don’t offer the kind of control over the lighting situation that OP is describing and that I witnessed in our lighting war. Good luck managing to get hired when your interview ends with you saying “I’m going to require you to shut off all the building lights before I can be productive because light bothers me for non-specific medical reasons that I can’t produce a doctor’s note for….”

            Uhhh… NEXT!!!!

  28. LBK

    #2 bad attitude

    I think it also should be clear that moving her out of the position means out of the company, aka firing her, not transferring her somewhere else. Sometimes people get it in their heads that a transfer is the solution to poor performance, which is completely backwards.

    Transferring someone means you are putting your 100% stamp of approval on them. You’re vouching that they don’t even need to interview for the position because you’re so confident that they’ll excel at it that you’re willing to put your reputation on the line with their new manager.

    OP, if the employee brings up transferring in your conversation, I think you need to make it clear that you’re only willing to transfer someone who you feel confident recommending to the new manager, and with her current performance you would not be giving her a good recommendation.

  29. Anonylicious

    That lighting situation is insane. Management needs to come down hard with some guidance.

    I’m partially blind, so despite my migraines, I’m in the lights-on camp. I work in a windowless office, and I don’t need it to be any harder to see. Also, having the lights off at work makes me want to take a nap.

  30. some1

    #4, I partially disagree with AAM. If you are in a union, contact your union steward to find out if your contract has anything regarding order of layoffs if they are necessary — that’s what s/he’s there for. When I had a Union job is was based on seniority.

    But I agree with the advice to start actively job searching. Even if you aren’t laid off, you might come to find you’re doing way more work for the same money.

    1. Beti

      Agreed. I work for a unionized non-profit, too. Every year it’s the same dance: will-we-won’t-we get funding? Ugh. OP, read your contract to see if there are rules for layoffs. If not, maybe consider getting involved with the union to establish a plan. In our union, management and the union can establish new rules and add a Memorandum of Understanding outside the contract negotiations. I’ve been pushing for this since I think our jobs are hard enough without the added stress of this huge looming unknown. We haven’t had to deal with this for quite a few years but becoming more of an issue for us. Just FYI, in the past in my organization, more senior employees could bump more junior employees out of their position (provided they met job qualifications of course). Talk with your steward or rep and know where you are seniority-wise.

  31. Rebecca

    Ah, the lighting issue. We had normal fluorescent lights in our windowless offices, and they were OK. One Monday morning we arrived at work to find them replaced with energy efficient lights, complete with mirrored reflectors above the lights. It was brighter than an operating room. But of course, this is what the environmental team recommended. After a week of wearing sunglasses and hats, we twisted half the bulbs out and put them in an old barrel in the storage area.

    That was a miserable week. Even with a visor, I went home with headaches and the glare on my computer screen made it hard to see and work.

    I think a good compromise for the OP’s team might be to take out half the lights in the entire office if necessary, but not to have dark and light areas. That seems odd.

  32. Katie the Fed

    #2 – I had a very similar situation with one of my employees. If it’s not normal behavior (it wasn’t for mine – it was increasing over time), you might try approaching it from the tack of “I notice x, y and z lately, which seems out of character for you. Is something going on?”

    Because if it’s a change in behavior, there might be something going on that you can address or would be good to know. Now, none of that excuses it, but it helps you approach it from a less adversarial position.

    So with my employee, I started that way and said “OK, I understand. But I need you to stop rolling your eyes and sighing loudly in meetings, sending terse emails, etc. I can help you with the workload issue you mentioned, but I need you to do your part and stop this behavior, because it’s having a negative effect on the team.”

    It actually worked better than I expected. There were a LOT of tears from her end (not unusual) but she did improve.

  33. Overkill

    In our office, we have a couple of migraine sufferers who need the light above them off, and it’s no big deal for the others. Then there’s a kooky environmentalist who keeps turning off the lights in the common areas, but he’s good natured about it and only visits us for a week at a time from out of state.

