Introducing Pets into the Workplace, a Smart Idea or Barking up the Wrong Tree?

The office can be a stressful place at times, particularly when deadlines are looming and clients are expecting results fast. These stresses can result in negativity, tension, anxiety, and an overwhelming sense of dread, feelings which can ultimately impact productivity and mental wellbeing. Companies across the globe have worked tirelessly to combat these workplace stresses, introducing comprehensive strategies to improve the wellbeing of their employees and cultivate a healthy working environment. Introducing pets into the workplace is one such plan that can, if implemented correctly, positively impact employees by improving morale, reducing stress, easing anxiety, and increasing job satisfaction.

Amazon is a prime example of a global company that has successfully introduced pets through their long-standing tradition of bringing dogs into their Seattle headquarters, a space which is now home to as many as 7,000 dogs on any given workday! The example set by large companies such as Amazon has inspired countless other businesses to adopt similar initiatives, resulting in pets becoming increasingly common in the workplace, particularly in millennial-driven organizations and  creative offices that encourage collaboration.

But what exactly do you need to know before introducing your furry friend to the workplace and what benefits or downsides can come from bringing your pet to work?

Tips for introducing a pet into the office

Firstly, it is vital to make sure that all employees are on board with the introduction of a pet into the working environment. Studies as recent as 2018 indicate that allergies to dogs and cats impact between ten and twenty percent of the global population, meaning that the mere presence of a dog, cat, or other pet could have various health implications for employees depending on the severity of their allergies.

Additionally, it is important to ensure that the pet is fully vaccinated and groomed prior to their office visit, minimizing the potential for the transmission of disease or fleas between the office pet and any pets that employees may have at home.

Pets should also be slowly introduced to the new office environment. Some animals may react poorly to being placed in a new setting for an extended period, so it is best to make sure that the pet is happy to be outside of its comfort zone before fully integrating them as part of an office. This slow introduction can be done through controlled visits during quieter times in the office, such as weekends or common lunch breaks.

Finally, all cables and other potential hazards should be managed to ensure the safety of both pets and employees. It is also recommended that any materials deemed sensitive or valuable to the operation of the business should be placed in an area inaccessible to the pet in question.

Benefits of having pets in the workplace

Bringing pets into the office is proven to increase social interactions between colleagues and ultimately result in a better, more collaborative atmosphere between staff. Pets can be used as a common point of reference or an icebreaker to promote conversation and can even serve as the cornerstone of work friendships.

Additionally, studies have indicated that general stress levels in the workplace are reduced throughout the day in the presence of a furry friend. On the other hand, employees without pets in the office find that stress increases as the day continues. Allowing employees to bring their pets to work also serves to reduce the anxiety levels of animal owners who may otherwise be worrying about their four-legged friend being at home alone.

Pets can also bolster the brand identity of a business and demonstrate your values to prospective clients or employees who may visit your offices. Nothing sets a good first impression like a cute puppy roaming around the break room! Note that this may not work in all scenarios or industries, whilst it may work for an up-and-coming marketing firm looking to portray an energetic image it might not suit a traditional law firm.

A recent study undertaken by Nationwide Insurance also shows that pets in the workplace are proven to reduce absenteeism, with 85% of employees in pet-friendly companies reporting that they rarely miss a day of work when compared to 77% in a non-pet environment. Nationwide’s study also illustrated several other interesting statistics including:

  •   That 91% of employees in pet-friendly companies felt the company supported their physical and mental health and wellness (compared to 59% in a non-pet environment for physical wellness and 53% for mental wellness)
  •   That 52% of employees in pet-friendly companies felt they had a positive work relationship with their boss (compared to 14% in a non-pet environment)
  •   That 91% of employees in pet-friendly companies felt engaged with their work (compared to 65% in a non-pet environment)
  •   That 88% of employees in pet-friendly companies would recommend their workplace to others prospective employees (compared to 46% in a non-pet environment)

Further studies into behavioral patterns of pet owners and their pets show that interactions between dog owners and their dogs results in an increase in oxytocin levels across the board, a possible explanation for the decrease in stress that pets provide to a workplace. Oxytocin, also known as the ‘cuddle hormone’ or the ‘love hormone’, has been shown to have a positive impact on general levels of relaxation, trust, stress, and anxiety when released into the brain.

Ultimately, providing employees with the option to bring an element of home with them to the office serves to increase happiness and job satisfaction, whilst also providing you with a golden opportunity to take your dog for a walk on your lunch break!

Downsides of having pets in the workplace

However, several other factors must be considered when bringing a pet into the office. As previously mentioned, any employees with mild to severe allergies may struggle to work in the same environment as a dog, cat, or other pet, resulting in decreased productivity and general discomfort.

Furthermore, overly active pets may be a tripping hazard in the office, especially in crowded spaces surrounded by expensive equipment. It should also be noted that some employees may have a phobia of certain animals or feel a certain way towards them based on cultural sensitivities, employers should recognize that not all cultures view certain pets in the same light, hence it is vital to ensure that all employees are comfortable with the situation.

Finally, whilst this may seem like an unlikely scenario, it is important to have a contingency plan in place in case anyone is bit or otherwise harmed by the pet brought into the office.