You Want a Productive, Happy Workforce? Let Them Sweat.

When I ask people why they won’t walk or bike to work, I’m used to hearing straightforward responses like “It’s too dangerous” or “It’s too far.” But when someone responds, “I’d be all sweaty and gross,” the issue becomes more complicated.

I get it. No one wants to be the guy or gal who gets a deodorant stick in the next office secret Santa. Open any magazine and the social expectation is clear: people are expected to arrive at work shower-fresh, clothes neatly pressed, makeup done and not a hair out of place. We’re supposed to be fit, but look and smell like we haven’t moved a muscle. Phooey. You want a productive, happy workforce? Let them sweat.

A few quick facts about active commuting:

• A 2009 Dutch study found that cycle commuters provide their employers with an economic advantage by requiring fewer sick days each year and enjoying better overall health.

• According to a 2014 study, adding just ten minutes of walking time to your commute is associated with a boost in well-being. “Well-being” influences work-related traits like problem solving and completing tasks and correlates to a more productive worker.

• At rush hour, people who bike to work may get to work faster and with fewer unexpected delays.

By all accounts, we should be encouraging people to arrive at the office a little “glowy.”

At our office we don’t have a shower. Our office does not smell like a high-school locker-room. All of our staff arrive by foot, bike, or transit. I bike 10km to work (and back) almost every day. I am not some magical being that doesn’t sweat.

In response to Canadian journalist Margaret Wente’s question in her terrible and sexist recent article “How, exactly, are you supposed to arrive at your job fresh-smelling and well-groomed after a hot ride in July?” Well here’s how:

After I arrive, I usually peel off a layer of clothing and air dry for a couple of minutes over a few sips of coffee. If it was a particularly sweaty ride, I’ll sneak into the washroom for a little bird-bath or wet-wipe action and reapply some deo. Sometimes when I arrive at work I might even have back sweat. I know. THE HORROR. Guess what? It dries. My coworkers do not shame me. I’ll wipe off any smeared mascara, fluff my helmet-squished curls, and sit down at my desk feeling alert and ready to face the day.

We are humans and we were designed to move. Walking, biking, and running are a normal way to get around. If we want to encourage people to walk and bike to work, we need to make it socially acceptable to look, and yes, even smell, a little human.

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