      1. Overkill

        It’s not a big deal, in fact it’s not a problem at all, just an observation, though the office does feel depressive and slightly abandoned when the lights in the kitchen, hallways, toilets and conference rooms are off at the same time.

  34. Anons

    I really, REALLY hate overhead fluorescent lights and have had a lot of migraines triggered by them in offices where we also had CRT monitors and the flicker rates of the two basically were in constant conflict. So I am deeply sympathetic to the folks in OP #1’s cube farm — I’d sooner work in darkness than in a fluorescent-lit cubeville, too. (In fact, at my current job I have my own office and I brought in a floor lamp and a desk lamp so that I never touch the light switch for the ceiling lights.)

    That said, is it really so hard to get desk lamps for everyone? Or to let anyone who wants to bring one in?

  35. Employment Lawyer

    Regarding early leave:

    IF YOU ARE AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR: You’re more likely to be stuck by the terms of the contract. However, there are still issues of “unconscionability.” You should talk to an employment attorney; the Natoinal Employment Lawyers Association (“NELA”) is a group of plaintiff employee-side lawyers which is a good place to start, and it usually has additional branches (in my state you would google “Mass NELA”)

    IF YOU ARE AN EMPLOYEE: Generally speaking, this is very likely to be illegal. If you live in an at-will state, and especially if you are not a government employee, it is even more likely; if your employer retained the right to discharge you at will then it is even more likely. Talk to a lawyer.

    IN EITHER CASE: You have more negotiating power than you think. Presumably your employer does not want you to stick around like a grumpy low producer while getting paid for three months. DO NOT DO THIS WITHOUT TALKING TO A LAWYER, but imagine a conversatio with your boss:
    OP: I got a new job.
    Boss. Huh.
    OP: Look, let’s talk about leaving. Normally you would get two weeks’ notice. You have a ridiculous contract which asks for three months. You’re aware of that, right?
    Boss: Yes.
    OP: So, let’s get one things clear: Obviously I am not going to pay you a penalty. If I agreed this was even legal–which I don’t–then I would simply give notice and stay for three months. That makes sense, right?
    Boss: Yes, that’s what you signed.
    OP: Does it really make sense? If I were an employer, and if someone wanted to leave, then I would really hesitate to force them to stay. It seems like a lot of money to pay in salary to get a disgruntled employee. Especially at a high level position. So let me ask right up front: even if I agreed it was legal–which I do not–would you actually rather pay me for three months and force me to stay against my will? Would you do that even if we were in a lawsuit? Because I would happily stay for ___ weeks and would work my ass off if we could come to an accommodation, but after that I suspect we would be in a serious disagreement.

    1. Greg

      Yeah, this is awesome. The one thing I’d add is to, ideally, have this conversation right after you got a paycheck (and have used up all your accrued vacation). That reduces their leverage over you. If you get any pushback, say, “I had really hoped to be able to work this out amicably, but unfortunately, this is going to have to be my last day.” Let them chase after you if they want, but they’ll actually have to go through the effort of actively collecting it rather than passively withholding it.

      Here’s what I don’t get about the OP: What’s the logic of requiring more notice for long-term employees. Could there be any better worse message to send to employees than “Your loyalty to this company will be punished”?

  36. MaryMary

    I’ve never worked anywhere there were Lighting Wars, but one very hot summer my old office closed all the blinds and turned off all the lights for any work area that had access to natural light. I’m sure it was more energy efficient, which was the goal. We’d also just gone through several rounds of layoffs. Rows and rows of empty cubicles plus constant gloom in the office made for one of the most depressing work environments I’ve ever experienced.

  37. The Cosmic Avenger

    This just came up recently. Apparently those under 25 require 1/4 of the light that those over 65 require for the same tasks. There’s a nice little table on page 7 of this PDF: http://www.ies.org/PDF/Education/LightInDesign.pdf

    Anyway, while that seems obvious once you read it, it is important that everyone recognizes that there are not only differing preferences, but differing requirements, including those who are sensitive to fluorescent lights.

