Can pets in the workplace boost productivity?
Wanted: one cute, cuddly pet willing to work long hours and share the love around the office.
Pet-friendly workplaces are on the rise, with many businesses following the lead of Google, Amazon, and other animal-tolerant employers. And, as studies reveal that dogs on the job can actually reduce workers’ stress and increase productivity, more and more pups are punching in with their humans.
Victoria Welsby, talent acquisition manager at sustainable produce delivery service SPUD, heads to the office most mornings with her dog, Dougal—a two-year-old mixed-breed rescued dog—by her side.
“He loves coming to work with me,” Welsby says. “He starts to wiggle and shake with excitement as we’re approaching the office. He can’t wait to get through the door.”
Dougal is one of several pooches that, most days, can be found on-site, in the care of their owners, at SPUD.ca’s office in Vancouver. Though the firm’s pet-friendly policy has only been in place for about a year, it’s become an important part of the company culture.
“When I first asked my manager about allowing dogs at work, his response was, ‘Let’s do it for a month and see how it goes,’” Welsby recalls, adding that rolling out a pet-friendly policy slowly turned out to be a good idea.
“It gave us a chance to introduce our dogs to each other and to find out how well each one adapted to the work environment,” she explains. “It also let us identify and secure areas of the office—especially places where food is handled or dangerous machinery is in use—that needed to be kept strictly off-limits to the dogs.”
Over time, Welsby and her colleagues crafted a dog-friendly program for their workplace that the animals truly seem to enjoy. But, she says, it’s the benefits to the people who work at SPUD that may be the real boon.
“The first thing I noticed was the sheer joy that Dougal brought to my colleagues; he provides a lot of comic relief,” she laughs. “But it has also turned out to be a great stress reducer—staff will come to my desk to give Dougal a hug when they’re having a busy day or dealing with a heavy workload. The dogs have also been great for communication across departments—people who never work together now have something in common to talk about in the dogs.”
Indeed, research is showing that a work environment that allows and encourages employees to bring their pets to the office with them may also contribute to greater worker wellness.
A 2012 study out of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), for example, saw up to 30 dogs brought to work daily by employees of a dinnerware manufacturing firm in Greensboro, North Carolina. Researchers found that, after one week, reported stress levels fell an average of 11 percent among staff who did bring their pets to the office, as opposed to those who left their four-legged friends at home.
Principal investigator Randolph T. Barker, professor of management in the VCU School of Business, said in a VCU press release, “Although preliminary, this study provides the first quantitative study of the effects of employees’ pet dogs in the workplace setting on employee stress, job satisfaction, support, and commitment.”
“Dogs in the workplace can make a positive difference,” said Barker. “The differences in perceived stress between days the dog was present and absent were significant. The employees as a whole had higher job satisfaction than industry norms.”
Find out who is interested in bringing their dog to work, who is neutral, and who has concerns. Management may be more willing to consider your proposal if the idea is popular among staff.
If any team members are opposed to the idea, ask why and try to find solutions for their concerns. Your employer will want to know that all issues have been dealt with before implementing a pet-friendly policy.
Some businesses may be wary of allowing pets in the workplace due to legal or liability concerns. Start a committee that takes a look at potential problems and creates guidelines to protect both employees and the company.
Before you welcome animals to your office, ensure it’s equipped to handle—and that it’s safe for—dogs. Identify areas that should remain pet-free (for example, washrooms, break rooms, areas where food is produced, or places where machinery or hazardous materials are in use), and find suitable spots outdoors for dog walking and bathroom breaks.
Ask your employer to allow dogs for a trial period of one or two weeks to show that allowing them in the workplace is feasible for your company. The trial should be long enough to give dogs—and their owners—a chance to adapt and relax into the routine. A one-day event could be fun, but it won’t realistically show what life working with dogs will be like.
The most common pet brought to work is a dog (76 percent), according to an American survey of companies with pet-friendly policies, while 24 percent bring a small animal, and 15 percent bring a cat.
A recent survey found that 75 million Americans believe having pets in the workplace makes people happier.
The Friday after Father’s Day is Take Your Dog To Work Day. First celebrated in 1999, next year marks the event’s 18th year. It was established to encourage employers to experience the joys of pets in the workplace; it also encourages owners of cats and other pets to participate.