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I work in a small office, there's 6 of us in total, so it's not possible to turn off "some" of the lights without turning them all off.

In the UK, we're now in the Spring season, which generally means brighter days. Because of this, one of my colleagues recently asked if the lights could be turned off. I don't like confrontation and I didn't really say anything. Luckily, for me, their request was met with disgruntled groans so they were left on - since it wasn't quite that sunny yet. However, I am noticing that it is now getting much lighter outside more frequently, so I can see this question getting brought up again.

The reason I would like to keep the lights on is because I suffer with headaches when in a poorly lit room for a period of time (more than 30 minutes is normally enough). Even though the sunshine would be coming in through the windows, this would only be from on direction and from the side. I find that having a light source (that produces a white glow, not a yellow glow), prevents me from getting a headache.

I find my co-workers to me reasonable people, though I find it hard to confront someone.

How could I politely ask that the lights stay on, when a co-worker asks to turn them off?

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    Would a desk lamp help your headaches, or does it need to be something brighter or with more spread? – user8671 May 1 '18 at 13:47
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    @violet-flare: I'm kind of puzzled... you have real issues, can politely phrase your concerns here, what's wrong with just doing the same with your colleagues? – OldPadawan May 1 '18 at 14:29
  • @OldPadawan I suppose the difference is that on here isn't face to face, and I don't know any of you, which isn't the case in work. Here I have time to gather my thoughts and think of a reply, I don't have that luxury in person. – Violet Flare May 2 '18 at 7:33
  • @VioletFlare as an introvert myself i've had to deal with this stuff on different work environements, the best approach so far is a friendly stance. if the request happens again, i would give the same arguments you brought us. "my desk is not lit enough just with sunlight, and that gives me very troublesome migraines". in a reasonable and collaborative environement, this would suffice. i had to take this stance once where a coworker kept the heater at 27ºC for a week on a hot spring ( almost considered going to work in swimming pool clothing). – CptEric May 3 '18 at 8:11
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Luckily, for me, their request was met with disgruntled groans so they were left on

Seems to me that this person is massively out-voted and you have nothing to worry about. If it comes up again, just tell them that you get nasty headaches if you're in a dimly lit area. Most people won't want to cause you physical pain to make the area a little more homey.

That said, it's also possible that your colleague wants the lights off because they cause them terrible headaches (Fluorescent lights have that effect on me,) which brings me to another point

I don't like confrontation and I didn't really say anything.

Don't think of this as a confrontation - It's not. It's six people trying to solve a problem, in this case "What are the optimal lighting conditions for us to work comfortably?" Maybe you can get a desk lamp. Maybe the person with headaches can get a window seat so the natural light offsets the fluorescents (this worked for me.) Maybe it's just someone trying to save the company a couple pounds on their electric bill. Whatever the case may be, they can't find a solution unless you offer up your perspective.

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    +1 for the idea of working together to solve a problem. Definitely bring up the medical issues but keep them factual - in the US, we're seeing a lot of alleged "allergies" and "support animals" which people falsely claim to get something to happen or not happen. That dishonesty only, in the long run, hurts both the individual and people who legitimately suffer from those conditions. – baldPrussian May 1 '18 at 20:17
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    It's helpful knowing that there could be different reasons for wanting the light off, I'll speak up next time, but make sure to figure out their reasons why. – Violet Flare May 2 '18 at 7:37
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The simplest would be to explain to you colleagues that bad lighting gives you headaches, exactly as you you did in your question. The way you wrote it is quite convincing.

In fact, your problem seems to be that you're a bit shy and afraid to talk about it... but really there's nothing wrong with wanting proper lighting in your workplace. It is not starting a conflict at all.

one of my colleagues recently asked if the lights could be turned off.

Ask if they want to save energy or if the lights actually bother them, maybe it causes reflections on their computer screen, or something like that. You want to avoid a situation where keeping the lights on saves you from a headache, but gives one to a colleague because of the glare on their screen. So... just talk. Maybe the solution that would please everyone involves turning the desks around or something.

Now, if it's to save energy, I'll assume something like 50W of fluorescent lighting per employee, so 300W total in the office. With the lights on 8 hours per day that's 2.4 kWh of electrical energy. In the UK electricity costs about 13p/kWh, therefore turning off the lights is worth about 31p per day. Feel free to adjust according to your light fixtures, but it certainly isn't enough money to justify having an argument.

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If your colleague asks to turn the lights off, that can have two reasons: Trivial reasons, like wanting to save 10 pennies worth of electricity a day. Or real reasons, like light shining on his computer monitor, making it hard to see.

You don't know which one it is. So all you need to do first is to ask for the light to be kept turned on, giving your good reason for it. If your colleagues reason was trivial, then they will say something "Oh, I didn't know that, we better keep the lights on if you get headaches when it is off". There's no reason to be afraid of speaking up. If you didn't speak up, and the lights were turned off, and you suffered, your colleague would likely be devastated if he found out that you suffered because he switched the light off. So you see, it's more polite to speak up, than having to suffer and make your colleague feel guilty about it.

If there's a good argument for turning the light off (unlikely), then the matter can be discussed once you speak up, and a decision can be made that satisfies all as much as possible. But I can't really see a situation where the lights are fine on a dark day, and unacceptable on a sunny day.

  • In your last paragraph, you might want to add that if the other person has real reasons for wanting them off, the OP can suggest that they explore compromises that work for everybody, like leaving the overhead lights off but getting the OP a lamp. "Lights on or off" needn't be binary. – Monica Cellio May 2 '18 at 2:26

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