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Pets in the workplace: Pros & (a few) cons

Joe Wedgwood | 18th May 2019

As an animal lover, it’s alien to me that some people wouldn’t want to work alongside them. For some of us – leaving our pet(s) at home is a horrible way to start the day. Many find it genuinely traumatic! The non-pet-owners amongst you will undoubtedly be thinking that we need to get a grip, and perhaps you’re right… On the other hand, if it makes people happier at work it’s worth it. Right?

Some of you may be unwilling to make workplace changes that will only benefit a few of your people. What if I told you it can benefit almost everyone? A study in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management states that pets in the workplace help create “better moods, increased productivity and happier employees.” Not so overly sentimental now, right?

I conducted a quick Twitter poll a few weeks back to see if people were for or against pets at work. Admittedly there were only about 30 respondents… but still a noteworthy exercise…

Twitter-poll-pets-at-work-animals-in-workplace-the-happiness-index

Let’s talk about dogs

Let’s be honest here… when we talk about bringing pets to work, we mostly mean dogs. Imagine how great it would be to have a little dog sitting next to you with a wagging tail as you plough through your spreadsheet!

They aren’t dubbed “Man’s best friend” for no reason. They helped our ancestors at work with hunting, tracking and protection. So why can’t they help us to reduce burnout, anxiety and workplace happiness?

Nowadays, this relationship has been largely forgotten. Granted we work in offices now, not farms and forests… but in many environments there’s still plenty of space for a pooch or two.

Dogs are so important to some people that we even have “National Take Your Dog to Work Day” every June.

Let’s look at the many ways that pets in the workplace can benefit our people and profits:

Reduces stress

Got a stressful workload that is making your blood boil? A quick interaction with your furry companion is scientifically proven to help reduce stress and lower blood pressure. According to Animal Smart, “Playing with or petting an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol.”

We all know that stress is unhealthy and bad for you, your employees and your business. In the workplace, small things like petting an animal can release stress-reducing endorphins that help calm nerves, lower blood pressure and improve focus.

The American Heart Association suggest, “Pet-owning patients with high blood pressure could keep their blood pressure lower during times of mental stress than patients without pets…”

Want more? An article by Harvard Health Publishing suggests that “Studies going back to the early 1980s support the idea that dogs—and other pets—have enormous health benefits for people. Pets have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve recovery from heart disease, and even reduce rates of asthma and allergy in children who grow up with a Fido or a Frisky in the house. Pets also improve people’s psychological well-being and self-esteem.”

Improves performance

Pets at work help to create a warmer and more pleasant environment. This helps to improve the culture, enjoyment of role and ultimately workplace happiness. A study by Michigan University concluded that dogs in the office help to boost productivity. This leads to better performance and output.

Another survey conducted by the American Pet Products Manufacturers revealed that “70 million Americans believe having pets in the workplace reduces stress, and 46 million believe having pets in the workplace creates a more productive work environment.” Can’t argue with the numbers…

Reduces burnouts & encourages exercise

We all get stressed.  It’s both inevitable and unavoidable. The same cannot be said for workplace burnouts! They are 100 completely avoidable and a little waggling tail could be just the remedy…
 
Working continuously without breaks sometimes feels like the only option. Sad but true! However, we are all aware now that our mental/physical wellbeing and output will suffer. Taking small breaks throughout the day will ensure people get away from the desk and take some much-needed time to reduce stress and regain focus. Taking a dog out a few times a day will force someone to go out and walk it. This will help the individual to refocus, re-energise and ultimately make them (and the pet) happier!

This report by the BBC highlights that an inactive lifestyle, and lack of exercise “Can be just as bad for you as smoking.” The research also states that “Sitting for at least 8 hours a day could increase the risk of premature death by up to 60%.” Having an office dog will ensure exercise and people can take turns to share the responsibility. Even a short walk will loosen you up and prevent back pain and poor posture from sitting at a desk all day. You could even double it up as a fun work meeting if your schedule is ridiculously busy!

Boosts morale

Laughter is the best medicine. This is more than just a nice idiom, at a scientific level it boosts your mood, helps to convince your body and mind you’re happy. It also increases your heart rate, similarly to exercise. Nothing quite tickles our funny bones the way animals do. We’ve all seen YouTube vids of cats and more recently llamas with millions of hits. Check out this video for inspiration:

You could also upload a funny vid or two of your office pets as a branding exercise. You just need one video to catch a wave and suddenly you could have millions of people watching your content…

It’s not all silly though. Many businesses that tend to have flexible policies with pets are also highly associated with innovation and creativity – Google, Zappos, Facebook to name a few! The idea is it will reduce stress, improve work-life balance and create a better culture.  

Helps with recruitment

Recruiting the right people is very costly and very time-consuming. Have you considered that creating a pet-friendly work environment may help to attract a bigger talent pool?

Millennials overtook the baby boomers’ generation as the biggest pet-owners back in 2018.  Combine this with the fact that millennials and Gen Z make up a huge percentage of the global workforce and it presents a strong case for allowing pets in the workplace. It will help workers to save on pet-minders fees and will help to ensure they are concentrating on work instead of worrying if little Ruby is feeling lonely!

When are pets in the workplace a bad idea?

Since everyone isn’t a pet lover, they can have the inverse effect for some people. A barking dog may increase the stress and decrease the mood of an employee who isn’t such a dog lover.

Here are some other examples:

  • Landlord says “No”: This one is completely black and white. Even if the whole team is in favour of pets at work – if the landlord says no, then you have your answer!
  • Fear or allergies: If any of your workers fear the animal or has any allergies then its presence will pose a real threat to someone’s wellbeing and enjoyment of their role. If anyone fits into this category, then they should have the final say if pets at work should be allowed. Perhaps you could get a fish instead.
  • When cleanliness is key: If you work in a kitchen or a laboratory that needs to pass stringent standards of cleanliness then it’s unlikely you will be able to keep a pet and maintain those standards. The last thing you want is a dog hair in your customer’s soup or in one of your test tubes…
  • If the animal(s) are too distracting: Even the most well-behaved little darling still requires an element of attention and care. They usually require some exercise breaks and always need to “relieve themselves” throughout the day. This can be counterproductive for some people or also considered as an annoyance… so I’m told anyway!
  • When the workplace isn’t right for the pet:  Some working environments just aren’t the right fit – for example, a loud and dangerous building site could be very distressing for the animal.
  • Owner/carer abides by some rules: For this process to work out there are some certain assumptions and expectations that the pet must meet. For example, it must be friendly, non-aggressive, house trained and not too loud.   

Final paws for thought

Pets at work can undoubtedly be an HR nightmare. Each pet will require different procedures and approaches. For example, if Ruby from Accounts has a pet Falcon or Winston from Marketing is the proud owner of a giant python, it’s a big issue! Then there’s allergies, phobias and cleanliness to consider. Nothing is black and white, but the benefits are huge!

Some of you lucky lot don’t have to imagine, as your business already allows pets at work. Some people are in another camp and feel aggrieved as their business doesn’t. Then there are the people who wish their office didn’t, but it does allow them. And vice-versa.

Like most complex decisions, the people and the environment dictate whether it is a good idea or a bad one to allow pets in the workplace. All I’m suggesting is you talk with your people and if enough are interested then you experiment with it. You don’t have to change your policies just yet and as we’ve just learned the pros far outweigh the cons!