    And my first thought was that if the company goes along with this, they should pay for reading lights for people who want them, otherwise it may be an OSHA issue.

  38. Sophie

    To the OP about lighting – I work in a design studio and to keep everyone happy we having up-lighters. You know, floor standing lights that shine light up onto the ceiling. So instead of hard harsh lighting beaming down onto someone’s desk we have the softer light coming down from the ceiling being reflected.
    Personally I can see where those anti lights people are coming from as I have very sensitive eyes so harsh overhead lighting does cause me headaches and eye twitching, but causing problems and pressuring new starters and other colleagues into sitting in darkness is not cool and unprofessional.
    So by all means accommodate but if you can’t deal with total black.. try up-lighting. Best of both worlds

    1. Bee

      That sounds amazing! We have very bright overhead florescent and three of the four people in my line of cubes prefer working with them off. It’s best when the rest of the office is still on – just exactly the right amount of light, and the key is that it’s not directly over our computer screens. Uplighting would be lovely, especially since we have light walls and a light-colored ceiling.

      Unfortunately, the fourth in our line is an older gentleman who absolutely does need the lighting. He’s not in the office all day every day though, and he’s gotten in the habit of turning our light out when he’s leaving, which is nice. No one else seems to mind it.

    1. Marcy

      #1 OP here. If your question was aimed at me I am not a writer, but I was an English major years ago. I do write a pretty good Christmas newsletter, if I say so myself. If it wasn’t aimed at me then I’m anonymously embarrassed right now.

  39. Geof

    Re: Light Wars and Headaches, Try changing the refresh rate on your monitor away from 60Hz . The ‘flicker’ from the monitor’s backlight and the ‘flicker’ in the overhead fluorescents matches [in the US power grid at least] YMMV on other power and light sources). I’ve found this helps with the light induced migraines for our data entry folks and dispatch team. I’ve also found that monitor glare can be solved with the stick on monitor privacy screens.

  40. Rev

    “…I know I can’t make her respect me, but is there a way that discussing disrespectful attitude will result in better attitude and not just make the problem worse?”

    Be prepared for the answer being, “No.”

    1. Jamie

      I would think it would be yes more often than not, though.

      Sometimes it really is just a matter of pointing out that what they are feeling shows to get them to put on a more professional face. It’s really easy to think that you’re keeping your issues to yourself and while not pleasant, sometimes a heads up that you’re emotional slip is showing is all that’s needed.

      1. A Bug!

        I agree with this. Perfectly reasonable people can sometimes just lose perspective and fail to recognize that their attitude is affecting their behavior. These people would certainly benefit from a wake-up call.

        (Further, that wake-up call should be given as early as possible because that sort of bad attitude can easily self-perpetuate. When people can see that you hate your job, they’re not going to enjoy interacting with you. If you don’t realize that they’re responding to you, then it’s easy to let what you perceive as their bad attitudes reinforce your own.)

  41. Gracie

    Well, now I know what my old office is up to since I left! (My letter’s linked to in my name but I know this letter refers to a different company).
    OP, I definitely sympathize but the best solution I could come up with was to get a new job, finally. Because even though I was able to move further away from the windows for a while, the person that wanted ALL the lights on and ALL the window shades opened ALL THE TIME was still working there too. And she didn’t like that I didn’t share her pro-glare views. And it got even more uncomfortable than it already was. Like your manager who flipped out at the senior staff member, my cubicle mate also had issues. I could either leave or wait for her to leave, which wasn’t going to happen. So I left. Good luck to you and I hope your team finds a solution that works for all of them.

  42. Cheryl

    I work in a cubicle farm as well and my entire row has the lights turned off, but we have task lighting as well if need be. I sit one cubicle off the aisle and for safety reasons those lights have to stay on. So when it’s a sunlit day and I feel like I just walked into the sun, I wear a hoodie and get called the Unabomber all day. But too, it makes a huge difference to me in that I don’t have the god awful headaches. And yes I can get medical accommodations if need be, but it hasn’t become an issue where I work.

