We’ve known for a long time that owning pets is good for us. They encourage exercise (Epping, 2011), lower blood pressure (Allen Et Al., 2002), and even reduce anxiety (Jerjes, 2007). So the question then is why wouldn’t we want to bring that to work?
This article looked at just that. In examining a large company with about 550 employees, and comparing their results to the standards of the industry, the authors found that the presence of a dog at work reduced stress for employees throughout the day. The impact was significant enough that not only did employees feel less stressed as the day progressed, but on days when the dog was absent, they experienced levels of stress above the industry standard by the end of the day.
So what are some of the potential HR concerns with having animals at work? One example would be the 20% of participants who perceived that dogs in the workplace hindered their personal productivity. Examples of employee complaints were:
“Some dogs are disruptive”
“Allergy problems for some”
“Dogs should be well behaved and quiet” (Barker, 2012)
The authors suggest that if company policy allows dogs, it should also address these reasonable concerns to maximize the benefit of the program. In this study those with concerns were actually equally matched in size with the the pro-dog population, and both were smaller than the neutral-dog population. This suggests that with the benefits conveyed, if these concerns can be addressed by policy or management of animals a dog-friendly workplace would have a net benefit for the majority of employees.
All employees reported higher scores than the industry standard for job satisfaction and communication. This communication benefit is attributed to the additional conversations between both peers and employees of different status created by the presence of the dogs. Both of these benefits are assumed to be a result of the general trend of reduced reported stress by all employees when dogs are present. Alternatively, all employees reported greater stress levels when those who normally brought their dogs to work left them at home.
Let me say that again, even those people who didn’t bring their dogs to work (or didn’t own one) were more stressed out when the dogs they were used to seeing at work were not present. This clearly shows that the benefits of pets in the workplace are not solely reaped by those who get to be with their personal pets all day.
Now this study (while cool) shouldn’t be an immediate argument for dogs in the workplace, and the results most certainly aren’t applicable to all industries. There are several limitations that the authors acknowledge and use to promote replication of the study. First, the sample size was small (76 employees), and unfortunately there was no real control. The data was compared to the reported industry standards, which make a great model, but comparing a single company against the average isn’t particularly significant to an industry. This company might just be above average regardless, and there was no way to compare the satisfaction of the employees prior to the dog policy. Finally, the authors were unable to conduct a blind study, meaning that participant bias may have been significant.
If I were to change anything in their procedure, it would be the cortisol sampling. The authors collected salivary samples from all participants every morning for the duration of the study, but did not see any trends in non-dog vs. dog present days, or in employees who brought dogs to work vs. those who left them at home. I’m surprised that they chose the morning portion of the day to collect saliva samples, as it would make much more sense to me to collect a sample at the end of the day, when the effects of the dogs’ presence or absence would have had time to affect stress and subsequently cortisol levels. Ideally, in the replication, they will collect samples twice a day, and be able to determine if the stress reported was real or perceived.
On a final note, I would be really interested to see a similar study looking at an industry where animals are naturally present, such as a shelter, veterinary clinic, or boarding facility. It would be interesting to see if the ability to bring your dog from home would convey additional benefits even when dogs or other animals would be present regardless.
Allen K, Blascovich J, & Mendes WB (2002). Cardiovascular reactivity and the presence of pets, friends, and spouses: the truth about cats and dogs. Psychosomatic medicine, 64 (5), 727-39 PMID: 12271103
Randolph T. Barker, Janis S. Knisely, Sandra B. Barker, Rachel K. Cobb, & Christine M. Schubert (2012). Preliminary investigation of
employee’s dog presence on stress
and organizational perceptions International Journey of Workplace Health Management, 5 (1), 15-30
JN Epping (2011). Dog Ownership and Dog Walking to Promote Physical Activity and Health in Patients Current Sports Medicine Reports, 10 (4), 224-227
Jerjes W, Hopper C, Kumar M, Upile T, Madland G, Newman S, & Feinmann C (2007). Psychological intervention in acute dental pain: review. British dental journal, 202 (6), 337-43 PMID: 17384613