28Nov

Let’s paws for a moment: how pets can save the day


Work can be ‘ruff’ on employees, especially with high stress, high pressure, and long hours. To counteract this, some companies are allowing colleagues to bring canine companions to work. Does it make good business sense?

Your friendliest colleague
The growing popularity of bringing pets to work (there’s even a Bring Your Dog to Work Day) has woken companies up to the wide-ranging benefits of having pets in the workplace. Love of pets crosses industry boundaries, with IT firms, architects and antiques dealers alike bringing furry friends to the office.

For example, Nestlé – owner of pet food brand Purina – introduced its PAW (Pets at Work) Scheme in 2014, allowing over 1,000 of its employees to welcome their dogs into its City Place headquarters near Gatwick. After a behavioural evaluation and three-month probationary period, the pets are allowed into the workplace on a daily basis.

Those whose dogs passed the tests and probation reported that it made the office a happier, friendlier place. Colleagues stopped to chat more readily, with the dogs acting as icebreakers. For some, spending a moment with a pet helps bring their stress levels down. Some people even reported colleagues asking to walk others’ dogs. It seems that having pets around creates a sense of warmth and trust.

Backed by science
But it’s not just companies noticing these benefits – research is backing up those observations. A 2012 study by the Virginia Commonwealth University found that workers felt much more satisfied at work, and less stressed, when they brought in their pets.

Lead investigator Randolph T. Barker, Ph.D from the VCU School of Business, said that this preliminary 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… 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.”

More preliminary research from the Central Michigan University found that dogs had positive effects on working groups. Psychologist Stephen Colarelli said:
“First, dogs lower stress, heart rate and blood pressure, and make individuals who work alone feel less lonely. Second, people are perceived as more friendly and approachable when a dog is present in the office. Finally, it’s likely to increase cooperation and other positive behaviours among members of work groups… Yet it can cost employers literally nothing.”

Does it really cost nothing?
With pets come responsibility. To make bringing pets to work actually work, bear in mind the increased cost of cleaning the space, paying a vet and maintaining pet-free zones for clients who don’t like dogs (or cats).

You’d also have to carry out a risk assessment and be sure your liability insurance is up to date. Dogs in particular have to be insured for third-party liability claims. As long as your office is pet-proofed, it’s all good. Few people have anything bad to say about having pets around at work, (or a cleaner office as a result), so it seems that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Are pets good for business?
For companies like Nestlé and Mars Petcare, being seen as pet-friendly is instant PR karma for pet-centric brands. For other businesses, having a companion at the table can help with the business end of business – some shamelessly use their dogs as co-negotiators!

If you’ve gone into a small business and been greeted by a cat, dog or other pet, it may make you smile and stay awhile – which makes spending money that bit easier.

It’s a rare thing that boosts employee morale and mental health, makes customers and shareholders happy, is effortless PR/social media gold, and is proven to work. And for the cost of some additional insurance, care and cleaning, it sounds like excellent value to us.

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