Can a bring your dog to work policy boost morale?

- Leadership - Mar 10, 2017

It’s well known that being a dog owner can make you happier, healthier, and even more popular - but some companies are going a step further by allowing our four-legged friends into the workplace. There’s even an official bring your dog to work day - the 23rd of June, in case you were wondering.

So, can a ‘bring your dog to work’ policy help your business stay ahead of the pack? In this article, we’ll consider some of the advantages and disadvantages of canines in the workplace.

Taking the lead

It’s not just trendy startups who are embracing dogs in the workplace: some of the world’s biggest companies are getting in on the act. Google - who, it’s fair to say, are no strangers to thinking outside the box when it comes to HR - have even gone so far as to declare themselves ‘a dog company’.

Meanwhile, outside of the topsy-turvy world of Silicon Valley, the food and beverage giant Nestlé recently launched their first dog-friendly HQ at their open-plan offices in Gatwick. Their vision, according to the press release, is ‘a place where employees and dogs can work together in a happy and safe environment’ - and it’s backed up by a survey carried out by their Purina pet food arm - that found that having dogs in the workplace can lead to happier, healthier staff.

A cynic might say that this is as much about PR as it is about employee satisfaction - after all, nothing says ‘we’re a fun, kooky place to work’ better than a company pooch. But then again, if the supposed benefits of dogs in the workplace are all they’re cracked up to be, what’s the harm?

Stress-busting

To most people, the idea that bringing a canine companion to work can help lower stress levels is probably a no-brainer - but a study by the International Journal of Workplace Health Management has backed up what dog owners already know with cold, hard science.

The study, which compared employees who bring their dogs to work to employees who don’t, found that for the latter group, stress levels tended to rise throughout the working day. Conversely, among the employees who brought their dogs to work, stress levels actually fell over the same period - no mean feat, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

And it’s not just that dog owners tend to be less prone to stress in general: on days when they left their pets at home, their stress levels rose as the day went on, in much the same way as their pet-less colleagues. Furthermore, the same study found that those who brought dogs to work had significantly higher levels of overall job satisfaction.

Health benefits

Office life is turning us into increasingly sedentary creatures - but as any dog owner will tell you, a hyperactive hound will get you out and exercising quicker than you can say ‘walkies’.

Having a dog or two around the office means that your employees can spend their lunch breaks getting much-needed fresh air and exercise, rather than sitting at their desks scrolling through Facebook. Walking a dog is also much cheaper - and, arguably, much more fun - than joining a gym.

Our canine companions don’t just motivate us to do more exercise; a study (originally published in The British Journal of Health Psychology) has noted that the mere act of stroking a dog for a short time can help lower our blood pressure and heart rate.

Morale

As a society, we’re commuting further for work than ever before; the result for many people is that popping home at lunchtime to walk the dog just isn’t an option. This can have a serious effect on the wellbeing of our pets, and can even put some people off the idea of owning a dog altogether.

Meanwhile, the fact that more and more of us are living in rented accommodation means that fewer people are allowed to have dogs at home, owing to restrictive tenancy agreements, nomadic lifestyles and a lack of garden space.

A ‘bring your dog to work’ policy can solve both these problems: frustrated would-be dog owners can get their daily canine fix, while those who do own dogs can rest assured that their four-legged friend won’t have to stay cooped up at home alone - all of which can do wonders for staff morale.

Disadvantages

All the evidence would seem to suggest that having an office pooch or two can lead to a happier, healthier workforce. However, there are few things to bear in mind before you turn your office into a dog lover’s paradise:

Allergies

Some 15 percent of people are thought to be allergic to household pets, rising to 30 percent for asthma sufferers. Symptoms vary from person to person, but can range from mildly irritating to downright distressing. That said, they can be controlled with medication, and many sufferers are willing to put up with a runny nose if it means they get to spend some quality time with man’s best friend. As a courtesy, you should consult any allergy sufferers on your team before you decide to ‘let the dogs in’.

Bad dog!

The vast majority of dogs are well-behaved - but what if a dog harms one of your employees, or vice versa? And who is responsible - the owner of the dog, or the company? In situations like these, things can turn ugly pretty quickly. As such, it’s important to make sure that all dogs are vetted to ensure that their temperament is compatible with your workplace.

Dogs have also been known to do unspeakable things to (and on) carpets. Make sure that all of your canine guests are completely house trained - otherwise, you could find yourself becoming very unpopular very quickly.

Health and safety

There’s also hygiene to consider. If your work involves food preparation, heavy machinery or healthcare, then it goes without saying that a ‘bring your dog to work’ policy is a bad idea. In general, you should also encourage staff to wash their hands after stroking dogs.

Fear factor

Animal phobias, including fear of dogs (or ‘cynophobia’), affect around 5% of the population. If you do have a cynophobe on your team, then a ‘bring your dog to work’ policy is obviously not a good idea. More generally, anyone with an anxiety disorder may find it stressful to be around dogs at work.

Personal taste

Although it might sound crazy, some people just don’t like dogs. Accordingly, you should always make sure that your employees are comfortable with the idea of canines in the office - otherwise, you really will be in the doghouse.

About the author: Ross Howard is the HR Editor at Insights For Professionals, a unique content hub that brings together the latest insights for HR, marketing, management and more.

Read the March 2017 issue of Business Review Europe magazine. 

Follow @BizReviewEurope

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