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Pets at work – the stress busting stroke of genius

Got a dog in your workplace? Smart move: aside from the warm and fuzzy aspect, studies show there’s also tangible benefits from pets at work.

Bringing pet dogs into the workplace, either on a permanent or temporary “bring your pet to work day” basis, is becoming increasingly common. Google, Amazon, TripAdvisor, Uber, CottonOn…all are pet friendly employers. These companies recognise having a dog in the workplace has been shown to reduce stress, increase employee satisfaction and improve morale.

A 2012 study reported in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management showed that employees who brought their dogs to work experienced an 11 per cent decline in stress levels, while those who left their hounds at home saw their stress levels rise up to 70 per cent.

The study also suggests that pet-friendly workplaces display boosts in employee creativity, flexibility and productivity. As a result of their lower stress levels and the short breaks needed to tend to a pet’s needs, employees often feel focused and more engaged when they’re back at their desk.

Dogs are social creatures and a catalyst for conversation, making them the perfect low cost resource to improve team member interaction and trust. The presence of a dog can even improve customer perception of the business as having a pet in the office tends to make a business seem more progressive and forward thinking.

For many people, pets provide significant emotional support. Giving employees the option to bring their pets to work can serve as a low-cost wellness intervention as well an effective recruiting or employee retention perk.

While studies highlight the tangible benefits from pets at work, it’s important to balance out potential downsides.  Pets can be a distraction, for both the owner and their co-workers. There can be issues with barking or whining (that’s the dog, not the employee) and, depending on the individual animal, the need to go outside for toilet breaks. Not every employee can be around animals due to allergies or phobias, pets can cause damage to office equipment and there’s always the possibility of the dog biting or tripping an employee or visitor. But there’s ways around this, including a simple, well-drafted workplace pet policy.

A dog in the workplace has the potential to make your employees feel more relaxed, less stressed and take fewer absences. When employee stress is high and/or prolonged it can lead to work-related psychological or physical injury. And that has the potential to cost your business. With Safe Work Australia reporting the typical compensation payment claim for a mental health condition is $24,500 and typical time off work is 15.3 weeks, perhaps the downside of a little dog pee on your office carpet is worth the potential benefits?

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Note: Bare Bones Consulting provides HR services for employers. Employees seeking advice on workplace concerns should contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.