Being ill is miserable. Beyond the utter physical discomfort associated of days filled with coughing, retching or intense cranial pain, the utter boredom of being home alone with no one but Jeremy Kyle and a stir-crazy hamster to keep you company can be soul destroying.
On top of this, the rigmarole of office politics can take just as substantial a toll. However poorly you are, it's impossible not to sound self-conscious and guilty when you phone in sick. As your boss' line rings, you'll dwell on all those times you greeted news of a colleague's Monday absence owing to 'one of those 24 hour things' with a raised eyebrow and sigh. And once connected, where do you pitch your voice? Too husky, and you'll sound like it was last night's Bensons and Breezers that did you in, rather than E coli. Too cheerful, and you'll be pictured sipping daiquiris on a hammock in the Seychelles rather than curled up on a sofa in a duvet and a beany hat failing to focus on a copy of Grazia.
But even compared to the physical unpleasantness, boredom and embarrassment that days off involve, the true cost of absenteeism to business and our economy is colossal. Each sick day costs an organisation £258, and with the average worker taking four and a half sick days each year, the bill averages £1,161 per employee per year. This amounts to a whopping £27.4billion cost to our economy; a figure no amount of daytime television, Lemsip and buttered toast can compensate for. For this reason, helping businesses to reduce sickness and lower costs is vital to improving our economic fortunes, particularly when times are tough.
Cycling provides a brilliant antidote sickness and the costs associated with it. We recently discovered that 68% of people that use our National Cycle Network threw not a single sickie last year. Just by riding to work every day, we can improve our health to such an extent that we reduce the number of sick days we take to almost half. If everyone followed this logic, we would reduce the cost to the economy by £13.2billion a year.
We know the demand is there, but potential cyclists are all too often frustrated by a lack of facilities at work. According to recent YouGov research, 22% of UK commuters would travel to work to bike, but don't because of a lack of secure storage, a place to change or other basic levels of support.
For this reason, this week Sustrans is calling on UK governments to recognise the economic and public health benefits of commuting by bike and create a 'Cycle to Work Standard' to help employers improve the health of their staff - and keep costs down. The standard would include:
- Adequate showers and bike parking
- Access to bike purchase schemes
- Support finding a safe route to work, such as maps and bike buddies
By helping employers put in measures to meet the standard, government would be helping to provide a substantial boost to economic productivity - and of course reducing the burden on health services caused by both short-term illness and more durable health conditions that physical inactivity causes. And by gaining the accreditation that the Standard would provide, businesses would be cutting costs and marking themselves as a switched-on employer that has created a modern, open, healthy working environment.
So please help us convince the government this is a worthy project. Our petition to make Britain's workplaces fit for cycling can be found at www.sustrans.org.uk/cycletowork. By signing up, you can not only help cycling, public health and the UK economy, but help reduce the number of hours lost to Bargain Hunt every day. An honourable cause, I'm sure you'll agree.
Follow Joe Williams on Twitter: www.twitter.com/earsopen