How a cycle to work scheme can benefit SMEs

By Jane Hulme, above, HR Director, Unum UK

Tomorrow is Cycle to Work Day, which encourages employees to switch up their commutes by hopping on a bike to cycle to work. Cycling has plenty of benefits and not just for employees — it’s also good for employers and the environment. Learn more about why cycling makes sense and how SMEs can benefit from introducing a cycle to work scheme, a tax-efficient way for employees to access a bike and associated equipment via payroll.

Good for employees

Cycling is a great cardio workout with the same physical health benefits of all exercise, including:

  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Managing weight
  • Reducing the risk of serious illnesses (such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke)
  • Strengthening muscles.

Morning exercise (i.e. commuting to work) is particularly beneficial for health and energy levels, as well as improving sleep quality at night. Depending on the journey, for those with the most bikeable commutes, it could even reduce time travelling to and from the office if there’s heavy traffic, potentially getting employees home earlier at night.

Mentally, cycling can boost mood and reduce symptoms of some mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Like all physical activity, cycling can also improve concentration, memory and thinking abilities.

Plus, while some forms of cardio such as running, hiking or tennis are high-impact and come with an associated increased risk of strain on joints, cycling is low-impact and much kinder to joints.

Good for employers

With cycling acting to improve physical and mental health, as well as mood and concentration, employees who cycle to and from work are likely to be healthier and happier. This can improve workplace productivity and creativity, a major gain for employers as the UK faces a so-called ‘productivity puzzle’.

Cycling can also boost the immune system, partially because it encourages blood flow down to the cellular level and improves sleep. This helps the body ward off infections such as coughs, colds and flu.

Given physical activity can also reduce the risk of serious conditions that may require time off work, encouraging a morning and evening bike ride to and from work could reduce absenteeism and support employees to remain well.

Good for the planet

Pedalling to work means no exhaust fumes or carbon emissions as you’d get from a fossil fuel-powered car or even public transport. Air pollution is linked to poorer health outcomes; more cycling and less driving could help reduce it.

In terms of carbon emissions, it can be tricky for smaller companies looking to reduce carbon emissions as part of environmental, social and governance (ESG) due to potential cost implications. Encouraging employees with commutes that are most manageable by bike who normally drive to work to switch to cycling can help reduce your company’s overall emissions.

Introducing a cycle to work scheme

Now you know the benefits of cycling, a cycle to work scheme can support employees to ‘get on their bikes’ and embrace pedal power. The Government introduced the cycle to work scheme to encourage cycling to reduce emissions and benefit from cost savings to the NHS from a healthier population.

The cycle to work scheme is based around salary sacrifice. Employees can opt to give up part of their pre-tax salary in exchange for a benefit from their employer. In this case, the benefit is hiring a bike for active travel and/or related equipment.

Last year at Unum, we trebled the available salary sacrifice allowance per employee for our cycle to work scheme. Every employee can now access up to £3,000 for a bike and safety equipment, making it easier to afford electric, power-assisted bikes. These can be a great way to get started cycling to work for those who haven’t cycled for a while and would find the distance entirely under their own steam daunting.

For SME employees, the option of a cycle to work scheme can reduce and spread out the cost of buying a new bike thanks to its tax-efficiency, potentially encouraging more cycling. By putting cycling to work more in reach, employers are more likely to be able to reap the rewards.