Does having pets in the office improve employee well-being?

When you look around your office or zoom meeting, do you see stress and isolation emanating from the team? HR teams and leadership routinely discuss methods of enhancing engagement and morale but are overlooking what is right under their noses… pets. 

It might sound like bias but the research proves that introducing pets to the office is a game-changer. Pet-friendly offices enjoy higher productivity, engagement and loyalty whilst also reducing stress. In fact, pet-owners save as much as $11.78 billion in health care costs each year. 

Approximately 56% of Canadian and 65% of US households have pets so it is no surprise that there is a groundswell of support for welcoming pets but let’s take a look at the tangible business impacts. 

Decreasing Stress Levels

There is no question that mental health has taken a battering in the past couple of years. 42%  of Americans report that work induced stress is having an impact on their emotional and physical health. It is no secret that we need to do better for social responsibility as nearly 20% of all absenteeism is due to mental health issues. 

Bringing pets to the workplace might seem a hair-brained idea but it has been proven to reduce stress in countless studies. The International Journal Workplace Health carried out research to definitively find the truth of whether dogs impacted workplace stress. Saliva samples were taken throughout each day for one week from 450 employees split into different groups. The findings were staggering, showing that the group who brought dogs to the workplace gradually reduced stress throughout the day and significantly by the end of the week. 

In addition, the Banfield Pet Hospital studied the responses of 1006 employee and HR professionals to introducing pets to the workplace. These were some of their results:

  • 88% noticed a boost to team morale
  • 86% felt a greater sense of well-being
  • 86% experienced decreasing levels of stress

Productivity is Increased

Stress related absenteeism creates a considerable dent to productivity on individual and team workloads. While pets help to reduce stress induced absence, the productivity impacts don’t stop there. 

Firstly, pet owners experience a level of guilt by leaving their animals behind for the day while working. This causes them to be distracted and often worried. By having pets with them, they actually report improved focus and concentration delivering better results. 

Secondly, having pets in the office encourages us to take breaks whether it is to walk them, take them to the bathroom or even just playtime. It might seem counterintuitive but quite often pressured workplaces cause employees to skip breaks and lunches to get projects finished. Unfortunately, skipping breaks causes mental fatigue and blockages to our creative problem solving abilities. 

Taking breaks and tending to our workplace pets, allows for a mini-catharsis by refreshing our mindsets and helping us to digest information having taken a step back from it. Amazon, EBay and Inverse Square have all introduced dog-friendly policies to capitalize on these exact benefits. As of 2019, Amazon has 7,000 dogs registered to go to work at their Seattle location having initially adopted the policy in 1998. Why so many? Because they make employees smile

Employee Togetherness and Engagement Improves

If you have ever walked a dog in any public place, you have likely encountered friendly people asking your pet’s name before reaching to pet them. That is because people who own pets are more likely to be trusted and act as a social lubricant. 

Newly established work teams often fret the social anxieties of whether they will get on with each other, whether they will have anything to talk about on a personal level and whether they can trust each other. The standard social anxieties that exist between individuals are dramatically altered by the presence of animals. Three separate studies at the Central Michigan University found that introducing dogs to the workplace fostered trust, put people at ease and paved the way for cooperative problem solving and decision making. 

Perhaps even more impressive is that in times of high stress having pets around provided enough comic relief to break tension. Colleagues will frequently ask to walk or play with the pets present. By sharing in the affection, teams enjoy a mutual grounding and escape which builds a collective sense of unity.

Workplace Pets Breed Loyalty

The average tenure of employees for 2020 was 4.1 years meaning associates are replaced twice every decade. With hiring costs dramatically rising, it is valuable to note that 53% of employees would be more likely to stay with current employers if a pet-friendly policy was introduced. 

Further to this, 91% of management report a higher degree of loyalty as a result from introducing pets to the office. This is due to a host of positive benefits. Workplace satisfaction and happiness grows, camaraderie increases, stress reduces, the overall environment is improved and the work-life balance of individuals becomes healthier.

Meet Oisin
Meet Oisín, the office dog for our amazing writer David O’Connell

Absenteeism Due to Health Matters Decreases

It might just be the most shocking statistic of our entire article that $11.78 billion in healthcare costs is saved by pet owners. US pet owners attend doctor offices and hospitals 0.6 times less than non-pet owners and have far lower incidences of obesity. In truth, it is a simple cause and effect relationship between pets and pet-owner health. 

The relationship is so prevalent that the US Center for Disease Control recommends pet ownership to those that can do thanking the exercise habits, socialization and outdoor activity time for the following essential health benefits:

  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced cholesterol
  • Reduced Obesity
  • Lowered Stress
  • Reduced triglyceride levels &,
  • Reduced loneliness 

While these may be testimonials to pet ownership, there is no escaping the fact that absenteeism is discouraged by the presence of pets. By bringing pets into the office, employees get to enjoy some of the many benefits highlighted by the CDC. 

Tips for Introducing Pets to the Office 

While canine compatriots and feline friends might be welcomed in the likes of Google, Amazon, Ben & Jerrys, Autodesk and P&G; there are right and wrong ways to introduce pets to the office. 

Step 1 – Check for Allergies and Fears

As a leadership team, it is your responsibility to care for your whole team. Check in with staff regarding their potential allergies or phobias. While diversity is always to be encouraged, bringing pet tarantulas or naturally opposing animals to the office can have adverse effects. 

Step 2 – Ensure Vaccinations and Training are Up to Date

This is one of those sneaky things that could easily be overlooked. Ask owners to submit the vaccination records to ensure your workplace is a safe place for all furry friends. It also helps to make sure that pets have had adequate training to behave appropriately.

Step 3 – One at a Time

Have you ever watched the stampede scene in Jumanji? While it might be a dramatization, unleashing an army of pets on your office is as chaotic as one could imagine. Introduce pets one at a time starting with the most docile. Obedient pets set the tone and cue behaviors of the incoming pets ensuring a manageable transition. 

Step 4 – Maintain Hygiene Standards

Introducing pets can create a lot of excitement and positivity. Often people completely forget personal hygiene and care after petting dogs and cats. It is important to remind everyone to keep on top of washing hands. 

Step 5 – Keep People Informed

Letting the team know that pets will come is a basic courtesy for staff and animals. Be careful to not overwhelm pets and cause stress due to excessive attention. Those who wish to walk or feed your pets should be forewarned about dietary and exercise needs or behavioral tendencies. 

Conclusion

Esteemed author and best-seller, Malcolm Gladwell, wrote the Tipping Point: How Small Things can Make a Big Difference. In it, he covers the broken window theory which is that neighborhoods with broken windows and anti-social symbols, encourage further crimes. The idea was that small things have knock-on effects and this is the case for workplace pets. While they may seem trivial joyous additions, pets change the environment and atmosphere around them to be more flexible, welcoming and comfortable. 

Initially, pets in the office can seem humorous but the benefits are worthy of consideration. As we move toward a more wellness-conscious world, the therapeutic capabilities of workplace pets are not to be sniffed at. Reducing stress and social anxiety, engendering trust and introducing comic relief and affection are key to improving mental health. 

Given the increasing rates of mental health struggles, we could all do with an extra set of paws. 

Photo by DEVN