Pets can bring calm and satisfaction to the office
This week, I have been asked to speak at a conference organised by "Great Place to Work": this is a global research, consulting and training firm that helps companies and organisations develop great workplaces by promoting optimal workplace cultures. I like this idea: most of us spend so much of our time at work that it makes sense to do our utmost to make our work environments as fulfilling as possible.
My talk will be about a specific, innovative idea that can improve the quality of the workplace: having pets at work.
This may sound like an odd idea, but it has the backing of academic research. A study in the USA in 2012 compared employees who bring their dogs to work, employees who do not bring their dogs to work and employees without pets in the areas of stress, job satisfaction and commitment to the employer. The study reported positive reports in favour of bringing dogs to work, with comments from employees such as "pets in the workplace can be a great bonus for employee morale," "having dogs here is great stress relief" and "dogs are positive; dogs increase co- worker cooperation."
There are many small ways that pets are good for people, from reducing blood pressure, to acting as social catalysts, to encouraging exercise and helping people deal with low moods. Just as these positive effects are seen when people spend time with pets in their own homes, so they will be seen if pets are around people while they're at work. The idea is that if people have pets beside them at work, they'll feel less stressed and they'll enjoy work more.
Not all of the research on this topic has been overwhelmingly positive. Another US based study at a service-manufacturing retail company produced ambivalent results: about half of those bringing their dogs to work stated that the dog was important to their productivity, while the remaining half gave a neutral response. In both groups, 20% reported that the dog's presence was helpful and 20% said that the dog was a hindrance to productivity, with the remaining workers believing that it made no difference.
I'd argue that even this equivocal response like this supports the concept of having pets at work: if there is no strong reason not to do it, why not try?
Of course it's important to address potential pitfalls before setting up a pet friendly workplace/ What if some workers suffer from allergies to pets? Or what about people who are frightened of animals, or who are just uncomfortable in their presence? And what about the potential mess made by animals, from fur to piddle and poo? It would be easy to decide that it's just too complicated, but with care and planning, these issues can often be resolved.
As with many other aspects of workplace activities today, a written "Pets At Work" policy is needed, laying out rules for bringing, caring for and supervising pets. Steps need to be taken to ensure that animals don't disrupt the work of the company, cause any damage or cause issues of any kind to other employees.
Examples of policy guidelines include:
Written consent should be obtained from every office employee before pets are allowed in the work place: for this reason, a pets-allowed environment does not suit every company and organisation.
Ensuring that pets are healthy, well-trained, well-behaved and sociable. They need to be clean, well-groomed, vaccinated and regularly treated for parasites.
The pets' owners need to accept responsibility for their pets, making sure that they don't cause problems with issues like behaviour, noise, mess or general annoyance.
Pets should be kept on a leash at all times.
All pets should bring a "portable base" with them, such as a bed, mat or rug, so that they have their own immediate zone around them.
Creating "pet free" areas in the workplace, so that employees who really don't want to have anything to do with animals are able to enjoy their normal pet-free daily life.
As well as these zones, there will usually be areas of the workplace where pets are prohibited: examples might include meetings with external visitors whose attitude to pets might not be known, or areas that might not be safe for animals (e.g. areas with machinery, moving parts, or delicate activities).
When pets are work are discussed, it's nearly always dogs that are involved. Pets like snakes, spiders and rabbits (which are prone to chewing wires) are unlikely to be welcomed, but in theory, some cats could also take part. You'd need to have a relaxed, chilled-out, people-loving cat, and they'd need to come along with an indoor cage of some kind, but in theory, it's possible.
In my own workplace, at a vet clinic, cats have been welcome for many years. These cats started as stray animals, waiting at our clinic back door for scraps of food. They gradually became tame, moving in to our office areas, cheering us up with their friendly purrs. They've become loved by us all, and we'd miss them if they had to go for any reason.
The Great Place to Work Conference takes place on Thursday 21st September in Dublin: visit www.greatplacetowork.ie to find out more.