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Good work!

Happiness at work is a health factor to be measured. UC resources can help.

What does a good day at work look like to you?

Completion of an important project? Praise from a co-worker or perhaps a bump in salary?

What constitutes a good day at work may vary, but having more good days at work than bad is physically beneficial, say University of Cincinnati experts in health and wellness. 

“Having a good day at work benefits you more than just mental happiness,” says UC researcher Matt Huml, author of a recent study, “Working to Live or Living to Work,” which looked at the health metrics of participants during their workday and whether the subjects reported having a good or bad day at work. 

Life-work balance and living life style concept of businessman relaxing, take it easy in hotel or office room resting with thoughtful mind thinking of lifestyle quality looking forward to city


Happiness at work 

Not surprisingly, the results of the study, funded by the UC Research Council, show that participants, using smartwatches, reported higher total steps, improved sleep efficiency and a reduced daily heart rate average on days where they reported higher daily positive work experiences. On bad days, the metrics only showed an increased daily heart rate average.

“The findings provide initial evidence of daily work experiences influencing employee biometric health,” says Huml, an assistant professor of sports administration in UC’s School of Human Services, within the College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services.

Physical health is not something you can fake.

Matt Huml | Associate professor of sport administration

Stressors, of course, differ greatly from person to person, but an elevated heart rate from anything other than intentional and regular exercise, tends not to be a good thing, says Richard Becker, MD, a UC Health cardiologist and professor of medicine who is currently involved with a National Institutes of Health study using smartwatch technology to study atrial fibrillation.

With physical exercise and conditioning, Becker says there is a reset of heart rate and blood pressure and a response to exercise over time that is favorable. By contrast, the human body responds to emotional and psychological stress quite differently — typically, with increased blood pressure and heart rate which, over time, are well known to be health detriments.    

While the study was specific to employees in the sports industry, Huml says that many of their workday activities correlate to office work across all industries. Regardless of profession, there are always deadlines looming, co-workers to co-work with and performance goals to meet. And our bodies respond accordingly.

The keys to evaluation and integration of health considerations within the workplace are awareness, prioritization, action and adoption, both say.

More than money  

There’s an iconic scene in the TV series “Mad Men” that sums up a typical employer/employee interaction in the 1960s:  

Don Draper: It's your job! I give you money, you give me ideas.
Peggy Olson: You never say thank you!
Don Draper: That’s what the money is for!

But, as the saying goes, money isn’t everything, and over the past 75 years researchers have taken a closer look at what drives job satisfaction and productivity and an even deeper dive since the pandemic. 

A 2022 workforce survey by the American Psychological Association, for example, shows that 7 out of 10 employees believe their employer is paying more attention to mental health concerns than before. Additionally, workforce analytics company Zippia found 52% of U.S. companies have implemented wellness programs, compared to 37% in 2018.

“There is value in making sure that your employees are finding satisfaction and happiness at work,” says Huml, pointing to benefits to the company such as fewer sick days, lower health care costs for insurers and increased job performance. Happy workers, says an Oxford study, directly affect the bottom line, with a 13% increase in productivity.

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Tips for employees

  • Plan for the workday ahead: Get enough sleep, make lists, check your calendar.
  • Create daily goals, and turn off notifications when you need to focus on a task.
  • Wear a smartwatch and connect it to employee health platforms like Be Well UC, the university’s employee wellness program.
  • Practice mindfulness and meditation: UC employees can download the Calm app for free.
  • Take movement breaks. Explore the neighborhood with a short walk.
  • Take advantage of employee discounts at recreation centers.
  • Make time to chat with co-workers.
  • Don’t be too proud to seek out professional help.
Students pose using various exercise equipment in the Campus Rec Center.

Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Marketing + Brand

Employee wellness at UC

UC has actually been at the forefront of recognizing employee health and well-being, says Ashley San Diego, the wellness manager for Be Well UC, which formed in 2015.

Be Well UC is a voluntary employee wellness program that offers a variety of support, resources and education for faculty and staff. Resources and services available to UC employees include one-on-one health coaching, an online wellness portal, Take 5 microbreak kits, walking maps, the Employee Assistance Program and stress management tools with the Calm app.

“We know that when we bring our whole selves to work, where we are valued and cared for, we are going to have better health outcomes, be more productive, less stressed and feel more connected to the mission,” says San Diego.

To date, she says, about 41% of eligible UC staff and faculty are utilizing the wellness portal for tools, such as connecting with group challenges and shout-outs, tracking healthy habits, learning with self-paced journeys and getting connected to resources such as UC Recreation Center facilities and programs.  

There are also rewards for participation: Eligible employees can earn up to $300 each year for working on their overall wellness. In 2023, 2,163 employees earned a cumulative total $318,620, she says.


An unrecognizable African-American entrepreneur looking at her smartwatch while waiting for somebody who is late.


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Tips for employers

  • Assign work to employees’ strengths
  • Highlight employee successes
  • Offer flexible schedules
  • Be mindful of employee health 
  • Offer growth and development opportunities 
  • Reward good work with monetary and tangible items
  • Communicate frequently and encourage open discussion
  • Engage employees in group activities
  • Model positive attitude  

At UC “it’s about acknowledging that people are people first, before they are a student, before they're an employee,” says Amanda Oney, associate professor/educator of health promotion and education, in the School of Human Services, who also serves as a committee member of Healthy UC, a university-wide collaborative focused on the well-being of students, staff and faculty.

Healthy UC was started in 2018 and adopted the now 540-member Mental Health Champions network that was initially launched for the students, but soon grew to include additional support for faculty and staff and now works in tandem with Be Well UC to keep well-being top of mind, says Oney.

“These are people who are equipped on campus to provide that first level of support and be that connector between people in need and the resources that exist,” she says.

Which brings us back to smartwatches. With Be Well UC employees can connect their wearable devices like smartwatches or smart rings to a portal to record health factors such as activity.

“Physical health is not something you can fake,” says study author Huml, adding that he sees real benefit using biometrics to track physical health and the correlation between good and bad days at work.

“You will be able to see what work experience is helping or harming your health.”

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Additional credits

Photos: Original photography by Andrew Higley unless otherwise noted
Featured image at top: Courtesy of lithiumcloud
Design: Kerry Overstake
UC Marketing + Communications

The research team on the study, "Working to Live or Living to Work? How Daily Work Experiences are Affecting Sport Employee Biometric Health,” includes Gabe Sanders and Peyton Stensland, both assistant professors of sport administration in the UC School of Human Services.

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