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On the face of it, taking pets to work seems at best to be an idea guaranteed to polarize opinion. On the one hand, some people love dogs and cats, and will gain great satisfaction and peace of mind from having their pets close at hand, or be able to interact with both others’ pets about the workplace. However, on the other hand, there are many people who simply loathe animals, or fear them, or are unable to go near them due to allergies. Having pets at work might work for some, but might not work for others at all.
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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
On the face of it, taking pets to work seems at best to be an idea guaranteed to polarize opinion. On the one hand, some people love dogs and cats, and will gain great satisfaction and peace of mind from having their pets close at hand, or be able to interact both others’ pets about the workplace. However, on the other hand, there are many people who simply loathe animals, or fear them, or are unable to go near them due to allergies. Having pets at work might work for some, but might not work for others at all.
However, anecdotal evidence suggests that inviting employees to bring their pets into the workplace is on the increase. Certainly in North American places of work, there are numerous stories popping up of the practice and the attendant benefits. On the face of it, it seems rather “West coast”, a bit “faddish” without any noticeable science to back the practice up. Certainly, there seems to be some justification to be put forward to explain why in an era of home working and flexible hours there is even a need for an employee to take a pussy, pooch or even piranha to work?
In the dog house
Trying to understand the pros and cons of the practice is the aim of the research carried out by Wilkin et al. (2016) in their article “Who let the dogs in? A look at pet-friendly workplaces”. They also point out the lack of research in this area, and, in particular, what can be understood about both the benefits to workers’ well-being, and also the potential risks to their health and safety?
In the first instance, it is useful to review some stats about pet ownership in North America:
of all pet owners, almost seven in ten own a dog;
of all households, this equates to approximately 30-40 per cent of them;
the spread of cat ownership is wider, but between a third and half of the people in North America seem to own a cat;
more than one in ten of pet owners have fish, with 7 per cent having a bird of some description; and
about the same number own another pet such as a horse, reptile or other small animal.
One of the family
What is not in doubt is that many North Americans, along with other people, treat pets as members of the family, and will spend a huge amount of time and money on grooming, presents and other treats that elevate pets above a mere animal sharing the family home. In addition to the role dogs play in helping the blind, deaf and other disabled people, pets provide the role of a “constant” member in a family, where they are almost depended on to provide comfort and even love within a household.
This role has led to significant research into the benefits of the role pets play in people’s lives outside the working environment. These include the following benefits to people and wider society:
improves physical and psychological well-being, as pet owners have reduced risk of heart disease, take fewer days off work and take more exercise;
owning a pet seems to improve social interaction and engenders social support by reducing mental health risk factors, such as loneliness, stress and depression; and
wider benefits accrue to communities, as pet owners are more likely to venture out into their local areas and interact with people.
Pets at work
We have seen, then, that pets do benefit people at home, and seem to keep them healthier and therefore more employable. But is the logical extension then to take pets to work? Well firstly, there are some basic concerns about pet ownership itself. Pets do cost people, both in terms of financial cost and emotional stress when pets are poorly. There is also a general cost to society when it has to pick up the tab for chasing strays or animal welfare provision, which leads us to assessing pet-friendly workplaces.
In addition to schemes such as “bring a pet to work day”, there are other ways in which employers can be pet-friendly, such as offering free veterinary care, discounts on pet products and even bereavement leave to employees on the death of their pet. Such considerations seem to be logical extensions of other schemes where the familial needs and priorities of employees are taken into account by employers.
The good, the bad and the ugly
So is pet-friendly the way forward? Wilson et al. certainly identify some positives. Firstly, in terms of recruitment and retention, employees with pets – which include the majority of North American households – can be more attractive than similar workplaces without such policies. Also, research has shown that employees who are with their pets during the day are less susceptible to stress at work, with further research going on to show that they take fewer sick days and hence are more productive. As such, the final benefit seems to be the positive impact on a firm’s bottom line should they adopt pet-friendly policies. While there is not a huge amount of research in these areas, it is certainly clear that there is at least a solid case for recommending employers look at pet-friendly work schemes.
However, perhaps more interesting is the flip side of the coin, as the authors also identified a number of concerns employers also need to weigh up. First and foremost, there are significant health and safety issues to consider, such as the fact that up to one in ten Americans have some kind of pet allergy, especially with cats. Sanitation is also an issue, with many people thinking pets are unclean and would not want to work in an environment where they’re present. There is even a risk with dogs that they may make an unprovoked physical attack on another employee. For these reasons, as well as issues of potential property damage, workplace distractions and even religious reasons, employers are recommended to proceed with extreme care down the pet-friendly path. In short, recommendations include:
consider different forms of pet-friendly policies, not just bringing pets to work;
survey employees for their preferences;
make sure any legal issues are complied with;
create robust policies and procedures to be followed; and
ensure all employee needs are balanced.
The article “Who let the dogs in? A look at pet-friendly workplaces” by Wilkin et al. (2016) is a well-researched, balanced piece on what employers should consider when they look at allowing pets into the workplace. It is especially worthwhile as it looks at a number of pet-friendly policies that could be adopted without having pets at work, and it also offers some key recommendations. However, it would also be interesting to read case studies where companies have adopted these policies and what the results were.
Wilkin, C.L., Fairlie, P. and Ezzedeen, S.R. (2016), “Who let the dogs in? A look at pet-friendly workplaces”, International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 96-109.
About the author
Simon Linacre is Executive Publisher at Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, UK.