Like everyone else, your staff have been under pressure during the pandemic. Encouraging them to get on a bike can help. Here’s how...
Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 10-16 May, part way through the easing of lockdown restrictions. It’s timely because the impact of the pandemic on mental health has been huge. The president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists has called COVID-19 "the greatest threat to mental health since the second world war, while the British Medical Journal has concluded that “the mental health impact of the pandemic is likely to last much longer than the physical health impact”.
Cycling is good for our mental health, especially now. Many forms of exercise became impossible or impractical during lockdowns and subsequent restrictions. Cycling is something we’ve been able to do throughout. Along with quieter roads, that’s what fuelled the recent cycling boom. People needed, and continue to need, an escape. For many, cycling is it. For others, it could be.
The pandemic has made us bored, frustrated and lonely. For some it has also caused or exacerbated more serious mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. From 2019 to 2020, the percentage of UK adults aged 16-39 showing signs of depression rose from 10.9% to 31%. (There was a smaller but still significant increase among those aged 40-69.)
The World Health Organisation has offered a number of recommendations to help us cope with the mental strain of lockdown. Two of them were: begin a new activity; take regular exercise. Cycling can be both. The beneficial effects of exercise apply to newbies and long-term cyclists alike. There’s a proven link between physical activity and better mental health. Exercise lowers stress hormones and boosts endorphins. It helps us sleep better. So it’s no surprise that a survey commissioned by Bike Radar found that 87% of cyclists rode their bikes to boost their mental health during lockdowns.
Cycling isn’t only a pandemic-resistant way to exercise, of course. It’s also a pandemic-resistant way to travel. A bike can take us wherever we need to go locally – to work, for example – with a much smaller risk of being exposed to the virus compared to public transport.
It’s likely that more of your employees will be returning to the workplace now and in the near future. The more of them who cycle there, the better. With the pandemic having turned a spotlight on cycling as a transport solution, now is an ideal time to remind your staff about Cyclescheme.
What about those working from home? The Government announced an easement of Cycle to Work guidance last December. Essentially, Cycle to Work bikes didn’t have to be used for cycling to work while so many people were working from home. That easement ends on 5 April. After that, Cycle to Work bikes have to be used ‘mainly’ for cycling to work.
Yet they can still be used for other journeys, such as those that start and end at the home. A bike ride is just as beneficial to someone working from home as it is to someone commuting. From a mental health point of view, it’s probably more important. If you’re stuck by yourself in the spare room for hours or days, it’s easy to get cabin fever. A bike ride provides exercise and – by putting you in a different, outdoor environment – perspective.
You can encourage cycling among staff working from home by making sure that promotional material about cycling and Cyclescheme, available from MySchemes, is distributed by email and the company intranet and not just around the workplace. Staff who become used to cycling during the working day will find it easier to continue that habit when they return to the workplace, thus becoming bike commuters – or more regular bike commuters. So it’s a win-win scenario. But it’s worth encouraging staff to get out on a bike anyway, simply because it’s so good for everyone’s wellbeing.
The operative word here is ‘out’ on a bike. Cycling indoors on a static trainer is better than no exercise but studies have shown that exercising outdoors is better for you. Fresh air, vitamin D, greenery – it’s all good. This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week acknowledges this: its theme is ‘nature’, in recognition of the mental health benefits that getting out into green spaces provides.
There are lots of easy ways to encourage cycling at your workplace, not least leading by example. It’s a little harder when staff are social distancing and working from home some of the time. But you can use digital platforms such as Love to Ride or Strava to bolster the sense of cycling community within your dispersed workforce.
Employees can also buddy up and ride together. As of this spring, small groups can ride together as well. So suggest it. Cycling is an excellent way to exercise and socialise at the same time. It can reforge workplace bonds that the pandemic has broken. Just set up a WhatsApp group so employees can arrange to ride in to work together, or at lunchtime, or after work one evening each week.
One caveat on group riding is that the different home nations have different timescales and rules for easing lockdown – and a spike in COVID-19 cases could derail any of them. For up to date pandemic cycling advice, visit the websites of British Cycling and Cycling UK.