Pets in the Workplace: Part I - Boosting Morale and the Bottom Line

In many businesses, paranoia rules the day. You know the cliches: “Everyone for themselves!” “It’s a dog-eat-dog world!”

And that’s just between co-workers!

The opening credits to Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” reality TV show featured a motto that capsulizes our daily corporate dread: “It’s not personal, it’s business.”

Fortunately, not everyone bows to this cutthroat business model. Many companies, large and small, understand that business is personal. And some top executives are calling in quality-control experts to ensure that it remains so. The “experts” are not Harvard Business grads or leaders of the Esalen Institute. They may hardly “speak,” yet studies show they have a knack for boosting morale - and the bottom line.

An experiment by the University of Central Michigan revealed that teams of co-workers that included a canine cohort experienced higher levels of interpersonal trust, team cohesion and intimacy than those teams that did not. A separate experiment involving different teams showed that team members with a dog in their midst were 30% less likely to “snitch” on other team members in exchange for more favorable treatment.

In a 2012 study by Virginia Commonwealth University, the cortisol (stress) levels of 75 employees of Replacements Limited, a dinnerware company in Greensboro, North Carolina, were measured at the beginning and end of the work day over the course of one week. Employees were divided into three groups: those who owned dogs and brought them to work, those who owned dogs but did not bring them to work and those who did not have pets. Results showed a noticeable decrease in stress levels among dog owners whose buddies rode shotgun at their desks while dog owners without their companions suffered the highest stress levels.

“It’s a low-cut wellness benefit, and it could be a recruiting opportunity [for businesses],” Randolph Barker, professor of business at VCU, told “Dogs were a communication energizer . . . people who typically didn’t talk to one another were now more engaged.”

Additional benefits claimed by other studies include improved work-life balance, good health (and, by extension, fewer sick days) and a kick-start in creativity. A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology revealed that walking can spark out-of-the-box thinking by as much as 60 percent. Imagine how many more “problems” could be solved while strolling the corporate grounds with your best bud! 

Clinical social worker and therapist, Deb Havill, lets her two dogs, David and Jai, co-pilot therapy sessions. Havill believes strongly in the stress-relieving power of her animal companions for her clients: “Reaching down and petting dog is an easy way to ratchet things down when you need to,” she told USA Today.

In their how-to book, Dogs At Work: a Practical Guide for Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces, authors Liz Palika and Jennifer Fearling exhaustively outline the considerations and processes for bringing dogs on board.

According to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers, about 20 percent of American companies accept pets in the workplace. Those on the job, but off the payroll, include dogs (76 percent) and cats (15 percent). Rodents and fish comprise the remaining nine percent. The ever-lengthening list of companies with an open-door pet policy include Amazon, Ben and Jerry’s, Cliff Bar, Etsy, and Google.

Is your company on the list? Should it be? Next week in Part II, we explore the possible pitfalls of pets in the workplace.