Those gray cubicle walls in your office aren’t just ugly. They might be sapping your energy and killing team morale.
The colors around you can have a major effect on your mood and how you experience a space. That’s something many of us know intuitively, even if we don’t understand the science behind it. We’re harnessing the power of color when we paint a room yellow to make it more cheery or choose a pale blue color scheme to create a tranquil, spa-like bathroom.
“The power of color is that it can completely alter your experience,” interior designer Shannon Kaye told HGTV.
The effects of color extend to the places where we work, with some colors tending to increase energy and make people more productive, while others are more likely to make people hostile or even depressed. Yet those effects aren’t universal. Two people can respond to the same color in different ways. Plus, putting different colors together can change how you perceive them, as can a color’s tint or shade. Saturation (how bright a color is) can also make a difference. Colors that are less saturated might promote relaxation, Dr. Sally Augustin told Fox News, while more saturated colors can boost your energy.
Bottom line: There’s no magic color that will make you work better or smarter, but you can still use color to create an environment that makes you feel more productive, even if that just means hanging a poster of soothing blue water in your cubicle or adding some green accessories to your desk.
To create an office space that works for you, think about incorporating one of these three colors to increase productivity.
In surveys of people’s favorite colors, blue tends to come out on top. So perhaps it’s no surprise that when asked about what color they’d prefer for an office, 22.4% of British workers surveyed by decorating company Create a Wall favored blue.
“Studies have suggested that blue creates a calming ambiance and there have also been a few pieces of research that have in some way linked blue rooms with improved cognitive performance,” Tony Cartwright, Create a Wall’s director of business development, told HR Grapevine. “If your workers are calm and focused, it’s inevitable that their productivity will increase.”
Painting the walls blue might also be a good choice if your job demands creativity. This color can boost your performance on creative tasks, according to a study published in Science.
Green – the color of nature – is often associated with calmness, which can make it a good choice if you want to create a comforting, soothing office environment. The color can also enhance creativity, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
“[B]ecause it’s so balanced, calming, and reassuring, it’s great to use around anywhere money’s changing hands,” color psychologist Angela Wright told A Life of Productivity.
Whether green is a good color for your office might also depend on how you perceive visual stimuli. Nancy Kwallek, Ph.D., a professor of interior design at the University of Texas, Austin, studied how people responded to office environments that were painted red, blue-green, or a neutral white. “Low screeners” (those who had trouble screening out things in their environment) were more productive in the office painted in the blue-green shades.
Our brains tend to associate red with danger, which can cause us to react more quickly and more forcefully when exposed to the color, according to a 2011 study published in the journal Emotion. “Seeing red” provides a short-term energy boost, but it can also trigger “worry, task distraction, and self-preoccupation, all of which have been shown to tax mental resources,” according to the study’s authors.
All that seems to suggest that red isn’t a good color to have around the office, but for some people, it may actually be beneficial. Kwallek’s study found that “high screeners” (people who were good at ignoring less-relevant aspects of their environment) were actually more productive in the red office than in the blue-green office. And the 2009 study that identified blue as a creative color also found that red environments could improve how well a person did on a detail-oriented task.
“We associate red with danger and mistakes,” Ravi Mehta, the lead author of the study, told NPR. “So what happens is this leads to avoidance motivation. People try to avoid mistakes and danger. That makes them focus on details.”
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