Since 1996, the 24th of June each year has marked Bring your Dog to Work day; an annual event that celebrates our canine companions by – as the name makes rather clear – permitting employees to bring their dogs into the office. More generally, a small number of companies go so far as to welcome cats, rabbits, tortoises and much else besides into UK workplaces all year round.
It might seem like a novel concept to most; a bit of fun to lighten the mood and give employee morale a small boost in much the same way as dress-down Fridays, but something that wouldn’t be suitable on a permanent basis. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear from the evidence that pet-friendly offices are good for both the individual workers and, to a certain extent, companies too.
Now, since the guys and girls of ABRS Ltd. and TEC Partners are (by and large) animal lovers, I thought it’d be interesting to discover exactly what these benefits are.
Whether you’re working to an incredibly tight deadline or are playing catch up after a fortnight away on holiday, our physical and mental health sometimes takes a back seat during particularly demanding periods. For this reason, researchers are constantly looking for ways to better safeguard our welfare and, as any experienced owner will tell you, pets can certainly help in this regard.
One study in particular points to the therapeutic benefits of allowing pets into the office. According to the Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012, stress levels in employees who were permitted to bring a pet to work were significantly lower by the day’s end compared to those that were forbidden this privilege, whilst others who don’t actually own a pet reported a comparable decrease if they spent some time interacting with their colleague’s animal companions. It goes without saying this is of great benefit to our mental and physical health, especially bearing in mind the link between stress and heart disease, obesity and other serious conditions; indeed, the British Journal of Health Psychology discovered blood pressure and cholesterol tends to be lower in dog owners.
Dogs specifically can make it easier to stay fit as well. Employees who’d usually spend all day tied to their desks, for example, may decide instead to step out the office for half an hour each lunchtime to take their or their colleague’s favourite pooch out for a quick stroll, providing them with the perfect opportunity to get some fresh air, stretch their legs and work their muscles. And, with an estimated 20 million inactive British citizens, we evidently need all the motivation we can get.
Of those companies that do allow pets, many report a noticeable improvement in the office atmosphere and, therefore, morale as a direct result of the programme. Employees claim having animal companions in the vicinity gives rise to a more convivial working environment, boosting social interactions amongst colleagues and management. For instance, whilst petting your neighbour’s adorable new kitten, it’s only natural you’ll strike up a conversation which could eventually lead to you forming a friendship with someone you might normally speak to only rarely.
Staff working for Nestlé, meanwhile, claim it’s far easier to relax with pets in the office (vital to our psychological wellbeing); one employee named Zoe Green goes so far as to say their presence helps keep her sane. Others have found their sense of job satisfaction increases with animals in the office (presumably this is due in part to the more relaxed atmosphere just mentioned); absenteeism and employee burnout aren’t as common either.
Furthermore, having the right to bring a pooch or moggy into work contributes to creating a desirable work/life; something we covet highly these days. Aside from giving owners the opportunity to spend some extra time with their canine or feline friends during the working week, many like the idea of bringing a cherished part of their private life to the office each day.
Of greater import to employers, research conducted by the Central Michigan University (among others) has found pets are not just cute; they also make for highly effective productivity aids. As well as bringing colleagues closer together, pets tend to improve cooperation, trust and cohesion amongst staff members, the report states, consequently increasing productivity throughout the organisation.
Individual employees share this sentiment. According to Reed, approximately 50% of the UK employees surveyed feel they work more effectively and efficiently when working alongside an animal companion, while across the pond in the US, as many as 46 million Americans (roughly half of those polled in the study) firmly believe allowing pets in the workplace is good for productivity. Reasons for this viewpoint aren’t given, however, it seems safe to assume the relaxed atmosphere, therapeutic nature of the experience etc. are the chief cause of this upsurge in output.
To demonstrate this in practice, there’s one particularly striking example that was referenced in a recent Guardian article on the subject. At one point, Jemma Pascoe of Peters Fraser and Dunlop claims her colleague once used a pet as a makeshift negotiating tool to help him secure better terms. Obviously, I’m not suggesting you bring your beloved cat or dog to your next business meeting, however, it does go to show how animals can be used as ice-breakers and, yet again, how they help us connect with colleagues.
So, what are the downsides? It’s a reasonable question to ask, given the numerous advantages mentioned hitherto. The most obvious drawback is perhaps the fact that around 10% of people around the world are allergic to animals, meaning certain people will find the introduction of pets rather inconvenient, to say the least. Similarly, the threat of worms and fleas can pose genuine health risks too.
Of course, the majority of issues aren’t quite as prohibitive, although that’s not to say they should be dismissed entirely. For instance, companies have reported a variety of nuisances when asked for their opinion on permitting pets in the office: everything from dogs pillaging discarded food and barking at visitors, to cats scratching office furniture and crawling over desks have been cited in the past. Fortunately, addressing such concerns isn’t always difficult; look at Nestlé. Before allowing any animal into the office, they’re put on a 3-month probationary period to gauge their behaviour (how aggressive they are, if they’re house trained etc.) and, even when they are permitted entrance on a permanent basis, pets are forbidden from entering designated eating areas, meeting rooms and lifts. Finally, Nestlé expects all animals to be insured for third-party liability and screened every 6-months for fleas and worms.
As much as anything, no matter how much you might relish the idea of bringing your pet to work every day, it is nonetheless an extra responsibility to factor into your daily routine. Therefore, depending on your circumstances, you might have to leave your furry friend at home every once in a while.
Anyone who’s read this far (thanks, by the way) will have noticed the majority of this article has focused on the beneficial aspects of bringing pets to work; suffice it to say this is neither an accident nor bias on my part.
Rather, our standpoint is based on the empirical evidence referenced throughout and other complementary studies. Together, they show clearly the considerable advantages open to any business that embraces the idea of permitting animals in the office.