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If you’re pondering the pursuit of a wellness culture, remember the impact of pink jail cells and pink jumpsuits.

Joe Leutzinger, Ph.D., addressed “The Wellness Culture Conundrum: Figuring Out What Works for Your Organization” at The Alliance Learning Circle on Jan. 13, 2015 at The Monona Terrace.

Leutzinger offered the example of two Texas counties that painted their jails pink – even the ceilings – and made inmates wear pink jumpsuits. As a result, Mason County and Van Zandt County
experienced a 60 to 70 percent drop in reoffenders.

“Think of just that one powerful change and the impact it has had in a very tough population,” Leutzinger said. “Now think about the changes you can make that would have a powerful influence on
addressing employee health.”Joseph Leutzinger speaking at the event

An Integrated Model

Leutzinger promoted the value of an integrated health management model, which identifies all the stakeholders who interact with a wellness program and then creates strategies to get them all moving in the same direction.

If one person is responsible for all of employee health, that person will be limited in effectiveness, Leutzinger noted. Instead, employers need to take an integrated approach to identify all stakeholders with a direct and indirect stake in employee health.

While support from the top is important, engaging busy middle managers is crucial.  If top managers assign goals related to employee wellness to middle managers, they will make those goals a priority. If not, wellness efforts can be significantly hampered.

The Burden of Illness

Instead of focusing on return on investment, Leutzinger urged employers to consider the “burden of illness” (BOI) on the organization. This goes beyond direct costs for employee health to include the impact of “presenteeism,” when an employee is at work but not as productive as they could be due to a health-related issue.

Leutzinger noted that the health issue may be linked to the employee’s health or to their role as a caregiver for a family member, including children and aging parents.

The cost of presenteeism is typically:

  • Three to five times higher than the organization’s medical costs.
  • Two to three times higher than the cost of absenteeism.

The Safety and Health Connection

The Health Improvement Solutions database quantifies the link between safety and health, shown in these results from 2012 based on all clients’ combined employee data.

Condition Percentage of employees with this risk factor Increased likelihood of injury
Overweight 57.0% 38.5%
Fatigue 15.7% 35.7%
Inactivity 55.1% 35.7%
Smoker 23.8%
Depression 4.5% 53.3%
Stress 4.5% 60%

Computing the Cost of BOI

One way to quantify BOI costs is to start with an employee’s annual salary. Most major companies expect to get three to five times the amount of that salary back in value for the company; multinational companies may expect as much as eight times the amount of the salary.  In this equation, the employee’s salary is called the “opportunity cost,” while the expected return is the
“opportunity value.”

If the employee’s performance is impacted by poor health, Leutzinger said, the organization typically loses two times the annual salary due to the BOI.

“Now we know what the opportunity is; we know the negative influence BOI is having,” Leutzinger said. That allows organizations to address health and the bottom line with the same approach used for equipment purchases and other bottom-line costs to the organization.

Making the Culture Shift

Your organization’s workplace culture for health and wellness has three elements, Leutzinger said.

  1. Culture reflects the norms, values, beliefs and attitudes held within the company. Climate consists of the employee perceptions regarding support for health in their work environment.
  2. Organizational support is shown by the policies and procedures in the organization that make the healthy choice into the easy choice.

Leutzinger said following the model used to promote safety can be highly effective in changing culture and creating an effective wellness program.

In a healthy culture:

  • Employees see eight to 10 positive health messages a day. This is the level of safety-related messages seen in a safety-sensitive environment.
  • Policies and procedures are in line with creating a healthy environment.
  • Senior management mentions health periodically in company communications.
  • Managers at all levels participate in the program.
  • The target population is energized based on need.

Achieving a healthy culture may require a significant shift in mindset away from offering a wellness program and toward an organization that is truly committed to better employee health, Leutzinger said.

“Go from a program to a state of mind that health is always important here, we will always address it and it will always be at the forefront of what we do every day.”


Learn More about Growing Wellness Culture



Benefit Plan Design


Events by the Alliance


Benefit Plan Design


Events by the Alliance