Through millions of years of evolution, an innate understanding of the language of color has adapted humanity for survival—recognizing toxic foods, predators, and dangerous signals of all kinds. This instinct is subconscious and can affect the perception of our surroundings. Whether it is a meeting room, office, or lounge, the color of the environment can affect employee productivity, creativity, mood, and environmental perception.
To help you understand the impact of different colors on our perceptions and sensations, I will review various scientific studies to redirect us to an application in a workplace setting. Green is considered to be the color of balance; therefore, the primary focus of the content below will be on red and blue.
Red and blue have opposite wavelengths in our visible spectrum of white light. Red wavelength reaches the eye faster than blue. It is for this reason that red is used in situations that require rapid reaction of our brain (emergency, urgency…). This is not the only attribute of the color red. In 2005, anthropologists showed that red had a strong impact on others’ perceptions of people1. This is no coincidence, as red is associated with leadership, power, and superiority, which subconsciously can affect our mental state going into an interaction2. This is also the reason that many leaders, such as our heads of state, wear a red tie during important debates.
The color red can also be applicable to a workplace setting. The natural and subconscious bias can help improve management effectiveness and enforce ideas during group interactions. However, keep in mind that this is not magic; color choices will not suddenly transform everything around you, but wearing red or blue may impact others’ perceptions of you to help you achieve your goals.
In 2009, Ravi Mehta and Juliet Zhu showed that if you work in a red chromatic atmosphere, you will be more productive, with a Cartesian thought process. On the other hand, if you need to be creative or generate new ideas, choose a blue chromatic atmosphere5.
Overall, red is associated with leadership, power, and superiority and can improve productivity in the workplace, and blue is associate with intelligence and promotes honesty and creativity in the workplace.
While the presence of color in your environment can impact the workplace, so does the lack of color! In fact, working in offices with a neutral chromatic atmosphere, like gray, will increase the risk of burnout by 15% and decrease productivity by 12%6.
Do not panic. You do not need to arrive at your desk tomorrow with a can of paint and a brush to improve your working conditions. You can start with small simple steps, like changing your computer wallpaper according to the task you need to perform. See the chart below to select the appropriate color.
||Communication, decision making
In short, contrary to popular belief, color does not distract employees, and achromatic atmospheres (white, gray, etc.) benefit neither employees nor the company. To improve the quality of life at work, consider adding color to the workspace. The strong impact that colors subconsciously have on our psyche can be beneficial in many cases. However, it is essential to be properly informed before making any changes. Choose a color that matches your desired results.
Finally, don’t go overboard and choose too many colors for your work environment; this can overload the space and give a feeling of disorder. It is therefore essential to consider natural or artificial lighting in your room. Overall, respect a harmony of colors and a juxtaposition of materials.
Used well, colors will contribute to your productivity, creativity, and communication objectives.
“If the gray matter were more colorful, the world would have fewer dark ideas.” – Pierre Dac.
- Psychology: Red enhances human performance in contests. Nature vol 435, p 293
- Is red an innate or learned signal of aggression and intimidation? Animal Behaviour vol 78, p 393
- The amazing power of colors – Jean-Gabriel Causse
- Blue or Red? Exploring the Effect of Color on Cognitive Task Performances. Science vol 323, p 1226
- Color Psychology, Angela Wright, psychologist of Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton, England
- Manager avec les couleurs: l’humain au coeur du management opérationnel; Brigitte Boussuat