Jun 22 2013

Dogs in the Workplace: A mixed blessing??


I own this workspace….I am the “desk commander”

There is little debate any longer about the value of pets in our lives.  Whether these pets are traditional dogs and cats or extend to the curious (i.e. Sugar Gliders, Hedgehogs, donkeys, pigs) the benefits are measurable:  lower stress and anxiety, less cardiac disease, lower blood pressure and less manifestation of mental illness to name but a few.  Many already take advantage of having their furry friends with them throughout the day including many of my clients who are truckers, trades-persons, long-term care personnel and others. I have one client who takes her miniature horse to her work at the long-term care facility (arguably this is mostly in the role as a therapy-animal to help with the residents rather than as a companion in the workplace for the owner).   Nearly 2.3 million dogs accompanied their masters to work last year.  So why wouldn’t we want these benefits to extend into our work places?  All of our employees have brought their pets to our workplace, Valley Veterinary Services, from time to time and have appreciated having the capacity to do this.

Pet Sitter’s International started “Take Your Dog to Work Day” 15 years ago.  Held on the first Friday following Father’s Day it is hoped that this day will encourage the bond between pets and their humans and to encourage pet adoption.  Pets aren’t just to be in our back yards any longer.  They long ago moved into our homes and this move into our workspaces seems a natural progression.

A survey conducted in the USA in 2010 revealed that 3 percent of dog owners (1.4 million Americans) said they had taken their pet to work with them over the previous 12 months.  Some companies are even allowing this now as a tangible benefit for employees.  This benefit has value for the employee in that they get to have their companion with them in their workplace rather than at home alone.  And now some employees are requesting this as a benefit from their employers.  These progressive companies are listening.

Delphic Digital a digital advertising agency with 25 employees, has always allowed – even encouraged – employees to bring their dogs to the office.  Such employers recognize that their employees are less stressed and anxious, have less concerns if their work day is prolonged by unforeseen work load.

cuteness calling

What seems annoying to one might be a comfort to another worker. “Hello….this is cuteness calling.”

Do pets make a difference in the workplace?
Pet lovers always say how beneficial it is to bring their dogs to work and researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University believe they may be right.  They are exploring the human-animal bond in the workplace. A 2012 study found that bringing a pet to work is beneficial to the employee and the employer.  “Our study seems to support the idea that a dog presence in the workplace may reduce stress, increase job satisfaction and communication and really help with the issue of job burnout as well as increase communication, help with team-building and seems to contribute to creating more loyal employees,” said Prof. Randolph Barker, the principal investigator for this study.  About half the people who brought their dog to work told researchers it increased their productivity. And distraction did not seem to be an issue. About 80 percent of those who did not own a pet or did not bring their pooch to work said the dogs in the office were not a distraction and had no negative effect on their productivity.  While still preliminary, he called the findings significant and exciting.

Despite these positive aspects there are always negatives.  When our employees brought pets to work, the following concerns have arisen on occasion:  the occasional lunch got stolen from the lunch room, the couch in the staff room was routinely “hogged” by certain dogs and my own dog would whine incessantly if I was out of her sight causing everyone in the office to be driven crazy.  In other work places, there may be issues with people who have cultural issues that may make it uncomfortable to have a dog or cat in their vicinity, people may have allergies, and some may simply be fearful of or intimidated by any dog regardless of how friendly or harmless. There are those who would also say they aren’t “dog-people”

and thus these might simply find dogs in the workplace annoying and distracting.  For these, it comes down to how one person’s happiness is another’s anxiety.  One simply cannot assume that culturally or personally that everyone is going to love and appreciate dogs.

So the underpinnings of how this could work are based upon there being rules in place so that this isn’t a free-for-all.  Employers who are savvy will easily understand the benefits.  If the pitfalls can be addressed appropriately, then you may have a green light to proceed.  It is critical that no one feel like this will diminish their work environment or jeopardize their personal health.  If this cannot be mitigated reasonably, then Fido will likely not be a good fit at your work place.  Some guidelines are as follows:

  • Dogs should be kept on leashes, unless in the employee’s office or cubicle. Even the best-behaved dogs may not understand that not everyone loves puppy kisses or pouncing pooches. Respect co-workers’ space. Co-workers who want to pet your dog will likely come to you.
  • Employees should use baby gates to prevent dogs from leaving their offices or cubicles unsupervised. In the middle of an important sales call or during a visit from a business partner is not the best time for Fido to dash out of your office.
  • Specific areas, such as bathrooms or employee dining halls, should be designated as dog-free. There needs to be limitations to where your dog can roam. Work with management and co-workers to decide which areas will be dog-free.
  • Have a back-up plan for taking the dog home if he is not comfortable in the work environment. While most dogs love spending a day at the office, it may be that your dog is not ready to enter the workforce. Have a back-up plan, such as a spouse, friend or professional pet sitter who can take care of your pet if he needs to leave the office.
  • Your dog should be fully vaccinated and dewormed and on a flea preventative
  • Your dog should not have any aggressive tendencies and be completely house-trained
  • If more than one employee pet is occupying the workspace at the same time, they must be well socialized to get along with other pets.
cubicle jockey dog

“can we go outside during our break?”

Once it is determined that the rules can be adhered to and conditions met, a trial run is in order.  If things go well, then a green light for future days can be given.  If not, your pet may not be a great candidate for this and their presence may actually do the opposite of what was intended.   If you can take advantage of the benefits, then go for it.

Posted by:  Dr. Mark Steinebach

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