  43. KM

    #1 — It sounds to me like maybe the employees in the office feel like they don’t have a lot of control over what’s happening to them, and so they’re seizing the lighting issue as something that they CAN control and trying to take a stand over it. That could be why it’s getting to be such a hot-button issue.

    I don’t need to tell you that there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of studies confirming that people can withstand stress and discomfort much, much better if they feel like they have control over what’s happening. If you feel like you’re entirely at someone else’s mercy, or being tossed around by forces beyond your influence, it amplifies all of the other pressures you’re feeling and makes them much more difficult to tolerate.

    So, the lighting issue may not be a lighting issue. It may be a sign that the people in the cubes feel powerless to control anything in their environment and that the pressure from that is starting to approach a critical level.

    1. fposte

      I’m so glad you said this–I was thinking this as well. This is not necessarily a fight about lights at all.

    2. Jennifer L

      Excellent point, very insightful. Although it may also just be related to lighting, but I think there’s some truth to what you’ve said too, that’s well worth looking into, especially if a manager knows these folks well.

    3. Headachey

      Yes, exactly – I think I was getting at this from a different angle in my reply to Jamie above

  44. BadPlanning

    Suddenly, I’ve never been so grateful for sitting in a building that has offices with lights you can control individually. And many offices have two banks of switches light so you can 1 or 2 lights on depending on what you like/need. When I sat in a windowless hovel office, I did bring in my own full spectrum lamp. It started out for my plant and then I think I just liked it in general for my own well being.

    Of course, the lights are on a master control timer so they turn off at night if you’re working too late (you can walk over and turn them back on — but really, you should just go home because you’ve been at work too long). Aforementioned lamp was handy on those late days.

  45. Crow T. Robot

    #1: “She had to be led out of the room and was sent home for the day – but she’s a whole ‘nother story.”

    Oh man, I really want to hear that story.

  46. Jennifer L

    Can we get clarification from the OP on the lighting question (#1) as to whether this is an East Coast office or a West Coast one? (One with lots of natural light or almost none?) It makes a huge difference. Also culture and company are likely to be different based on East Coast vs. West Coast. Reading through these comments I realized many people are commenting from one of two assumptions; that there’s an immense lack of natural light outside or there’s lots. And that makes sense whether you’re on the east coast or west. (Or I suppose, a place like Colorado, where you might have low temps and snow for some of the year, but a lot of sun too.)

    1. Cat

      I really think there’s more variance than you’re suggesting. Among other things, the West Coast includes Portland, Oregon–my home town–where for about nine months of the year, you’re probably going to want artificial light even if you do have windows due to the grey skies.

    2. Us, Too

      I’m in Austin, TX and we had a lighting war. We get a ton of sun so I really think that geography isn’t the deciding factor here. This is definitely a power struggle issue more than a practical one. (Our lighting war happened despite the fact that we provided desk lamps/task lighting in each cube.)

    3. ThursdaysGeek

      The sun doesn’t shine on the east coast? I’m confused — I thought it came from that direction first, before it got to us on the west coast.

  47. JenTheNiceHRGirl

    The lighting wars situation sounds like the space heater wars we had in my office. Some people were complaining they were sweating and others that they were freezing. Everyone got overly dramatic about it. I don’t know that the issue was truly solved but everyone seems to be a lot better at communicating their preferences. For a while there, I thought there was going to be some physical fights over the space heaters. It got that bad. Anyway, if the folks requesting the dim lighting are doing so out of a medical need, they should bring their manager and HR in the loop. If it is an ADA situation then the employer would be required to find a reasonable accommodation for them. Maybe there would be something that could be done for their specific area that wouldn’t impact the other workers who need the light. Good luck and I am really interested in seeing what happens :)

    1. Jennifer L

      Wow, if this tells me one thing, it’s that open offices (or cube offices) cause more drama than they’re worth!

