“Orange Light Theory of Functional Fitness”

When we perform post-offer pre-employment physical ability tests, we remind applicants of the strength demands as defined by their potential new employer as we get to the strength portion of the test. While the main reason for telling them is so that we are clear and transparent about the expectations of the testing process, it also helps to set up a discussion with each applicant about their physical status.

Every post-offer applicant gets a quick reminder that if they are currently working out in a gym or at home, they should continue to do that once they start their new job. More importantly, they should not treat their job as a workout. If they aren’t currently working out, we tell them to go a gym, find a work out app to use at home, check out the available workout videos on places like YouTube or Amazon Prime Video, but most importantly to start doing something. Many of these come with position specific reminders – for patient transporters to start walking more if they don’t walk regularly because the position can require several miles of walking per shift, for train conductors to hit the stairs once in a while because their new employer has been adding as many double decker train cars as they possibly can, etc. The typical response is “I used to work out all the time but {insert some life event} got in the way….I swear as soon as I get this job, I will start working out, running, etc.”

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you want to look at from an employment standpoint or a health/fitness standpoint, we have been seeing a lot of people that are just that tiny bit stronger than the essential demands of their soon to be position require. This is good for them, because they pass this phase in the process of pursuing their new job. But, it is not a lot of cushion from a physical abilities standpoint. When we see areas that they can improve in strength in the data collected during the test, we try to share that with them, just as we try to share some better techniques with them if their positioning to lift from floor height could use some improvement.

But, a lot of people as soon as they are aware of the fact that they have demonstrated the required strength start to tune out those pieces of advice and the statement they made about working out after getting the job has already started to fade into distant echoes. Because of this, I have tried getting a little more creative in trying to get these new hire candidates to understand the importance of keeping in shape and maybe even increasing their strength a little bit more.

 

My new go to explanation for the need to increase strength is the “Orange Light Theory” – almost everyone that comes through our doors, whether they drive or not, knows what it means when that little orange light begins to glow on the dashboard. The tank isn’t empty yet, but a gas station better be in the near future or there will be a problem. For those candidates who just squeak by on the essential demands by a couple of pounds of lifting or carrying strength, I explain to them that they passed – they still have gas – but that the orange light is on. They need to get a little stronger so that they have a reserve of strength to help them on those days when they work overtime or when they have to pick up the slack because someone called out sick, or when the unexpected happens like pipes bursting and causing a lot of work to happen in a short time – or more importantly, having the energy at the end of the day to play with their kids.   Giving them this visual seems to help put their current strength in a context that they can understand better.

While testing applicants to determine whether or not they meet the essential physical and postural demands for a position is the reason for performing a post-offer pre-employment physical abilities test, it is a great opportunity to help give enough knowledge to applicants to give them a reason to take ownership of their physical fitness so that hopefully, they don’t return to us for a functional capacity evaluation due to an injury.

An orange light comes on to let drivers know that they are almost out of fuel.
That pesky orange light comes on and lets you know that you are almost empty. We need to have a high enough fitness level to limit our body’s orange light from needing to come on while performing work related tasks.

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