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Our office is primarily lit by very intense, very annoying fluorescent lights, and I find that they give me a headache if I sit under them for too long. My resolution for this is to get a lamp with a soft light lightbulb. Problem solved?

Not really...because the switch to turn off my fluorescent light is also the switch for my co-worker's fluorescent light. She doesn't seem bothered by the light, but would be in total darkness if I implement my 'soft light' plan.

How can I resolve the problem of annoyingly bright fluorescent lighting, without denying my nearby co-worker her light source?

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Have you talked to your superior to find out if you have any additional options like moving offices or so? –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Mar 21 at 13:51
It's really not an option to remove the lights. They're everywhere, and my boss even acknowledges it's a huge headache and a problem, but one he can't get rid of. And there really aren't any desks I could move to that wouldn't still have someone nearby and a flourescent light above my head. –  Zibbobz Mar 21 at 14:03
Are your light and your co-workers two separate lights, or do you mean that the same light shines on both your offices? Because if they're separate lights, even if they have the same switch, maybe you can just remove the tubes over you. Depending on company, you might need to get the ok from the boss or the building maintenance folks. Unless you're fairly high up the food chain, I doubt anyone is going to have an electrician come and rewire switches for you or anything like that. –  Jay Mar 21 at 14:08
@Jay Sadly it is the exact same light source that's lighting our desks. It's slightly closer to my desk, but bright engouh for both of us. And, I really doubt I could get permission to have the tubes removed. –  Zibbobz Mar 21 at 14:14
At my old office we would strategically disable certain overhead fluorescents by unscrewing the bulbs halfway, causing them to turn off. This works if one switch controls several or all of them. –  Miro Mar 23 at 5:17

5 Answers 5

up vote 20 down vote accepted

I had this problem at my last job -- banks of lights meant that you couldn't just turn off your overhead light (and we weren't allowed to remove individual tubes). Your decision affects other people, so you have to work with them to find a solution that makes everybody happy.

If your coworker's problem is only that she would be left in the dark, then get her a lamp! Or get a lamp that provides light for both of you, like a pole lamp (what we did in my case). Note that your employer might not be willing to pay for this; from their perspective they gave you light and you rejected it. But ask; there might be others with this issue and they may see getting a few lamps as a small cost to keep people productive. If not, buying a lamp or two for you and your coworker should be a small cost to you, given what's at stake.

If she actively likes the fluorescent light then you have a bigger problem; you are at odds with respect to your shared environment, whether it's light, the window blinds, heating, or something else. If you can't compromise then you should ask if you can move to another desk. Make it easy for your manager (or office manager, or whomever decides these things at your workplace): scout out a location that would work better for you, e.g. with somebody who also doesn't like the fluorescent lights or doesn't mind replacing them with a lamp. It's best if your proposed location is not seen as "better" than your current one; you're not trying to move up, just out.

Finally, if there is a documentable health issue like severe headaches, this can give you more leverage with your employer in some countries. But don't use that unless you have to. Start by assuming that everybody involved is a reasonable person; naturally they don't want you to get headaches at work, and naturally you don't want to inconvenience your coworkers or gain special privileges like that desirable window seat. Look for the smallest change that fixes the problem and you'll be seen as a team player.

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For how annoying flourescent lighting is, I'd be willing to pay for two desk lamps just to turn the damn thing off. –  Zibbobz Mar 21 at 14:15
Indeed. I've bought my own lamps; I've even bought my own chair once. You're going to be spending 8ish hours a day there (maybe a lot more); making it not hurt is worth a little up-front outlay. –  Monica Cellio Mar 21 at 14:18
My other theory is that something as simple as a hat might help, because at least then I wouldnt' be getting direct light in my eyes. –  Zibbobz Mar 21 at 14:22
You could try that. If the hum doesn't contribute to your headaches and if the flicker isn't reflected off of other surfaces, that might work. Of course, then you're either wearing a hat around the office or taking it off every time you get up and putting it on every time you sit down; that might be a hassle. (I find switching between my computer glasses and regular glasses to be a (necessary) hassle, but a hat might be easier.) –  Monica Cellio Mar 21 at 14:25
I might just try the hat next week to see how it goes. Fortunately we're programmers, so fashion sense isn't one of our top priorities. –  Zibbobz Mar 21 at 14:36

One solution that worked for me was to change the bulb! As well as the standard fluorescent tubes, you can get ones that put out light similar to natural light (seemed slightly blue until I got used to it), didn't think it would do much, but it was actually a huge positive change. I seem to remember they were a bit more expensive, but definitely worth it.

link to the kind of thing I mean (not an endorsement and uk based, but shows what I mean):


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Fluorescent tubes do wear out, and they flicker more as they wear. New ones are better designed than older ones. You could ask for them to be replaced. If that doesn't work, you could replace them yourself. They aren't very expensive. –  Ollie Jones Mar 21 at 22:17
+1 for bringing a solution completely unrelated to a social solution: you said how to solve the problem at its root instead of having it solved by talking to other individuals, not that interactions are bad. –  Arlaud Pierre Mar 24 at 9:34

I had this problem. Overhead glare, and facility management that refused to have overhead lights be turned off during work hours. The solution that ended up working was to wear a hat with a brim or an eyeshade. That cut the glare from overhead to where it was tolerable.

When I later moved cubes in the same office, I discovered it wasn't the brightness that was the problem, it was the exact location of the overhead light in relation to my monitor. If you have some flexibility in where you place your equipment, moving it a bit one direction or another may help.

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One popular solution to overly bright lighting for computer work is to reduce the percent of the fixtures that are switched on. In some offices, this may be as simple as wall switch that allows half of the fixtures to be turned off, while leaving the other half on. In others it might actually require having maintenance unscrew one of two bulbs from the ballast nearest your desk. If many of your co-workers are bothered by the intensity of the light, it may be easy to get them to agree. Don't automatically assume "it's not an option" without actually asking your boss or maintenance whether it would be an option to solve the problems of eyestrain (often the cause of headaches) from excess lighting while doing computer work. At my husband's work, enough people on his team were bothered by the brightness of the light that they successfully petitioned to have the lights over their desks turned off.

Finding other ways to block the light from your computer screen or eyes, such as building a monitor hood to block light from glaring on your screen, or wearing a billed hat may help as well.

The angle of your monitor to the bulbs can make a difference as well, especially if there are diffusers on the bulbs overhead. Try turning your whole desk 90 degrees or move the screen a foot to the left or right to see if the lighting is less bothersome that way.

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I get chronic migraine and am a programmer. This means I'm unable to work around fluorescent lighting so I found someone who would let me work at home. Since this isn't an option for you there is a product called Theraspecs which will help. I've had to take classes where there are fluorescent lights and the Theraspecs glasses have greatly helped preventing my headaches when around them. I'm sensitive to screens that use pulse width modulation to control brightness and the Theraspecs will help with that issue also. I'll be going to a programming conference on Saturday and will be wearing them all day because it's at a university. I'll look kinda like a freak but at least I won't get a migraine.

If you go to a job interview where there are fluorescent lights don't wear the Theraspecs. You can out yourself that you might have a disability and companies in general don't seem to want to pay good money for a disabled programmer.

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