      1. Colette

        I can’t imagine things like this are unique to cubicles or open offices. Lights are likely to be controlled on a per-office basis, but the heat probably isn’t. I know there are offices near me where there’s one thermostat for more than one office and some will be too cold and others too hot.

  48. KrisL

    On #1, certain florescent lights give people headaches. Like me. Especially after a few hours. To deal with this, I would wear a hat to shield my eyes and had 1 of the 2 light bulbs turned off.

    But I’d never want to impose on what other people are using for lights. And a completely dark area?

    Also, what was going on with the analyst?

  49. Biff

    My office has the upiquitous, migraine-inducing flourescent lights. I set up an Ikea bed canopy above my cube. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great solution for now. I wish I could pitch a Coleman tent and have it event darker, but this is a decent compromise. Now if I could just get a floor desk…

  50. Biff

    Okay, been thinking about it. There is something more going on in #2. Now, I’m not sure what it is, but I’m noticing that there are some missing details. No one that is a great employee becomes a sullen mess when trying to get transferred.

    I think this person perceives that they were let down. Was the transfer promised and then pulled? Was a promotion promised and pulled? Anything like that? Did they take the job assuming that the transfer would happen quickly?

    1. Op #2

      It is kind of a long story. The employee was transferred here reluctantly and has been trying to get transferred out since she got here. She thinks we should do more, but there literally are no openings and her attitude from the beginning has made finding another manager who wants to take her on a challenge. She has had a bad attitude at this location from the beginning, and has tried to go around me to force a transfer with various people. I think she never gave this location a chance and had it in her head from day one that this wouldn’t work, but doesn’t realize her attitude is making it harder to leave.

      1. Biff

        Thank you for the response. I have a couple of follow along questions that you might or might not have the answer to:

        1. Why was she transferred from her original location, which presumably she liked? I’m assuming that it was related to her getting a promotion or a different position, but there might be something else going on.

        2. Was she given any choice in the location or was it ‘move or quit’? Feeling helpless is never a good way to start off a major move/change.

        3. Did she move from a very different climate or social climate? I ask because I passionately loathe living in the city, and unfortunately, I found out AFTER I had moved to one. It was something I knew within a few HOURS of being here and something I confirmed within a few months. There was really no way to give the place a fair shake even though I wanted to. I find it horrendously claustrophobic. I also, lucky me, found out that I have a summer form of SAD — I need the dark, I need the cold. I presently live in a climate I’d describe as sub-tropical. Well, bleep. I was going crazy about the weather (literally nuts) in about six weeks after the move.

        What I’m saying here is that she might have known in advance that your location is no where she wanted to live, was forced to transfer anyway and upon realizing that she was stuck, did everything she could to get out and you were, unfortunately, an obstacle and treated as one, perhaps sub-conciously.

        Not to be picky, but my boss also used the phrase “You haven’t given it a chance’ with me and I wanted to strangle him. He has an entirely different idea of an ideal life than I do, and it took him 18 months to realize that. Finally figuring it out blew his mind. He just couldn’t imagine someone not liking a subtropical city. To him it is paradise and to me it is hell.

  51. Tara T.

    I agree with Cat (April 22), who wrote: “Workplaces need to be sufficiently lit that people can read a piece of paper. If people want some of the fluorescents removed, sure, but there need to be minimum lighting standards or else employees and visitors are going to start falling . . . Imagine the workers comp claims.” Absolutely. No boss in his or her right mind would allow the lights to be turned off like that. There also might be an OSHA inspection at some point, or a whistleblower claim that dangerous conditions exist at that workplace.

  52. Whazza

    People still fax? We have a fax machine at work. I don’t think it’s been turned on in years. Ha

    1. Anthony

      That’s the argument that high school dropouts use to support their stance. “I need to read this fax from 1995″…

      They’re the same people who’d like to push their own views on everything, because it makes them feel better about their miserable lives. They want YOU to conform to their beliefs because they decided to slack off. If, by some chance, they actually went to college; they probably went to a party school that allowed them to cram a whole semester’s worth of information into one night of cramming in order to pass. It sickens me to hear someone say “I went to Oneonta” so I deserve the same respect you “earned” for going to M.I.T.

