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.
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.