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How Biking Improves Employee Productivity

RP Siegel | Tuesday August 20th, 2013 | 17 Comments

business-of-bikes-topper

Cycling to work

The business case for bicycling sounds obvious to sustainability enthusiasts. However, making it stick requires a generous leap of faith or two. We need to first make the case that an employer should have any opinion at all about how employees get to work. Then, we must also consider why it might be in employers’ best interests to invest in employee bicycling by providing bike racks, changing rooms and showers, or even offering financial incentives to employees who ride.

Why in the world would they do that? Why would an employer undertake an additional expense, with all the pressures already weighing on the bottom line, except perhaps to polish their image as a benign employer, one who provides a nice place work, to attract high caliber employees? One could always write it off as a recruiting expense.

Not so fast. Before we go there, we should consider the difference between an expense and an investment. An expense is money that is being spent in order to maintain the operation of a business. An investment is money spent with an expectation that it will somehow increase profitability.

Today, we’re going to ask you, Mr. Employer, to consider making an investment in your business by supporting bicycling among your employees.

We are going to suggest that you will recoup your investment in the form of increased productivity. There is ample evidence to support that proposition.

  • Exercising before work raises an employee’s productivity by an average of 15 percent.
  • Cycling will reduce health care costs: Cyclists, on average, live two years longer than non-cyclists and take 15 percent fewer days off work due to illness.
  • In England, Sustrans claims more facilities making it convenient for people to ride to work would save UK businesses £13bn through reduced sick days and boosted productivity.
  • Statistics show that non-cyclists take two more sick days per year.
  • Studies show a 4-15 percent increase in productivity, and 27 percent fewer task errors for physically fit employees.
  • Staff members who cycle are more punctual. Absenteeism can be reduced by up to 80 percent by encouraging cycling to work.

More specifically, health benefits associated with physical fitness include:

Not to mention the fact that seven of the top ten causes of death are related to transportation.

Cycling is, of course, only one way to achieve physical fitness. It does have its unique advantages, though. Surveys asking people why they don’t exercise have found that the top excuse is that people say they don’t have time. The second reason is that they don’t like gyms, and the third reason is that they can’t afford gyms.

Cycling to work addresses all of these concerns. A significant part of the time spent biking to work would have been used to drive to work, especially when you factor in the time it takes to find a parking spot and walk into the building. In most cases, bicycles can be parked quite close to the entrance. As for gyms, they are not needed, at least when the weather is good, and the cost of a bicycle, when amortized over several years, is quite modest, not to mention the gas money saved.

Other studies evaluating the link between fitness and productivity include this one by the CDC, which gave a thumbs-up to employee fitness programs. This presentation, also by the CDC, was aimed at employers, describes the role that exercise can play in reducing the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. An Australian study found that healthy staff are nearly three times more productive than their less-healthy counterparts.

Coming back to the issue of whether it is an expense or an investment, a UK Traffic Advisory Unit found that organizations that implemented cycling strategies received a return of between $1.33 and $6.50 for every $1 spent in cycle promotion, resulting from increased productivity.

In 2009, the Qualified Transportation Fringe Benefit (IRS Tax Code Section 132(f)) was expanded to allow bicycle commuters to receive $20.00 per month as a subsidy to pay for the cost of commuting via bicycle.

To sum it all up, we quote Sustrans Chief Executive Malcolm Shepherd, who said, “Cycle parking and showers in an office should be as common as a printer and a coffee machine and by introducing a ‘cycle-to-work standard,’ governments would be taking the first steps to making this a reality.”

Here in the U.S., we needn’t wait for the government to set additional standards (although that would be nice.) Smart employers will see the benefits and take action on their own.

[Image credit: henry…: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining romp that is currently being adapted for the big screen. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


▼▼▼      17 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Dave Shires

    Great stuff. I’d like to see some analysis for how companies can get over some of the things they have no control over … ie, lack of bike paths/lanes or a location in the far suburbs where biking is perceived as much more dangerous.

    Also – I’m willing to bet this study goes double for school aged kids who are now forced to be driven by their parents to school because the infrastructure in suburbia is so hostile to anything other than cars!

    • Karen who drives her bike

      Um yeah…you are more apt to get in a car wreck than hit on your bike. Excuses are just that EXCUSES! Don’t let yourself miss out on a great opportunity because something is “perceived” dangerous. Know the facts! Ride your bike!

      • Dave Shires

        Yes, I’m well aware of that. I bike every day, but you can’t deny the reality of most American suburbs which are *very* hostile to biking. The fact is most people are scared to let their kids ride to school. It may be mostly paranoia, but it’s a fact and a major, major problem that only a big infrastructure overhaul will fix.

  • Nagesh Kini, Mumbai, India

    As an avid biker myself at 65 (earlier I cycled to college) I enjoyed early morning walking combined with biking. I found it quite exhilarating too. Only last month early morning on a main road a speeding motorcyclist bashed up my bike from the rear – a case of hit and run. Didn’t even wait for a second. Proves it can be dangerous !
    Despite this I heartily endorse that employers should by all means encourage employees biking to work and back by investing in facilities and motivational incentives..

  • http://www.enkata.com/ Enkata

    Biking may improve productivity but it’s a big commitment for an employee to make. If they have to drop kids off at school before work they can’t really bike; if they have an appointment after work they can’t really bike. The whole way they get around has to adjust for the fact that they are on a bike. Some employees may love the idea but chances are those are the ones that bike already!

    • Hiro

      I have a coworker that drives her kids to school, parks, then rides her bike to work and back. Also, bike to appointments, I do (I also live in a city though).

      • Guest

        TROLL.

      • Guest

        TROLL.

      • Guest

        And your point is? You don’t have enough strength to cycle.

    • RPSiegel

      As car-sharing options become more widely available, there will be even more ways to increase flexibility to allow options like biking and mass transit riding, to coexist with doing at least some of these kinds of chores.
      Also, what about bringing the kid on a tag-along that might even be left at school?

    • chris

      I ride with my kids to school, then keep riding to work. Helps that school is only 2km from home and on the way to work.

  • Gregg Michael

    A great tool for encouraging biking to work is for companies to participate in the National Bike Challenge: http://www.endomondo.com/campaign/nbc2013

  • Gregg Michael

    Biking to work has become a habit for me. I don’t even think about it anymore. It’s 9 miles one way and takes me about a half hour, so I ride 18 miles every day for work. It would take me 15 minutes to drive it, so it is only takes a half hour more of my time per day and I am much fitter than ever and it is the best part of my day.

  • Mobility Lab

    This is a great checklist to help determine if bike racks are a good investment for businesses and employers. http://mobilitylab.org/2013/08/23/is-bike-parking-the-right-choice-for-your-business/

  • Nodi

    Haha, such a lot of fancy, analytic and stuff economic theories in this articles… for Christs sake, just ask the Chinese!

    • blahblah98

      … who would sell you counterfeit bikes? And who are busy building cities & freeways & buying cars as fast as they can? And whose traffic jams go on for more than 24hours?
      A rational approach is better: observe urban bicycling successes like Amsterdam and quantify the benefits.

  • Kevin McGinnis

    Benefits really outweigh the costs when it comes to biking to work. As soon as more offices have showers and better bike parking, I imagine there will be a surge in the amount of people who bike to work. This article mostly focuses on the benefits to a person’s health from biking, but people need to remember that biking is a sustainable practice. The impact biking to work has expands far beyond the individual.