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PetPourri: Work Like a Dog – The Benefits of a Pet-Friendly Office

By Michelle Vessel

Work can be stressful, and dogs… well, dogs are awesome. Put the two together and you just might have the magic formula for adding a touch of much needed whimsy to the workday grind. We’re starting to see a gradual shift in office culture, where a new generation of tech startups, quaint bookstores and other small businesses are welcoming dogs and other pets into the fold. Rolling out the welcome mat for employees’ faithful companions could help inject some lighthearted fun into your workplace, but it’s important to first consider all the pros and cons.

Animal Advantages

The connection between canine companionship and stress relief can be traced back for decades. Since the mid-twentieth century, physicians have commonly advised patients suffering from hypertension, anxiety or other stress related conditions to consider pairing up with a furry companion as a new form of therapy. Dogs have also been used in prisons and hospitals to provide stress relief in high tension environments. But when it comes to dogs in the workplace, the positive impact may stretch beyond the psychological. Many employees who bring their dogs to the office notice a friendlier, more relaxed vibe that was missing before the policy was put in place while also indicating that morale seems to be higher in canine-friendly work settings.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management examined the idea of dogs in the workplace and found that stress levels of those who brought their dogs to the office declined over the course of the day while those who left their animals at home or did not own pets suffered more work related anxiety. By the end of the day, stress levels in the latter groups were significantly higher than those whose pets accompanied them. What’s more, when those same dog owners left their pets at home, their stress levels skyrocketed. Stress causes our bodies to release endorphins, natural pain killers that can dull our critical thinking and diminish decision making and interpersonal skills. Studies have shown that employees with lower stress have greater productivity, lower margin of error and miss work less due to illness.

Pet-friendly office settings may also benefit employers by allowing devoted dog owners to feel less guilty about leaving their pets alone all day and reducing doggy day care costs. For customer service operations, dogs can help create a cozy, homespun vibe that helps boosts repeat business. Some employers even claim that instituting a dog-friendly policy lends them an edge when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees, as a top tier candidate who can’t bear the thought of leaving Fido home alone may be more likely to accept an offer from a pro-pooch employer.

Pet-Friendly Potential

According to a 2008 survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, seventeen percent of U.S. businesses allow pets to come to the workplace at least occasionally, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the number has only continued to grow since then. The prospect may seem attractive, but it’s also important to examine whether or not your office is a good fit.

For a variety of reasons, some types of businesses or facilities are legally prohibited from opening their doors to pooches. Rules differ between jurisdictions, but businesses licensed as food service establishments, medical facilities or other types of offices where cleanliness is strictly governed for safety reasons may not be able to accommodate employee pets. In other cases, clauses in leases or insurance policies may put the kibosh on canine co-workers. Some employees may suffer from allergies or simply may not be comfortable around dogs, no matter how friendly. And while you may enjoy having your dog at work, animals may prove to be a counterproductive distraction if your job entails high traffic, formal conduct or strict deadlines.

If you’ve carefully parsed out the pros and cons and are ready to take the plunge, the next step in the process is developing a pet policy. Whether you’re a manager or business owner who’s considering making the change or an employee who’s campaigning for a pet-friendly office, having a set of clearly defined rules and expectations in place can help smooth the way for an easy, stress free transition. Some experts recommend starting out slowly by welcoming dogs into the office once a month, allowing employees to get used to the sight of an animal. This way, you can assess your pet policy’s applicability and keep an eye out for any unforeseen problems.

Most people will not be used to having an animal at work, so an effective pet policy should spell out every element of bringing animals into the office. Make sure you have all the bases covered so that your company’s policy is crystal clear. For example, are pets allowed to visit every day or only once a week? Will owners have to provide proof of a clean bill of health and current vaccinations? Who is responsible for walks, treats and cleaning up after accidents? What’s the procedure if a particular pooch starts to pose a distraction? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, who will shoulder the liability for damages or injuries caused by the dog? If you’re concerned or unclear about legal issues, it may be wise to consult with an attorney beforehand.

Workplace Petiquette

Once you decide to open your office to a four legged friend, do your part by adhering to a few common sense courtesies. First, make sure your pet has the right personality to join your workplace. High energy dogs, mischievous puppies, pets with behavioral problems or dogs that are not properly housetrained probably aren’t the best candidates. Before your pet’s first visit to the office, think through a typical day at home and consider everything your pup might need during the course of their visit. A few days before you bring them along for their first visit, it may be helpful to bring some supplies into the office ahead of time, including a leash (have an extra on hand), water and food bowls and supplies, treats, toys, and even a pet bed or crate.

No matter what type of personality your dog has, they will still need their exercise during the day, so pencil in a regular break time when you can set aside your work and take your pal for a nice walk. Owners of more adventurous dogs suggest using child safety gates to keep your pet’s movements contained in a particular area, at least during the first few weeks. Experts also recommend having a backup plan in place in case the experiment doesn’t go as smoothly as you would have liked, such as asking a spouse or friend to come pick up your pup if he or she becomes scared or experiences behavior problems. Most important, be sure that both you and your pet respect other workers’ space and privacy. You may think your dog is the greatest thing in the world, but other employees may be wary of animals or get sidetracked by their presence.

Even if it’s just for eight hours a day, we sometimes can’t bear to be separated from our beloved pets. Finding a place for them at the office seems like a good way to cure separation anxiety and help make your place of business more relaxed and stress free. But remember that it’s not for everyone, so do your research and consider all factors before you let your office go to the dogs.

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