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Benefits of Functional Employment Testing: How They Work

Asavari Sharma

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The nature of work has changed fundamentally over the last few years, and recruitment is no longer about just CV checkpoints or interviews. It is vital to verify beforehand that the employee can fulfill all the day-to-day requirements of the job.

In many cases, that involves physical effort and labor. Not only does this verification ensure that the right people are onboarded, but also it helps the company prepare effective health risk management strategies and safeguards them from potential injury lawsuits.

Here, we offer a brief guide to what functional employment tests are all about and how to implement them as part of your next hiring drive.

Before we deep-dive into the nitty-gritty of functional employment tests, it is essential to understand the basics of functional employment tests in the hiring process. Let us begin:

What are functional employment tests?

Functional employment tests are a mixture of subjective and objective assessments that evaluate whether a prospective employee can fulfill the various demands of the role in question. Functional tests could include:

  • Observing posture, neck, foot, and back alignment
  • Neural tissue mobility testing in limbs and spine
  • Physical tests involving lifting and/or carrying weights
  • Cardiovascular fitness tests such as running on a treadmill
  • Muscle strength testing, particularly for muscle groups in the upper body, trunk, and legs
  • Testing range of movement at the joints (both active and passive) as well as joint mobility palpitation tests

What are the benefits of functional employment testing?

Among the top reasons for workplace compensation suits are musculoskeletal injuries incurred during the course of the job. In fact, it is estimated that ergonomic injuries cost American employers around 20 billion dollars every year.

Clearly, there is a need for both the employer and the employee to be on the same page about what the job entails beforehand. Here is how functional employment tests can help:

1. Accurate job simulation

Functional employment tests focus on an often-underrated aspect of employment screening - the physical requirements of the job. They enable you to hire the right candidate, thus minimizing the risk of workplace injury.

2. Risk mitigation

They allow the employer to see whether the candidate can perform their tasks effectively and safely, thus mitigating the risk of underperformance later.

3. Candidate ability calculation

They help the employer see what job accommodations might be necessary to enable the candidate to perform more optimally. The results are often helpful as a baseline for continued health monitoring.

Functional employment tests are necessary to meet rules around testing for drugs and other substances at the workplace. They ensure that the company is meeting its health and safety obligations.

5. Safe team collaboration

They ensure that everyone on the team can work together effectively and that one person would not have to take on the physical responsibilities of another.

Hiring physically capable employees decreases the risk of other employees injuring themselves as they would not have to perform their job and others’ jobs who are not able to meet the physical requirements safely.

6. Improved hiring and retention

The greatest benefit of functional employment assessments is that it helps ensure you are hiring and retaining employees capable of performing the physical demands of the job they are applying for. They attract physically and cognitively capable candidates who are more likely to stay longer at the job, thus reducing the turnover rate.

7. Reduced time-to-hire and cost-per-hire

Functional employment assessments are an effective way to filter the best-suited candidates for the job. They save time and keep resource expenses minimal. They also reduce the need for laborious resume screening and unstructured interviews.

8. Eliminated unconscious bias

Conscious and unconscious biases negatively influence the hiring process, undermining the team’s efforts and reducing the retention rate. With functional employment assessments, it is challenging to cloud your judgment with bias because you only hire those who do well in the physical tests. Simple!

How long does a pre-employment functional assessment usually take?

That totally depends on the level of assessment. Most pre-employment functional assessments take between 30 to 60 minutes to perform the tasks. In some cases, a pre-employment medical test can also be undertaken at the same time, if required.

When are functional employment tests conducted?

There are three main circumstances under which a functional employment test may be called for:

  • As part of the pre-employment screening for new candidates and prior to assigning them their final roles
  • When an existing employee is moving to a different role within the company that has its own physical requirements that needs testing
  • When an employee is returning to work after a gap due to illness or injury

Who conducts the functional employment tests?

Functional employment tests are typically conducted by healthcare professionals who are trained in kinesiology and can conduct a job task analysis to assess the physical, cognitive and environmental demands of job roles.

