A solid corporate wellness program offers a variety of ways to educate employees and motivate them to be as healthy as possible. Everyone wins when staff members feel their best. Employees are happier and more productive and employers see a robust bottom line. This is extremely important, since health costs can consume up to 50% of a company’s profit.

Most workplace wellness programs include incentives for participating in programs such as such as smoking cessation and weight loss programs. Gym discounts are a popular incentive with employees. “Lunch-and-learn” workshops and health fairs cover topics of seasonal or special interest to employees. (Learn more in "8 Tips for a Successful Company Health Fair".) Online and printed materials are available for additional resources.

Biometric Screening

Biometric screening, a quick health assessment and simple way to provide wellness testing, is the newest addition to wellness programs. It is a series of health tests run by a third-party provider. Companies can offer biometric testing as part of an annual health fair or at regularly scheduled intervals throughout the year.

What exactly is biometric screening? Simply put, biometric testing is a type of wellness testing that gives employees information about their health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define it as “the measurement of physical characteristics such as height, weight, body mass index, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood glucose, and aerobic fitness tests that can be taken at the worksite and used as part of a workplace health assessment to benchmark and evaluate changes in employee health status over time.”

Benefits of Biometric Screening

When deciding whether to include biometric screening as part of your company’s wellness program, consider these benefits. (Learn more in "Do Workplace Wellness Programs Save Employers Money?")

1. Quick and Free

Employees can get important tests completed during their work day. Many people are too busy to schedule check-ups with their personal physician and don’t get regular laboratory blood tests drawn. Therefore, they don’t know their health status. Testing can take as little as 15 minutes for basic vital signs and a blood sample. Employees will appreciate the opportunity to be able to get this testing done onsite. Plus, the testing is free for employees.

2. Confidential

All testing is completely confidential. The Health Information Privacy and Accountability Act (HIPAA) strictly prohibits sharing of any medical information with others, including the employer, without permission. By hiring a third-party provider to conduct the screenings, the employer has no access to any employee’s information All testing is done in privacy and results may only be shared with the individual employee. Drug testing is not part of the screening. By removing the company from the process, employees gain trust in the employer and are able to consult with their own physicians in privacy.

3. Customization for Company Needs

Corporations can tailor wellness programs to suit their particular needs. Why offer a program if there is little interest? Biometric screening allows employees to learn about their own health risks. Following the screening, take a poll to see what is now important for employees to learn. Healthy diet for high cholesterol? Dealing with hypertension? Specific tips for losing weight and lowering the Body Mass Index (BMI)? Using exercise to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes? Chances are, there will be common themes employers can use to inform what they offer to ensure they're offering relevant onsite programs that deal with employees’ concerns.

4. Employee Loyalty

Studies have shown that when companies take an active interest in their employees, there is an increase in productivity and a decrease in absenteeism as employee loyalty climbs. People feel valued and appreciated when empowered to take care of their health. In return, employers can look forward to a drop in health insurance premiums due to lower healthcare costs.

5. Lower Healthcare Costs

The company can save on future healthcare costs. A study by Indiana University and Purdue University showed that almost 88% of medical claims are related to poor lifestyle. Along with structuring the workplace wellness program to address specific health issues, the benefits plan can be designed to target the identified health risks. While the employer will never have access to individual testing profiles, the screening company will provide a general report that indicates demographics about those that were tested, as well as areas of concern. With this information, the wellness program can focus on high-cost conditions. (Learn more in "Encouraging Employees to Achieve Healthy Eating and Fitness Goals in the Workplace".)

6. Better Outcomes

After receiving results from biometric testing, an employee may realize that he or she needs to make an appointment with a primary care provider. Biometric assessment is never meant to diagnose, but rather to provide information about possible health risks. Doctors are happy to meet with a patient who brings test results and is ready to discuss health risks and treatments. The earlier a condition is diagnosed, the better the outcome. Better outcomes lead to happier and more productive employees.

Wellness Testing Concerns

Although biometric screening offers many benefits, it is not without its critics. Before investing about $50 to $70 per employee for the tests, consider these points:

  • Decide what the goals are for offering biometric screening. What will be accomplished? Determine if spouses and family members can participate in the program. After all, they contribute to healthcare costs as well as the employees. Some companies offer non-employees the opportunity to participate, at the cost of the screening. Others allow the blood test for a reduced fee.
  • Look at the employee demographics to determine what tests should be offered. A young employee does not likely need a full battery of blood work. By testing every employee the same way, there can be unnecessary costs. Work with the screening provider to determine which assessments will be most useful to your employees.
  • Biometric screening is meant to enhance a company wellness program, not replace it. Wellness programs succeed in lowering healthcare costs when they are ongoing, vibrant, and engaging. (Learn more in "7 Steps for Implementing a Workplace Wellness Program".) Promoting a healthy lifestyle should be part of the company culture, not an afterthought, so integrate the screening into the entire wellness program.
  • Be prepared to take advantage of employee motivation that comes when test results are received (usually 7-10 days after testing, sent directly to the employee’s home). When the employee learns of possible risk factors, he or she will be receptive to specific programs that address the situation. Most programs that cover nutrition, weight loss, exercise, and lifestyle changes can be adapted to cover the most frequent risk factors: hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Do not neglect “the teachable moment.”
  • Use the results to adapt the wellness program to the employees. Healthcare costs can only be reduced when employees are actively seeking to improve their at-risk medical situation. It will be important to keep content fresh and interesting. Don’t forget one-off topics, such as Managing Holiday Stress, Vaccination Reminders, or Summer Safety.

Outside Help

For companies that don’t have staff, time, or energy to create a wellness program, consider hiring an individual or vendor to manage everything. An Internet search will provide local resources; the vendor can design a program that fits your company culture, as well as your budget. The Society of Human Resource Management emphasizes the need for a well-planned and implemented program in order to be successful. A simple ROI calculator can get you started.

Bottom Line

An investment in a workplace wellness program is also an investment in the health of your employees. When you support their efforts to make positive lifestyle changes, you will gain in every way: happier people, a committed workforce, and a “healthy” financial status.