Did you know that man’s best friend may just be man’s best co-worker as well? According to both scientific and anecdotal evidence, pets in the work environment reduce stress levels and improve general wellness of employees.
A 2012 study by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) found that dogs and cats in the workplace can reduce a pet owner’s stress levels by as much as 11 percent by the end of a normal work day. While still numbering under 20 percent of all workplaces, a growing number of American employers are allowing pets to come to work.
The VCU study, which was conducted at a North Carolina dinnerware company, found that employees who brought their dogs to work produced lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Participants in the study also reported other benefits of having pets in the workplace: higher perceived support from management, increased productivity, higher employee morale and increased cooperation with co-workers.
A 2010 study conducted by Central Michigan University for the Humane Society of the United States showed that employees were more likely to trust each other and collaborate more with each other when dogs were present in the office.
Many well-known companies, including Amazon, Google, Tumblr and Ben & Jerry’s, have experimented with a pet-friendly workplace policy. Some companies encourage employees to use their breaks to play with their animals or take them for walks. According to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pets can decrease workers’ blood pressure and cholesterol levels and increase opportunities for both exercise and socialization.
If your company is considering such a plan, here are some factors to first consider:
Factors to consider for pet-friendly office
Allergies. An estimated 10 percent of our population is allergic to animals. Among people who suffer from asthma, the incidence of those who suffer from pet allergy symptoms is 20 to 30 percent higher. Pet dander, or skin flakes, in addition to pet saliva and urine, can cause an allergic reaction in many people. In addition, pet hair and pet fur can collect allergens such as pollen, dust and mold.
Dog walking space. Before instituting a pet policy, make sure there is adequate outdoor space near your office for pet walking. Otherwise, you may actually lose worker productivity as pet owners search for a spot for Fido to relieve himself. If cats are part of the policy, consider where litter pans could be safely and unobtrusively placed.
Pet behavior. While you may think it is just great to have purring kitty in your lap, you co-worker may not feel the same way. Consider how pets will be kept from invading other workers’ space and privacy.
Safety. Even the best-trained animals are still animals. If visitors and guests enter your workplace, can you be sure an animal will not snap at them or be aggressive with them in any way?
While there clearly are some benefits to having pets in the workplace, you may want to consider a company policy that gives clear rules and guidelines for pet owners to adhere to before you initiate the policy.
To assist employers in creating a positive pet friendly office environment, the Humane Society has a guidebook available called Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces. The book, written by Jennifer Fearing and Liz Palika, provides advice for procedures and protocols and offers policy samples for dog-friendly workplaces.
“Our canine companions can make excellent colleagues, even at big companies,” writes Fearing.
The Oregon Research Institute (ORI), an independent behavioral research center based in Eugene, Oregon is a pet friendly environment, and dogs, cats, fish and even an occasional snake can be seen alongside their owners. ORI also has a strict policy in place that includes vaccine regulations, a “no biting” policy and housekeeping rules.
Some 44 million American households include a dog, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. To encourage pet adoption, Pet Sitters International created Take Your Dog to Work Day in 1999. This year’s event will take place on June 14. Maybe it will be a good day to give pets at your workplace a try.
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