Thomas Cook does it, DHL also and Google Germany in any case: they support their employees in the acquisition and use of bicycles and e-bikes. Even smaller companies have long recognised the benefits of bicycle mobility. The Freiburg-based energy service provider badenova, for example, offers its employees bicycle leasing together with a cooperation partner. Similar programs have also been launched by Kärcher, ebm pabst and many other medium-sized companies. More and more companies are supporting their employees in the transition from cars and trains to bicycles. Some have already even been certified – as bike-friendly operations.
More than just a trend
Anyone who sees any of these initiatives as just a fashionable trend should be aware of the many benefits associated with the active mobility of employees which are also economically rewarding. Whoever sets his employees in the saddle, especially for the daily commute to and from the workplace, demonstrably invests in their health and well-being.
Although cycling through its daily exercise has significant potential for the health of employees it has apparently not been considered and used as an integral part of occupational health management. Yet an “active commute to work” offers the ideal opportunity to integrate health-promoting behaviour into everyday life and is therefore far superior to temporary and one-off measures. The World Health Organization has long recommended moderate physical exercise 30 minutes a day. A few kilometers under muscle power to work and home day after day effectively counter our chronic physical inactivity and promote good health.
This appears to be confirmed by a recent study which was carried out between November and December 2014 among 2,351 professionals as a scientific academic thesis in Germany (author: Juliane Kemen) and recently presented by the Troisdorf consulting firm EcoLibro to the public. The results show that “people who actively commute to and from work throughout the year have an average of one-third fewer sick days than other, passive, traffic participants,” according to EcoLibro.
Significantly lower sick leave
Employees who complete their daily commute to and from work by bike missed only 3.41 working days due to illness in 2014. Only pedestrians missed a little less at 3.31 days. Passenger car drivers were ill for an average of 5.26 days a year, almost two days longer than cyclists and pedestrians. The latter also performed better than public transport users (5.32) and mixed users with a high proportion of car journeys. The average number of sick days among participants with up to 30 sick days per year was 4.70 days.
Although it can not be ruled out that it is particularly health-conscious employees who do at least part of their commute by bicycle or on foot throughout the year – according to the study these individuals also have a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) and feel better overall.
Well and good, but isn´t cycling dangerous, too? Although the study confirms that cyclists have a higher accident risk than car drivers, “this risk, measured by the number of sick days, is significantly lower than the positive effect of physical activity” the study concludes. Safe bicycles, adequate clothing and the positive training effect of riding daily should also reduce the individual accident risk.
Help from the tax office
The cited study, incidentally the first of its kind in Germany, shows that employers can significantly and permanently improve the health and well-being of their employees by encouraging and supporting the use of active transport for the commute to work. They can save on personnel costs and increase employee satisfaction.
For this, they even receive support from the government. The Treasury subsidises the purchase of bicycles by the employer: The “1% rule” from the so-called company car privilege applies now in a similar way for bicycles and e-bikes since a new tax regulation from November 2012. Employees can conveniently finance their new bike, pedelec or e-bike with defined salary contributions via their monthly paycheck and thus save money. For the employee, this means that the monetary benefit that arises when the employer provides the company bicycle must be taxed at one percent of the gross list price on a monthly basis. Thus, company bicycles are even better subsidised than company cars: the journey to work by bike does not have to be taxed.
Healthy mobility made easy
The tax advantage must have played a key role in the recent growth of a large number of providers in Germany who offer leasing for company bicycles and offer employers the cheapest access to the new, healthy mobility concepts. Consulting companies such as EcoLibro or the German Cyclists Association (ADFC) offer employers special expertise and practical services. Software-assisted geographic analyses can be used to determine an optimal mobility mix for employees with the goal of achieving the highest possible proportion of exercise. Incentive programs and other complementary measures help to make the switch to cycling attractive and sustainable. Health insurance companies support bicycle-friendly initiatives in many places with public relations and cooperation.
The bicycle-friendly business
Even certification as a “bicycle-friendly business” is possible: The ADFC has developed a consulting concept with an elaborate list of criteria which also takes into account the operational infrastructure. This includes suitable storage facilities for bicycles and changing rooms for the cyclists. Where these are missing, the switch to bicycle mobility will not happen without additional investment; money that will be well invested in the fitness, health and well-being of employees. Since cycling is nonetheless in fashion, bicycle-friendly enterprises will score both in the public perception and for health-conscious and environmentally-conscious employees.