Workplace wellness programs are growing in popularity among organizations who understand and value employee well-being. The benefits of a healthy, happy, engaged workforce extend from better employee productivity, to improved profitability for the company and everything in between.

When a company realizes that workplace wellness programs can generate savings and they want to offer such a program, they will then go about determining what a wellness program will look like in their workplace. Companies will often choose to carry out biometric testing (Learn more in "Introduction to Biometric Testing and Benefits of Use") as part of an overall well-being plan, after becoming aware of the benefits that testing can offer. (Learn more in "6 Ways Wellness Testing Benefits Companies".)

DIY Versus Specialist Testing

Biometric testing is usually carried out by nurses or other specialist clinical support workers who can take blood samples and send them off for analysis. However, there are certain health and fitness tests that can be done in-house without necessarily needing a specialist.

These tests can be carried out using basic equipment and by following simple guidelines to ensure the tests are reliable. DIY tests can save the company money by eliminating the requirement for a specialist. They can form part of a workplace wellness program that empowers employees to take control of the testing process, work together to achieve goals, and have some fun along the way.

By following the guidelines below these tests can be carried out by a team manager, or by the employees themselves. Alternatively, a health coach or personal trainer can be brought in to manage the process and interpret results. (Learn more in "Is health coaching an effective tool for improving employee health as part of a wellness program?")

DIY Health and Fitness Tests for the Workplace

Resting Heart Rate

What it measures: The number of times a person's heart beats in one minute.

Why measure it: It can be an indication of the health of the heart, which is linked to factors such as longevity and cardiovascular fitness levels.

How to measure it: Resting heart rate should ideally be measured first thing in the morning. However, if you are measuring it in the workplace, make sure employees are well rested before it is done. Ideally, they need to be seated or lying down, and free from stimulants such as coffee. Factors such as caffeine and high stress levels will likely produce an elevated reading.

One of the easiest places to find a person's pulse is on the underside of the wrist, on the side that leads to the thumb. Use the first and middle fingers to gently apply pressure in this area. Once a pulse is found, set a timer for 30 seconds. Count the number of beats in 30 seconds and multiply by two to obtain a resting heart rate value.

Record the result and compare it with average resting heart rate values and previous results.

Blood Pressure

What it measures: Blood pressure measures the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart contracts and the pressure in the blood vessels when it relaxes.

Why measure it: High blood pressure can place extra strain on the arteries and heart. It is a risk factor for diseases such as heart attack and stroke.

How to measure it: Purchase a digital blood pressure monitor for the workplace. These are much easier to use than manual monitors, which require the tester to use a sphygmomanometer (blood pressure cuff with bulb and manual read out dial). Ideally, purchase a monitor that uses a cuff for the upper arm. The kit should also contain a couple of different cuff sizes so that an appropriate size can be chosen for each employee.

Follow the directions in the information booklet closely. The booklet should also contain information about the factors that can affect blood pressure, and how to test it accurately with that specific monitor.

Waist to Hip Ratio

What it measures: A person's waist measurement, relative to their hip measurement.

Why to measure it: Similar to BMI, it can be considered a measurement of obesity and can be a risk factor for many serious health conditions. However, just like BMI must be considered in conjunction with other measures, this measurement can never be taken alone as an indicator of poor health.

How to measure it: Purchase one or more tape measures for the company. Measure the circumference of the person's waist and the circumference of the hips. Use accepted basic guidelines and calculations to determine comparisons and ratings.

Sit and Reach Test

What it measures: The sit and reach test is a flexibility test for the muscles of the hamstrings and lower back.

Why measure it: Employees can suffer injuries due to tightness in these muscles which can result in postural issues and lower back pain. (Learn more in "A Look at Lower Back Pain in the Workplace".) This can be further exacerbated by sitting for long periods of time. This test can help identify whether or not there is a need for more frequent rest and stretch breaks throughout the day.

How to measure it: To carry out this test accurately you will need to purchase a sit and reach box. Follow the instructions included for completing the test and analyzing the results as the exact procedure and measurements will vary from kit to kit.

Push Up Test

What it measures: The push up test measures the muscular endurance of muscles in the upper body, specifically the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

Why measure it: Strong muscles can help improve activities of daily living and quality of life for employees. Having good levels of muscular endurance can help them to gain stamina and feel stronger and more energetic.

How to measure it: Male subjects will carry out a full push up on their toes and female subjects are tested on a half push up on their knees. As with any product, always read the full instructions provided by the manufacturer with your purchased testing product on how to carry out the test and interpret the results.

DIY Health Testing Concerns

Privacy

Consider how you will carry out the testing in order to keep the results private. Many employees will not want their colleagues to see the results of their tests. This may require the employee to test themselves. Alternatively, an appropriate company member or person from outside the company could conduct the tests.

If you choose to carry out any sort of DIY tests in the workplace, you need to be aware of and act within any privacy laws and the HIPAA data privacy and security provision guidelines for safeguarding medical information. The HIPAA privacy rule can be complicated, and as an employer it is essential that you are aware of your obligations. (Learn more in "Guide to Understanding HIPAA as an Employer".) There may also be laws that restrict what tests you can require of your employees.

Company Liabilities

The added company liabilities for DIY workplace testing must also be considered. There are risks involved with carrying out health and fitness tests. Employers need to understand OSHA's record keeping and reporting rules, (Learn more in "OSHA's New Recordkeeping and Reporting Rule 2016".) as well as health and safety requirements, including potential hazards for employees during testing. (Learn more in "Introduction to Hazard Identification Studies".)

Record and Retest

Decide how the results will be recorded and what should be done with the results. What wellness initiatives will you put in place, based on the results?

Set retesting dates. These could be after about three months of implementing initiatives relevant to the tests.

Reliability

Ensure your test results are as reliable as possible.

  • Tests and retests should be conducted by the same person
  • Conduct tests at the same time of day in the same environment, and with the same equipment to provide the best chance of accurate results.
  • Calibrate equipment such as blood pressure monitors regularly, to help ensure they are in good working order
  • Set up guidelines for your employees to contribute to the accuracy of their results. These include having a similar food and drink intake during testing and retesting days. For tests such as blood pressure and heart rate, advise employees to avoid caffeine and exercise for a couple of hours prior to testing. Follow any additional guidelines from equipment package inserts.
  • If a result is outside what was expected by the employee, wait a few minutes and retest. The exception is for exertion based tests such as a push up test, where the employee is likely to be fatigued if they are tested a second time. In this case retesting would produce less accurate results.