Recent years have seen a certain trend take off – the rise of the office animal. According to estimates, as many as a third of businesses across the UK have pet policies in place.
Dog ownership is associated with improved physical and mental health, helping people to keep fit and socially active. While the idea of sharing the office with furry, four-legged friends may be a nightmare for some, there is increasing evidence which shows there are similar potential benefits of interacting with animals in the workplace.
Paws for thought
There have been many studies linking animals in the workplace with lower levels of stress. Apart from alleviating stress, other benefits cited in numerous studies include improved cooperation in group work settings, a friendlier working environment and improved job satisfaction.
Office dogs also encourage employees to exercise during the day by taking the dog out for a walk at lunchtime, raising activity levels. Increased activity has also been linked with a range of benefits, including improved concentration and enhanced creativity. By getting away from screens and out into the fresh air, employees can come back with fresh ideas and new perspective on a work challenge.
There are also social benefits – having a pet in the workplace can be an icebreaker, helping to break down barriers between employees who come into contact with each other infrequently and giving people an excuse to be social without feeling self-conscious about it.
The evidence behind these benefits have convinced many big corporations – Google, Amazon, Airbnb and Nestlé, to name a few – to adopt pet-friendly workplace policies. It’s also increasingly the case that smaller businesses allow their employees to bring pets to work in the hope of capturing the same benefits.
In the doghouse: drawbacks
That is not to say that businesses should jump on this bandwagon with reckless abandon; there are issues to consider around the implementation of a policy which will turn your office into a canine-collaborative space.
Because bringing pets – and in particular, dogs – into the office has become such a popular perk, the UK’s national Bring Your Dog to Work Day (which falls in June each year) has issued advice which helps businesses to think about what can be done.
There should, for example, be clear policies in place around animal behaviour, with ground rules in place to mitigate any potential risks. Making sure that every employee is happy to share office space with a muttley crew is an important first step – not everyone is comfortable around animals.
Ensure that there are some ground rules in terms of hygiene, with any animals clean and groomed where appropriate (think about claws and fur). This is important for a range of reasons: if you have clients or visitors, you don’t want the waft of smelly dog driving them out of the office, and you don’t want anyone injured by an over-friendly and clawsy dog.
Some animals may not feel comfortable or stimulated enough in an office or workplace environment, which could be problematic in behavioural terms – it could cause some mischief from the assembled mutts.
You should also consider any new requirements in terms of insurance or health and safety obligations, this is particularly true if some co-workers have allergies. It’s also worth being prepared for any potential mishaps so it’s important to have appropriate safeguards in place.
Overall, if done thoughtfully, the addition of four-legged friends can be a welcome employee benefit that will make your office more productive and a more attractive place to work.
Go on – let your business go to the dogs.
Conor McArdle, content editor at Brighter Business