  53. Dwight K Shrute

    I’ll add my comments about the Lighting Wars. I actually started this in my office a few years ago. We had really old fluorescent lights and the one above me burned out. I didn’t tell maintenance and just left it alone. I got used to the darkness and actually found that it made me calmer and more productive. Just like in the posting, this spread to other people liking the darkness and removing their lights or refusing to flip on the light switches in the morning. We had 75% of the room dark. Our manager worked in another area and came over one day and turned all the lights on. She couldn’t understand why we wanted to work in the dark. Eventually she put her foot down and said it was unprofessional to have a whole department working in the dark while the rest of the company didn’t. At the time I was mad, but I now see her point. I now alter my own area to fit my health and productivity, but try to accommodate others if they have to be in my area for longer than a few minutes.

  54. Vicki

    #1 – I call this “The Clan of the Cave People”.

    I’ve worked in several companies like this. The first was back in 1987-1991, where a few people would disable the fixtures above their cubes. It was only a few and the building was otherwise well lit.

    Then I was at companies where people had offices for a while and controlled their own lighting.

    The next was in 2002 there were no windows (well, there were, but they were around the perimeter and that’s were the manager offices were, with doors. Close the doors and the rest of the floor was dark and gloomy.

    I brought in two “torchiere” lamps and aimed them at the ceiling above my cubicle.

    Im 2004 I met “the Clan of the Cave People”. In that company,, most of the floor was dim but at least there were windows… except for one room that was away from the windows in the back and essentially pitch black. A co-worker was assigned to this space and had to make due with the little under-the-cabinet fluorescent lights (which, nevertheless, annoyed the people around him.). He hated it. Management wouldn’t let him move. He resigned. (That company had many issues, but lighting and sound topped the list.)

    Personally? I need light. At LastJob, (2006 – 2012) I was the person who called Facilities if a bulb was out (the bulbs in the lamps at that company were 15′ long and extended over multiple cubes). Anyone who decided to “disable” the lamps learned that I would call and get them replaced within hours.

    Alison says : “if people like it to be darker, let them have it be darker — as long as it’s not impacting the ability of other people to get the light they need to do their work.”

    In reality, at every company I’ve been in before LastJob, management turned a blind eye (pun intended) to the issue. You worked it out with your co-workers or you sat in the dark. And no, people turning off the lights on your floor was Never enough reason to move cubicles (egad! Facilities! Dollars! Politics!)

    I’m too old and much too assertive these days to stand for the “I like it dark” foolishness anymore and my eyesight is far more important to me than a few co-workers who prefers a dim room. To those co-workers I would say: wear sunglasses and a hat with a brim.

    So, my reply to the OP in letter #1 is that the senior manager was reasonable, the crazy co-worker needs to get her meds adjusted, and everyone needs to join the adult world in which we have overhead lighting in office buildings.

    1. Biff

      Uhm. You know, I can’t even either. And I never use that phrase. You are probably reasonable in real life, but honestly you just came across as a crusty, rusty battle-axe. What about the folks that have migraines (which we know are made worse by modern lighting and computer monitors?) You know, the office has changed dramatically in the last ten years.

      1. University admin

        I semi-agree here (minus the battle-axe wording!). I think it’s completely reasonable to say “I need light and I’m not going to work in an unreasonably dark space because of your preferences” – but it seems pretty extreme to call facilities every time a single bulb goes out/is removed. Plus if you’re calling facilities when someone did it purposely, why not just talk to the person? Surely there could be some kind of compromise involving a small percentage of lights-off, and some personal floor lamps.

