With the return to workplaces and employers looking to provide more flexible work environments, should pets at work be added to the mix? It has been viewed in movies for years, the new tech startup with the owners dog in toe as the owner makes the rounds. You may have already experienced this at your own place of work or in other businesses where pets are already a part of the team.
But does allowing pets into the workplace really provide benefits?
We will look a little closer at the research on this topic as it relates to stress and productivity. There seems to be several studies which are survey based and highlight clear benefits to bringing in pets to work. Employees perceive they are less stressed, but are they?
“Pets in the workplace were most likely to be perceived to reduce stress, facilitate social interaction, to serve as an organizational symbol, and to serve as a self-expressive function.” 1
Do pets in the workplace reduce employee stress?
We will focus in on this particular research titled, “Preliminary investigation of employee's dog presence on stress and organizational perceptions” 2. This study was performed at an actual business with approximately 550 employees which has, for the last 15 years, permitted employees to bring their dogs to work. Approximately, 20-30 dogs are at work on the same day. A mouth swab of the employees was used to detect cortisol levels to determine actual physiological stress levels. Employee surveys were used to determine perceived stress through the day.
The research found no significant differences with physiological stress from the employees. However, perceived stress over the course of the day was found to lower in employees with dogs.
Do pets in the workplace improve productivity?
It seems most employees perceived dogs present at work was neutral regarding productivity. It was noted in the study that 20% of the non-dog owners perceived dogs present as hurting their personal productivity.
So, what to do with this information?
If you are a policy maker at a business and considering allowing pets into the workplace you should realize that it may reduce perceived stress but also cause some perceived productivity losses in non-pet owners. This should help with setting policies for your employees, and I would encourage you to read the full study.
Some policy setting suggestions:
- Explore minimizing negative impact and maximizing positive impact
- Clear policies on pet behaviour, cleanliness, and noise
- Consider adding pet policies as and employee incentive incorporated into a benefits package
- Consider the welfare of the pets in the work environment
- Different environments could also affect the employee benefit if they work in an environment which isn’t pet friendly
Some health and safety considerations from another study 3:
- Potential slip, trip and fall hazards from pets, pet leash, pet dishes, pet toys, pet beds, etc…
- Allergies can be problematic for some employees
- Dogs should be extensively evaluated before entering the workplace as dog bites can happen
- 11% of Americans surveyed are afraid of dogs and these fears and phobias need to be addressed
- Consider cultural sensitivities towards dogs from your employees as well
- It is clearly stated2 that more research is needed in this area and that this was a small study
- There are many references to other studies regarding human and animal interactions and the positive effects animals can provide
- Small increases in communication between employees were also noted but it wasn’t measured for positive or negative influences on productivity
It is clear a large majority of employees perception of pets in the workplace provide positive benefits. It is still unclear if these benefits convert into positive business outcomes for businesses. Policy decisions should also fit within the established corporate culture and not simply be created to address job satisfaction and engagement4.
Preliminary investigation of employee's dog presence on stress and organizational perceptions
Dogs in the Workplace: A Review of the Benefits and Potential Challenges
Dogs at the Workplace: A Multiple Case Study