Some specific professionals are experienced in conducting pre-employment functional assessments, including occupational therapists, accredited exercise physiologists, and physiotherapists. The professional is based on the kind of functional assessment that needs to be conducted.

Functional Employment Testing Professionals

How long does a pre-employment functional assessment usually take?

That totally depends on the level of assessment. Most pre-employment functional assessments take between 30 to 60 minutes to perform the tasks. In some cases, a pre-employment medical test can also be undertaken at the same time, if required.

How are the functional employment tests conducted?

It is important to qualify that a functional employment test is not a pre-employment test, as the ADA forbids medical and/or disability queries before making job offers.

Instead, these tests are more like post-offer and pre-placement tests. Here is a sample process by which functional employment tests can be conducted:

  • The HR team makes a comprehensive list of the physical and cognitive demands for the role in question. Calling a professional for this is highly recommended.
  • The prospective candidate is given a pre-employment questionnaire to fill up prior to the functional test.
  • The candidate gives their informed written consent to undergo the physical test. This safeguards the company from any legal issues.
  • The candidate undergoes a verbal pre-screening about their heart and blood health.
  • Preliminary blood pressure and heart rate screening are conducted. In case the results do not match what the candidate indicated verbally, the candidate will be recommended to their GP for assessment. Clearance from the GP is necessary before the actual functional test.
  • If there are no contra-indications or the GP provides medical clearance, the functional assessment can be conducted.
  • The candidate’s performance is monitored carefully throughout the test, and their abilities are evaluated based on predetermined criteria.

What are the most efficient ways to conduct an accurate and effective functional employment test?

It is vital to plan and conduct functional employment tests accurately to hire the best candidates and keep everyone safe at work. Here are some best practices to keep in mind:

1. Define the scope of the test

Ensure that the test you are conducting closely mirrors the day-to-day requirements of the specific job you are hiring for. The test should only assess actions that the candidate will be expected to do regularly and should be based on a rigorous Physical Demand Analysis of the work environment that the candidate will be in.

2. Test in a compliant environment

Often, companies fall afoul of ADA/EEOC compliance because they fail to conduct these analyses beforehand or because they include generic fitness tests like push-ups that have no relevance to the actual job.

Consult a professional to conduct the Physical Demand Analysis at your workplace, and conduct new analyses periodically to reflect that the job requirements are up-to-date (especially after changes like installing new equipment).

Ensure that the test and the professionals conducting it are 100% compliant with federal law governing testing regulations.

3. Have tests onsite for convenience and better results

Try to go for onsite tests rather than offsite ones wherever possible. Offsite tests require you to find availability at a clinic and wait longer for test results (since they have other patients to cater to). However, with onsite tests, professionals can come in and dedicate exclusive time to your candidates, thus enabling results to come along sooner (often within 24 hours).

This has the additional benefit of reducing the hiring timeline, allowing you to extend offers to high-performing candidates before they can go elsewhere.

4. Do periodic performance reviews

Continue to observe your team at work and implement new ways to improve their physical comfort. For instance, investing in ergonomic seating allows for healthier posture and thus reduces the risk of strains and injuries down the line.

You could also work out ways to reduce the distance by which loads must be carried at work. Regular employee surveys will help get a clear idea of the challenges they face at work and how they can be enabled better.

5. Make it a company-wide practice

Given that health and fitness can vary over time, it is good practice to offer functional tests regularly to everyone in the workforce. This also helps identify any health conditions your employees might need to get treated for and thus ensures that well-being is always prioritized.

Over to you

In conclusion, a functional employment test is a valuable and necessary part of recruitment that can save HR a lot of trouble from workplace lawsuits going forward.

By hiring skilled professionals to assess each candidate’s health and strength in advance, the company can benefit from good job fits and plan for accommodations to make the work environment more inclusive, thus boosting employee morale and productivity.

Asavari Sharma

Asavari is an EiR at Adaface. She has made it her mission to help recruiters deploy candidate-friendly skill tests instead of trick-question based tests. When taking a break, she obsesses over art.

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