  55. Trundles

    Real late to chime in, but our studio is all open-concept and we have large portions of it that leave the lights off. This is because the artists prefer lamps or even more focused “warm” lights to make sure their colours stay true or because they might be working in real media. The company provides individual desk lamps for anyone who wants more light, but we also have massive windows (covered by mesh curtains to reduce glare) so it’s rarely dark, even at night.

    I had my first migraine a few days ago and was shocked by how sensitive I was to the light in the office (and how normal light seemed intensely bright), I wound up moving to a free spot in the art department and turning the monitors all the way down and the relief was incredible.

    1. Cath in Canada

      The one artist I work with keeps his office dark, with just some reddish light from an artsy desk lamp. He also plays chill-out trance music (but so softly that you can only hear it if you actually step into his office). It always looks so cozy and welcoming, especially compared to the open-plan, fluorescent-lit area where I sit!

      And yes, we do refer to his office as the “red light district”.

  56. Georgie

    We actually have a lightbulb war going on right now. I’ve been with my agency for almost a year and I’ve had an office mate before. The lighting was never brought up as an issue. For the size of the office, 3 double flourescent lights is probably a bit much for a 12′ X 14′ room with lots of furniture and cubicles that close the room in even more. 2 months ago a new employee took the place of the last employee and she had an ergonomic evaluation done that failed to include the fact that this is a shared office; I was there when they did it. The evaluation report said she was getting a lot of glare, and I would agree that it also causes me to squit and get headaches. She put in a request to decrease the lighting and the maintenance man removed 1 bulb from one light. Neither of us were happy, so she started turning off the lights completely and then turning on each of our cubicle, under the shelf light, which is worse because that light is super bright and only 18″ from the desk top. This is worse than just leaving the ceiling lights as is. I also cannot see any of my equipment (laptops, mifi cards, phones, accessories, etc) in the office that is stored in locked cabinets, so I have to flick the light on. I work logisitics, so I’m in and out of the cabinets all day long. I told her I cannot operate in the dark. I thought I was being flexible by asking maintenance to come back in a decrease the lighting again, which he brought it down to one ceiling light. This whole past week has sucked to read anything on paper; I have to turn on the super bright cubicle light. I finally said something about it. This lady came from years of being in management positions, so I think she’s trying her management style on me and we’re in equal positions. I think that she’s also being difficult so that she can justify her need to have her own office, which is not going to happen because we are already looking for space for staff who need to be in a shared office and out of the open area where meetings are frequent. Management has now stepped in because they agreed with me that there was too little light in the office now and none of them would work in that kind of lighting, or lack thereof. They said they want the lighting to increase and they’d order the other employee a glare screen. That will be interesting to see if she groans about that too. Temporarily, I have used sheets of paper to soften the cubicle lighting, which is perfect, but now may be considered a fire hazard….sheesh. I am 40 years old and in all my years of working, I have never ever ran into something like this. The only reason this issue has gone on for weeks is because I thought the issue was too petty to bring up to supervisors, but it’s starting to raises it’s ugly head as she wants it dark to read and I need light to see what I’m doing. I am doing my best to be flexible to her needs, but it’s obvious she doesn’t care about mine. Such rediculous things to be concerned about.

  57. Ellie

    Just FYI. Dim lighting is bad for the eyes and causes eye strain. Lighting should be equal to or brighter than the lighting emitted by the computer monitor, otherwise eyes will suffer damage. This is information provided by an optometrist. If necessary talk to your optometrist or physician to get a doctors note to have sufficient lighting provided in your work area as it should be to begin with. I personally don’t think this is unimportant or petty especially if it has to do with your eye health. Someone shouldn’t have to suffer health wise at the expense of someone else’s personal preference of lighting.

  58. Marie

    Boy. this hit a cord with me. This is not a choice for me or preference. it is a requirement. My eyes ache constantly from the fluorescents. they have as long as I have been working. I say shut off all the lights and give people natural light lamps. save electricity and eyes. people get headaches from it. they don’t realize how bad it is. your eyes are constantly trying to adjust to the flicker and that is why it hurts.

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