By Leon Kaye | September 10th, 2013
As more companies seek creative ways to retain talent, improve productivity, keep employees engaged and reduce health care costs, a robust bicycling program is one perk businesses should consider. The statistics should certainly encourage companies. Over 42 million Americans rode a bicycle in 2010, making it the second most popular outdoor activity in the country. Almost half of Americans in a recent survey indicated they wish for more bicycling amenities in their communities.
Plus bicycling is not only a healthy means of commuting, but is a cost-effective means of getting to work. The average American spends over $8,700 a year on car payments, insurance, fuel and other automobile costs. Contrast that figure with a 10-mile round trip completed on a bicycle, which can save that same commuter $10 when factoring car maintenance into the equation. And for employers located in pricey urban areas, parking is an expensive perk to provide for employees.
So how can employers cajole more employees to cycle more and drive less? First, they have to realize not everyone is going to two-wheel it to work. And obvious factors such as geography, climate and local bicycling infrastructure come into play. During a recent conversation I had with Tim Ericson, CEO of Zagster, he shared some pointers companies should consider when developing a compelling bicycling program.
“There are dozens of legitimate reasons why (bicycling) could be difficult, scary, inefficient or just plain unworkable,” Ericson said as we started our talk. Indeed, the commuter who lives in the exurb or across a waterway from the office may not have the most seamless commute. So companies should consider reaching out to employees to determine who would be practically able to cycle to work. Data clearly explaining why employees cycle, or will not cycle for various reasons, will a company gauge whether a bicycling incentive plan makes sense in the first place. Are there employees who live three to five miles away who currently drive to work? Are there other workers who live farther away, but have a safe route via dedicated bicycle lanes and even bike paths? And if the office is located in an area where employees often have meetings within a reasonable distance, would a bikesharing program make sense?
While busy roads are a common concern among would-be bikers, fear of traffic may not even be the largest factor discouraging employees from cycling to work in the first place. Cycling may not have ever crossed their minds because the company culture is centered around car commuting. Amongst the employees open to the idea of bicycle commuting, most will only do so occasionally except for the most dedicated cyclists or those who live close to the office. But, even those workers who cycle once or twice a week to work are making a difference for their health, the environment and traffic.
“Look for triggers,” Ericson replied when I asked him how companies should determine how to build a strong bicycling program for employees. Once companies have a solid understanding of why employees do not, but would consider cycling to work, they can develop a program based on those triggers. Is there a desire to be healthy? A company could consider providing odometers and offering rewards to the employees who cycle the most miles to work during the year. Do workers have a concern for the environment? Companies might want to make a donation to a local non-profit based on the total monthly or annual miles cycled. Are employees frustrated with congestion and the cost of parking? Programs paying workers to not drive and instead cycle are an option, especially when evaluating the cost for employees and employers to lease and access parking spaces in the first place.
“If there’s no barrier to get on the saddle and ride again, we believe more people will do it.” – Zagster CEO Tim Ericson on motivating employees to cycle to work.
The needs for cyclists who come to work by bicycle are obvious: secure places to lock their bikes and a place to shower are a start. If showers are not an option, then a partnership with a nearby gym or health club is necessary—find an employee willing to sit at his or her cubicle a sweaty mess and the chances are high that same employee will return to commuting via automobile very quickly. Depending on the size of the company, additional services and incentives should also be considered. A tool room where tubes can be patched, brakes adjusted and tire pressure checked would help keep employees safe. Occasional classes ranging from safety to urban bicycling to, of course, maintenance and care for bikes are an additional option, and considering the number of bicycle fanatics in cities across the U.S., the cost of such a program should not be excessive. Bicycling evangelists can be found everywhere, in cities small and large.
And just as many companies subsidize public transportation passes for those who arrive to the office by train or bus, a similar program for cyclists can help motivate employees to make the switch from car to bike. Employees could be offered a discount for purchasing helmets, bike lights and even the occasional six-month bicycle tune-up, which in reality would cost far less than the $30 to $50 monthly public transportation pass or subsidy offered to their co-workers. The most ambitious step would be to offer bicycles at a discount through a manufacturer or retailer, but Ericson pointed out such a program’s success and scale would be based on volume—larger companies based in sprawling campuses or office towers would have the ability to score more lucrative deals.
As someone who cycled in college then went years without even going near a bicycle, I understand how easy it is to fall out of the cycling habit. And this is where businesses have the opportunity to present cycling to employees as an activity not only for recreation, but for going to and from work. Human resources departments could consider a fitness competition, similar in structure to firms handing out pedometers with the hope more employees walk and take the stairs at work. Encouraging employees to cycle on weekends and log their miles could be that spark of motivation that inspires them to look beyond the steering wheel as a commuting option.
Indeed, at a time when companies often struggle to find new ways to engage employees and improve their work environment, bicycling offers a creative and uplifting way to get them excited for work. Innovative review programs that measure employees’ professional growth are great for grooming careers within the workplace; volunteer programs are a fantastic way to have employees do good work for their communities; but what about a program that allows employees to do something for themselves, their health and, of course, to alleviate their stress? A bicycling program would be one novel way of showing that companies are concerned about their employee’s welfare and simultaneously tackle the challenges of health, traffic and employee engagement.