Encouraging employees to cycle to work has advantages for wellbeing and productivity, writes Louise Murphy.
Companies are well aware that a healthy workforce will help create healthy profit margins. Employee wellbeing benefits—from free gym membership to yoga classes to wellness days—are becoming increasingly common.
But what Human Resources departments might not be aware of is the incredible benefits of encouraging staff to commute by bike. In Ireland, some 11 million days are lost annually through absenteeism, at a cost to the economy of €1.5 billion. But cyclists, on average, take 50% fewer sick days per year than their more sedentary counterparts. Research in the UK by cycling group Sustrans found that workers typically take 4.5 sick days annually while regular cyclists take just 2.4. The more often people cycle to work and the longer the distance travelled, the less they call in sick.
The ECF (European Cyclists’ Federation) reports that employees who cycle to work have on average 1.3 days less sickness absence per year, slightly less than Sustrans, but this still translates into a massive saving of almost €5 billion per year for employers around the EU. Clearly, it’s in the interests of companies to offer safe, secure bike parking and shower facilities to encourage more employees to travel on two wheels.
Increased productivity and wellbeing
Absenteeism aside, commuting by bike delivers other benefits to companies and their workforce. Studies show a 4 to 15% increase in productivity and 27% fewer task errors for physically fit employees.
Cycling also contributes to healthier lives by helping to prevent a large number of severe and chronical diseases, including cardio-vascular diseases, diabetes (type 2), breast cancer, colon cancer and osteoporosis.
It also has a positive effect on emotional health – improving levels of well-being, self-confidence and tolerance to stress while reducing tiredness and difficulties with sleep.
Engaging in moderate physical activity reduces the risk for Alzheimer’s disease by 29% and is also linked to 17% lower odds for developing depression.
Wider societal benefits
The other health benefits of cycling that affect wider society include:
— easing traffic congestion (a Netherlands survey found that cycling reduced the need for 50,000 car journeys every day)
— reducing our reliance on fuel (just think of all the money you will save on diesel or petrol)
— lowering CO2 emissions (cycling produces zero pollution)
— less air and noise pollution (cycling is clean and quiet).
Here in Ireland, more needs to be done to encourage cycling. We know from the 2016 Census that there has been a massive rise of 43% since 2011 in the number of cyclists taking to the roads here. But we still lack the necessary infrastructure and bike theft is a serious problem. At least 10 bikes are stolen every day in Dublin with an average value each of €510. Meanwhile Dublin City Council estimates that 16,250 cycle parking spaces will be required in the capital by 2030. But councils across the country are slow to embrace better facilities for cyclists.
Financially, this does not add up. The ECF points out that every euro invested in the Dublin bike-sharing system creates €12.3 of time benefits, wider economic benefits and health benefits. The value of the time savings alone is in a range of €6 to €10.4 million. Pedal power not only makes health sense, it makes business sense too.
About the author: Louise Murphy is Co-founder of Cyc-lok.ie, a company which provides access-controlled secure bike parking.