SBT looks at being more physically active at work and alternative methods for the daily commute.

We all know that being more active is good for our health. While there may be plenty of time for this at the weekend, it’s at work, where we spend most of our time, where many of us struggle to maintain this dynamism – something which is a particular challenge for those that work at a desk.

Research shows that those who lead active lifestyles are happier, healthier and more productive. At work this means more energy, improved mood, improved mental performance, better time management and a greater ability to meet deadlines. Clearly, this benefits business as well. A happy, positive and more engaged workforce boosts productivity, reduces stress, improves overall morale and reduces staff sickness and turnover. These gains are obvious yet relatively few incorporate as much physical activity as they could.

So how can we introduce more physical activity into our working day? It’s recommended that adults should do at least two and a half hours of physical activity a week, this may sound a lot but every ten minute burst of activity counts towards the weekly total, so small changes to daily working routines can really add up. Lunch time presents perhaps the best opportunity and is an ideal time to go for a short walk, which could be combined with running some errands. To keep things social you could invite colleagues along to join too. Then there are the small changes such as using the stairs instead of the lift, going to talk to colleagues in person rather than via telephone and email, and parking further away from the office than necessary to increase the walking distance. As obvious as these ideas for being more active at work may be, we are all guilty of not doing them as much as we could.

Clearly the most significant gains are to be found through reconsidering how we travel to and from work. Walking, running and cycling to work are all great ways of introducing physical exercise into your workday routine. They’re perfect for getting some fresh air and none of them burn any petrol, so not only are you helping yourself (by being more active and saving money on petrol), you’re also doing your bit for the environment. For those who have to travel greater distances, it could be possible to drive or use public transport for part of the journey and then walk, run or cycle the rest of the way.

Whether the idea of cycling to work is an appealing one, or brings you out in a cold sweat, it remains perhaps the most viable means of transport after driving or using public transport – and of course it has the advantage of being particularly good for you. Many of us will have heard about the government’s cycle to work initiative, which offers discounts for staff on cycle purchases, through a salary sacrifice system. Savings of up to 40% on the retail cost of a bike are typical and there are a range of organisations set up to implement the scheme.

We decided to glean some more information about cycling as an alternative means of transport from Thomas Ridgely, Senior Environmental Consultant, at NatWest Mentor.

What are the benefits for employers/business owners in implementing these schemes?

There are multiple research sources which support the positive impact on productivity and happiness in the workplace from having an overall commitment to wellbeing, which could include a successful cycle to work scheme.

There’s no doubt that employee wellbeing is one the most important pillars of a solid CSR programme and one that delivers greater satisfaction and productivity. The numerous corporate supporters of the Global Corporate Challenge will testify to how engaging their workforce to become more active is a doorway to involving them in broader social responsibility topics such as volunteering, ethical trading and community involvement.

Educating a workforce about bicycles, and other low carbon forms of transport, can also contribute to reduced environmental impact for the business. Grey fleet, personal vehicles used for business mileage, represent a huge portion of ‘commercial’ vehicles on the road – estimated to be circa three times the number of company cars. If employees can be persuaded through education to choose a more efficient personal vehicle (or indeed company car) and then cycle to work instead; the reduction in environmental impact would be significant.

Are these health-work schemes easy to implement for the average SME? Is there a cost?

Cycle to work schemes are fairly straightforward to implement but there can be some outlay costs to consider. Employees are likely to want somewhere secure and covered to lock up their bikes, as well as changing facilities including lockers and showers.

There are also a number of potential issues which need to be carefully managed. Failure to provide wellbeing facilities above may well dissuade employees from cycling to work, furthermore they could create rifts between colleagues if standards of personal hygiene are not encouraged to be maintained. Additionally, providing sufficient space within both these storage and wellbeing areas may prove challenging if the cycle to work scheme proves particularly successful.

How does NatWest Mentor help?

NatWest Mentor can support customers with the creation and implementation of an environmental policy or a corporate social responsibility policy. Once the policy wording has been agreed NatWest Mentor can advise on the tried and tested ways to embed these commitments throughout a workforce, supporting the ultimate reduction in the business’s environmental impact and, often in turn, its costs. The added benefit of having a fully implemented environmental policy is that explaining and demonstrating your environmental due diligence when tendering for new business becomes easier, quicker and more meaningful – helping increase the likelihood you’ll win that next new contract.