Ron Z. Goetzel

Senior Scientist Bloomberg School of Public Health and Director of the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies (IHPS)

What is the focus of your current research and how does it contribute to the overall goal of HBHI and its impact on public health?

We established the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies back in 2002. I lead a team of applied researchers and we recruit students along the way. Our mission is to bridge the gap between academia, the business world, and healthcare policy to support evidence-based interventions that impact the health and productivity, and well-being of the workforce. From this perspective, we want to have academics better understand firsthand what are the real-world problems that businesses face in trying to address the health and well-being of their workers and the community at the local, state, federal, and international levels.  We collect the data, determine what needs correcting, then measure and evaluate the interventions.

What are some of your current projects?

One of the projects underway is with the de Beaumont Foundation in Bethesda, MD.  The goal is to identify communities around the country where business and public health can collaborate on strategic initiatives to improve both economic prosperity and public health.

We’re also funded by a five-year grant from NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, to look at workplace mental health and well-being and identify best practices. The beauty of this program is that we expand our focus from what individual workers can do to thrive, but also what the employer can do from an organizational perspective in terms of programs and policies, as well as environmental forces that affect your health and well-being—for example, exposure to virus, noise, heat and cold, chemicals, and other toxins.  What about your physical space—is it amenable to focus and concentration; are you sitting next to someone who is on the phone all day?  We’re assessing the workplace stressors affecting health and well-being—psychosocial, organizational, and environmental—and most importantly, the interventions that can help reduce those stressors.  We diagnose issues, prescribe solutions, support implementation, and evaluate outcomes. 

We also recognize organizations, companies, and nonprofits that have done a great job in mental health, well-being, and prevention of disease.  This year, we inaugurated the Carolyn C. Mattingly Award for Mental Health in the Workplace. We also administer the C. Everett Koop, around for the past 28 years, which recognizes businesses with credible data demonstrating population health improvement along with business results.

Your career has spanned industry, government, and academia. How has this varied experience helped to benefit HBHI’s mission?

For many years, I was in the private sector working for Thomson Reuters, IBM Watson Health, Johnson & Johnson, and other private sector employers. While at J&J, the company developed an internal health and well-being program called Live for Life, which was started in the late 1970s by then-CEO Jim Burke. It brought together marketing and health education professionals and asked them to figure out ways to “sell” health and promote well-being to the company’s employees, and then to other organizations looking to improve health and business outcomes. I then expanded my focus to include policies that improve community health and prosperity. 

If you think about companies, their workers go home to live in communities; if their communities are poor, crime is rampant, healthy food is inaccessible, unemployment rates are high, housing is expensive, schools are inadequate in producing skilled workers, and quality healthcare is unavailable—all of that affects workers’ mental health and well-being.

About 20 years ago I decided to blend my research interests and skills with what is needed in terms of concrete solutions to businesses and communities.  Remember, healthcare institutions including university medical centers and hospital systems are anchor institutions in most communities and core to their economic growth. 

Much of my work now involves bringing people in public health and business together in the same room to talk and explain what the business community can gain in supporting public health efforts and how to measure whether the community is getting healthier from both a public health and economic perspective. 

What are you currently working on internally at Johns Hopkins?

We’re beginning to apply what we’ve learned from our research to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health so that the university can do a better job in addressing the mental health and well-being concerns of its own workforce.  We want to help figure out how to overcome the increasing prevalence of mental health disorders—and at the same time get employees to thrive—to love their work and become better engaged so that when they get up in the morning, they bounce out of bed and say, hey, I'm looking forward to advancing my personal and my organization’s mission.

What are some collaborative projects you’ve worked on with HBHI colleagues?

As a member of the faculty, we're always looking for partnerships and ways that we can work together with other disciplines. I’m looking for collaborators. We want senior faculty and students to come work with us.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I have three grandchildren. I love to babysit them and have fun by helping them discover the world. We have a house up in Cape Cod. We go swimming and hiking, and we play a lot. It’s great being a grandparent, even more so than being a parent.