How Do Colors in the Workplace Affect Employees' Moods & Attitudes?

by Kristen Hamlin; Updated September 26, 2017
Contemporary waiting room

Colors in the workplace -- whether they're the hues painted on the walls or the shades of the carpets, furniture or workstations -- have a profound effect on employees’ moods and attitudes. Color and its effects have permeated language and descriptions of emotions – you might “feel blue” or “see red” – and smart employers have learned to tap into the power of color to create an effective work environment.

Color Study

In 1998, researchers at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, conducted a study to determine whether color influenced worker’s moods and productivity. What they found in the study -- titled “Task Type, Posters, and Workspace Color on Mood, Satisfaction, and Performance” -- was that colors significantly influence employees’ moods and the urgency with which they tackle their work. Volunteers for the study worked in either a blue or red work space. Those who worked in the blue work areas reported feeling more calm, centered and focused for longer periods of time than those who worked in red work areas. Workers in the red spaces felt warmer and more agitated and were more easily distracted from tasks -- even those deemed important.

Warm Colors

Psychologists and designers have long argued that color can profoundly influence the mood and energy level of a room. For example, warm colors -- such as shades of red, orange and yellow -- are warm and cheerful, they also tend to make a room feel smaller. These colors inspire energy, creativity and productivity, but they can also cause feelings of aggression. They are not restful or soothing, but instead create an atmosphere that encourages speed and efficiency. It’s no accident that fast food restaurants tend to use plenty of red in their decor and packaging. However, in a open office or team-centered environment, warm colors may hinder cooperation and instead contribute to an atmosphere of agitation, lack of focus and tension.

Cool Colors

Cool, soothing colors -- such as shades of blue, green or purple -- tend to help create a calmer, more focused environment. Lighter shades of cool colors create an airier feeling and the perception of more space, which can help employees maintain a more positive mood. Shades of blue and green are often associated with spas and relaxing environments, which is why they may be effective in high-stress workplaces to help keep employees calm and productive. In addition, in a creative environment, such as a design or advertising firm, adding shades of purple can help stimulate creativity while also fostering teamwork. Too much blue in the work environment, however, can cause fatigue, depression or even too much relaxation, hindering productivity.

Designing Work Spaces

Designing the color scheme of your work area is not an all-or-nothing proposition. The combination of colors you choose can influence the moods of your employees and create the ideal work environment. For example, if you manage a creative team, paint the walls a cool shade of light blue-purple to foster teamwork and focus. Add accents of bright yellow -- such as in artwork, accessories or trim -- to inspire creativity and energy. Because every person has his own color preferences and associations, even colors that are meant to be relaxing or stimulating can have a negative effect on mood. Many office environments start with a neutral base, such as gray, tan or white, and either add accent colors for visual interest and to influence moods or allow employees to decorate their own individual work spaces.

About the Author

Kristen Hamlin began writing professionally in 1998 and is the author of "Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College" (Capital Books). Her work has appeared in publications such as "Young Money," "Scrapbooks, Etc.," and "Creating Keepsakes." She holds a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing.

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