By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
What perk would you rather have at work? Free coffee and guaranteed parking — or your dog? When more than 1,000 U.S. workers were surveyed, they overwhelmingly chose the latter, ranking having pets at work as the second most valuable work benefit in Nestle Purina PetCare's Pets at Work Report.1 What do pets offer in the workplace? Increased satisfaction with the work environment, for one thing.
About 63 percent of employees working in pet-friendly workplaces said they were "very satisfied" with the work environment, which is nearly double the number as those in workplaces without pets. Further, 8 in 10 of those working in pet-friendly environments said that having their pet at work increased feelings of happiness and relaxation while making them more sociable.2
For employers, offering workers the chance to bring pets to work is a huge incentive for many, with 63 percent of employees saying they'd be more enthusiastic about interviewing for a new job if it had pet-friendly policies, and 65 percent said it's important for potential employers to allow pets. How many employees take advantage of their company's pet-friendly policies?
The Pets at Work Report found that 3 in 4 workers bring their pet to work if it's allowed, with 50 percent bringing their dog to work at least once a week. Further, 20 percent bring their dog on a daily basis while 19 percent bring their cat. Many reported that bringing their pet to work strengthened their bond with him. It's quite revealing, also, that 1 in 3 employees working at non-pet-friendly establishments say they wish they could bring their pet to work.
Pets in the Workplace Offer Physical and Mental Benefits to Employees
Over the course of a workday, one study found that employees' stress tended to increase over the course of the day. However, those who had their dogs present actually had their stress levels decline, with the non-pet employees around them got increasingly stressed out.3
Study author Randolph T. Barker, Ph.D., professor of management in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business explained in a news release that dogs make a positive difference in the workplace, leading not only to significantly lower perceived stress but also higher job satisfaction.4 A review in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health further noted:5
"Given that many individuals in today's workforce struggle with long work hours, increasing job demands, and high stress, the notion of dog-friendly work settings to help mitigate these stressors has great appeal to both employees and employers. Indeed, the benefits of dog-friendly work places may manifest as lower rates of absenteeism and higher worker morale and productivity."
Dr. Kurt Venator, Ph.D., who was involved in Purina's Pets at Work Report, noted that pets may bring a calming presence during challenging tasks or encourage employees to take a walk during their lunch break.
Among those surveyed who expressed a desire to bring their pets to work, 3 in 5 said they'd spearhead efforts to help make it happen, Venator said,6 and some companies may be open to establishing more pet-friendly policies, especially if a lot of employees ask for them. If it's important to you and you're looking for a new job, the time to ask about such benefits is during the interview phase, as some companies are even using pet perks as recruitment tools.
Barriers to Pets in the Workplace
Despite the many benefits, only 8 percent of respondents to the 2015 Society for Human Resource Management's Employee Benefits survey said their workplaces permitted pets (an increase from 5 percent in 2013).7
Some workspaces are not appropriate for pets and, even among office environments, there are considerations that must be reviewed. For example, about 15 percent to 30 percent of people with allergies are allergic to dogs and cats. Some employers have gotten around this by using air filters to reduce dander in the air as well as designating dog-free areas.
Zoonotic diseases, or those that can be transmitted between pets and people, are another potential problem, although this is reduced if the animals are healthy and waste is picked up promptly. Many employers also worry about the potential for dog bites, and the legal responsibilities surrounding them if they occur in the workplace, which vary widely by state. Up to 11 percent of Americans also say they are afraid of dogs, and should have the opportunity to work in a dog-free environment if that's the case.8
Concerns for the well-being of the pet must also be addressed, including ensuring adequate time for the dog (or cat) to play, exercise and be taken outdoors to relieve himself. If multiple pets are brought to the workplace, attention must also be paid to ensuring the animals get along and do not fight. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health researchers offered the following advice to management personnel considering pets in the workplace:9
"Allowing pets in the workplace undoubtedly affects employee relations. To avoid potential conflicts, it is important to devise a strategy for incorporating employee input into decisions involving dogs in the workplace. Some employees may be hesitant to express their reservations or concerns because of fear of judgment by other employees, so an avenue for anonymous submission of feedback may be appropriate.
One approach for handling concerns that has been adopted at some pet-friendly workplaces where there are multiple pet dogs present is the creation of a 'Dog Committee,' which is a special committee of employees to evaluate issues and concerns related to the dogs as they arise."
If bringing your pet to work is important to you, you may want to research companies with pet-friendly policies. Genetech, Kimpton hotel and restaurant group, and Amazon are some well-known companies that offer such benefits.
Beyond allowing pets at work, some companies offer additional benefits, such as discounts to doggie daycares, reduced pet insurance rates, pawternity leave, paid pet bereavement days and even dog-lovers clubs that organize meet ups for members. Depending on your level of desire to bring your pet to work, choosing to work for a company that offers these and other pet-friendly policies could enhance your well-being at work considerably.