More organisations are inviting pets into their offices to help employees manage stress and build a positive company culture. Is it time your company developed a office pet policy?
Imagine spending your working day surrounded by animals? It’s the reason many people aspire to work in zoos or as vets or in pet shops. Having pets on hand has been shown to work wonders for stressed, sick or elderly people, making them less lonely, happier, more relaxed and even aiding in recovery from illness.
Increasingly, however, the calming effect of furry friends is being recognised as having an application in the workplace.
Coming up on 23 June is International Take Your Dog to Work Day, but several workplaces are extending the idea beyond a single ‘token’ day and inviting more than just canines into the confines of their office spaces.
Just as some people are either cat people – or dog people, some businesses declare their preferences up front. Take Google – long known as a cdog-friendly company; where canine-love is part and parcel of official company policy. “Google’s affection for our canine friends is an integral facet of our corporate culture. We like cats, but we’re a dog company, so as a general rule we feel cats visiting our offices would be fairly stressed out,” states the document. Meow!
In Australia, companies as disparate as CarAdvice.com.au, Pandora, Gunning Commercial real estate and VetShopAustralia all allow employees to bring their dogs to the office. And in the UK, the Guardian newspaper found more than 50 companies including Nestlé allow dogs in the workplace. What the have discovered are the many and varied health and wellbeing benefits to their employees, both pet owners and non-pet owners, including lowering blood pressure and increasing exercise (someone has to take them for walks).
Steven Perissinotto, founder and director at VetShopAustralia, told ABC news that there were usually three or four dogs in the office, including his two spaniels.
“Everyone seems to be a bit happier and it gets smiles when the dogs come around and give you a sniff. We can also see that this lowers stress levels,” he said.
“When things aren’t going well, people give a dog a pat or take them out for a walk. So all-around a happier workplace. It lifts everyone’s emotions but it also reminds us about what’s important.”
It’s evidence supported by the most well-known research on the impact of dogs in the office from 2012, undertaken by the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Center for Human-Animal Interaction. Dividing office groups into those with dogs and those without, it found that although perceived stress was similar at baseline; over the course of the day, stress declined for the group with their dogs present and increased for the no-dog and no-pet groups. The no-dog group had significantly higher stress than the dog group by the end of the day.
Another study from Central Michigan University found that employees at dog friendly workplace collaborated and trusted each other more.
Yet not everyone is going to be happy about pets at work. People with allergies and asthma may suffer adverse reactions and pets will need to be kept away from those individuals. Also animals are unpredictable and even the most docile, when threatened, could attack an individual, leading to an unwanted lawsuit. Obviously some work environments where food is handled or hygiene is paramount (and contamination is possible), will be unsuitable places to bring animals.
Unsurprisingly, the researchers at VCU found that the workplaces that were most open to hosting animals were those where the owners or senior leaders led the way and brought their own pets to work. A recent example at Japanese company, Ferray, was reported by the BBC. Hidenobu Fukuda, who heads the firm, introduced an “office cat” policy in 2000, encouraging staff to bring cats to work (in spite of their tendency to walk all over keyboards). The CEO is so convinced of the stress-relieving effects of cats, he is even providing a Y5000 incentive for staff to adopt rescue cats.
Pet Policy: What do you need to consider?
If you are thinking of introducing a pet policy in your workplace, a good place to start is with advice from the RSPCA, which, although specific to dogs, has some common sense tips to ensure the experience runs smoothly.
Before taking your dog to work:
- Check with your office to see if bringing your dog to work is appropriate and allowed. Some work environments may not be appropriate or safe for dogs.
- Consult with your workplace about associated policies and requirements.
- Ensure your dog is currently healthy so they don’t potentially spread any infections.
- Ensure your dog is identified (including by microchip and that your contact details are up to date on the microchip register) and up to date with their vaccinations.
- Dogs should be socialised with other dogs and people.
- Dogs should be trained using reward-based positive reinforcement.
- Ensure the office environment is safe for pets. Cables, cords and rubbish bins can be hazardous for pets, so ensure dogs in the office can’t access these.
- Supervise your dog and make sure they won’t be able to escape and get lost by accident.