“Going for the Gold” in Quality and Wellness:

Minnesota Valley Testing Laboratories

Founded in 1951, Minnesota Valley Testing Laboratories, Inc. (MVTL) is a diverse group of analytical laboratories offering environmental, agricultural, food science and energy technology testing services. Throughout its history, MVTL employees have reflected a dual commitment to quality and their customers, expressed in the high standards of their work and dedicated participation in the company’s quality assurance program.
It seems MVTL employees always strive to “go for the gold” in all they do — and their wellness program is no exception.

A group of MVTL employees proudly show their Go for the Gold medals


A healthy competition yields healthy benefits

Since 2010, the 125 employees at MVTL’s New Ulm headquarters have entered into a friendly competition called Go for the Gold Challenge with two other New Ulm businesses — Windings and SouthPoint Federal Credit Union. The three companies began the challenge during the 2010 Winter Olympics with the help of the Heart of New Ulm Project and held a 12-week competition to help develop healthy lifestyle behaviors and maintain or lose weight. 

MVTL won that first challenge and the company donated money for every pound an employee lost to a charity of the employee’s choosing. They’re now competing in the 2011 challenge, which focuses on increasing physical activity.

Colleen Skillings, MVTL’s chief financial officer, explained that MVTL employees enjoy a healthy competition, both with other local companies as well as internally on an individual or departmental level. As a result, many of their wellness programs include a competitive element.
In each Go for the Gold Challenge, employees win gold, silver and bronze medals based on how much activity they do each week. The three companies then compete for the most medal percentages to account for different numbers of employees and varying levels of participation. The winning company gets a trophy, but more importantly, the companies all reap the benefits from a healthier and more productive workforce.

A two-part goal: Reduce health insurance premiums and improve employee health

Skillings said that when MVTL started their wellness program in 2008, part of their goal was to help reduce the rate of increases to their health insurance premiums.
“They’re getting higher and higher all the time, and improving our employees’ health is one thing we can somewhat try to control. The other part of our goal is to help our employees become healthier — and of course along with that comes side benefits. From a personal standpoint, you feel much better; you’re also more productive at work and happier at home.”
The company started its wellness program as one of the pilot worksites for [email protected], a worksite wellness initiative that the New Ulm Medical Center started in 2008, before the Heart of New Ulm Project started.
Their varied wellness programming includes periodic 15- to 30-minute “break-n-learn” sessions on topics ranging from nutrition, sleep and stress to exercise. All employees are encouraged to attend a free session and are not required to use a break or lunch period. Skillings said one of her favorite sessions personally was when staff from the New Ulm Medical Center taught employees how to peel and prepare several fruits and vegetables that they may not ordinarily buy or be familiar with.
The wellness committee has sponsored “turkey trots” during the fall that encourage physical activity and competition among different departments. They’ve also implemented various Heart of New Ulm worksite wellness programs such as the Holiday Trimmings program, which is designed to help people avoid weight gain during the winter holiday season. An especially popular offering from the wellness committee is the sale of fruit and granola bars.
Skillings explained, “It’s an on-your-honor system where there is a container to put your money in and take your fruit. The wellness committee is in charge of buying the fruit and the granola bars and maintaining the fund. It’s gone quite well. It seems that we are running out of the food on a regular basis, and the fruit seems to get purchased by the end of the week, so nothing gets wasted.”
MVTL has also made strides in providing more healthy food options at meetings and Skillings said she’s noticed that when she goes in the lunchroom, it’s apparent that people are trying to eat healthier.
“You see that overall, people are trying to make better choices. One individual who never liked to run started to run last summer and is now running in some races and has lost a lot of weight. We are seeing some individuals who are really taking it to heart,” said Skillings.

Financial incentives also play a role

In April 2011, MVTL started a new program that gives an incentive to employees who improve their health or maintain their health. The program started with a baseline health testing. If an employee’s results show that they are already in a healthy or optimal range, they will be eligible for a $20 monthly reduction in their health insurance premium in 2012.
For those employees whose results are not optimal, they will also be rewarded with the $20 reduction if they show they are improving their health or commit to be a part of a health improvement program. MVTL will also host another Heart of New Ulm screening for employees in 2011.
Skillings stressed that as an employer, it’s important that worksite wellness programs such as [email protected] and the Heart of New Ulm Project collect data as an objective third party.
“Employees sometimes fear that you’re going to change their health insurance coverage if they are identified as having health issues. That’s why this approach works well — it takes us as the employer out of the data collection process and allows us to focus on the programming. All of the data is gathered at the New Ulm Medical Center, so they let us know who qualifies for the incentive and who doesn’t. We as the employer don’t know an individual’s results.”

Community support makes a difference

Skillings said the biggest strengths that the Heart of New Ulm Project has brought to MVTL’s wellness efforts are the support, the availability of programs, the HONU staff’s willingness to help with their programs, and the overall awareness.
“Employees are used to hearing about the importance of personal health choices, but the Heart of New Ulm has helped increase that awareness,” stressed Skillings. “Now it’s a bigger thing — and it’s also starting to hit people’s pocketbooks because health insurance has gotten so expensive. People have started to take notice and think, ‘OK, what can I personally do to really help reduce the cost?’”
She continued, “Because the Heart of New Ulm is bringing the message to the rest of the community, it’s not just one company or one group of people trying to get healthy,” Skillings said. “For employees, it’s very helpful knowing that there is support out in the community among local businesses, restaurants and other residents to help them achieve their goals.”
In other words, with the added support, MVTL employees really can “go for the gold”!