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The many benefits of pets in the workplace

This summer, U.S. pet owners will celebrate Take Your Pet to Work Week, which wraps up with Take Your Dog to Work Day on June 22. This is a great opportunity for animal lovers to bring their dogs and cats to the office, and for employers to see the benefits of pets in the workplace—and in fact, those benefits are prompting a growing number of businesses to be pet-friendly all year long.

According to Chris Meiering, director of innovation at Zuke’s, a natural pet treat company located in Durango, Colorado, an average day at the office includes 25 staff members and 10 dogs, though sometimes there are more than 20 dogs on the company’s campus at one time.

“Having them by our side makes us happy, lowers our stress levels, and creates an environment that is comfortable, open, and flexible,” he said. “Some offices have water cooler conversations; we have dog playtime conversations. Their presence really builds camaraderie in the office.”

Meiering said the dogs also remind employees to take breaks throughout the day.

“They may need a walk, but really, we need one too! It’s not uncommon for a lunch at Zuke’s to include a romp alongside the stream or a hike through the mountains, and a midday stretch can easily turn into a game of fetch among the trees,” he said. “This time with our dogs rejuvenates us and makes us more productive.”

In addition, Meiering said the pet-friendly policy has led to staff retention over the past 20 years.

“Life is better with the love of a dog, and if a tail-wagging friend is with you at the office, the same holds true for work,” he said.

Tips for a dog-friendly workplace

Chris Meiering, director of innovation at Zuke’s, offers these tips for a successful dog-friendly workplace:

  • Owners should maintain good dog hygiene
  • Keep dogs up to date on vaccinations and flea protection
  • If a dog is sick or has a contagious health issue, they need to stay home or be restricted from areas where they could interact with other dogs
  • When a new dog joins the workplace, introduce them slowly outside or in a neutral area
  • All employees should be on board with any necessary training so the dog receives consistent rewards for good behavior
  • Let other employees know about the pet’s dietary needs (Do they have allergies? Is it OK to give treats?)
  • Discuss any issues that arise

“We’ve been dog-friendly for over 20 years, so it’s an easy, natural environment for us, but from time to time, there will be problems, such as a dog that is consistently disruptive or aggressive, or an older dog with bladder issues. The best way to handle issues is to talk about them,” Meiering said. “Work together to find a solution that’s best for the workplace and the dog.”

Scientific studies have also confirmed the benefits of pets in the workplace. For example, a 2012 study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University found employees who brought their dogs to work had reduced stress throughout the day compared to colleagues without pets.

“Studies have demonstrated that pets in the workplace contribute to stress reduction, as well as employee teamwork and satisfaction. Employees who can bring their pets to work are also more productive,” said Steven Feldman, executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation in Washington, D.C. “Employees feel supported and have a better perception of their employers if they can bring their pets to work. They are also more likely to collaborate and work better in teams because pets help forge social connections.”

Humans aren’t the only ones benefitting from pet-friendly policies, either. In 2004, researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that humans who petted a dog for 15–30 minutes during a study experienced approximately a 10 percent drop in blood pressure, while the dogs’ blood pressure dropped as soon as the humans began petting them. A day at the office also provides more stimulation for a dog than a day spent home alone in a crate or the backyard.

In addition, Feldman says the trend will increase the positive impact pet ownership has on U.S. health care costs.

“We know that pets reduce stress, alleviate depression, improve heart health, and reduce obesity. We also know that pet owners visit the doctor less often than non-pet owners. In fact, pet ownership saves the U.S. healthcare system $11.7 billion every year,” he said. “Once we calculate the improved workplace productivity, the benefits will be even higher.”

Feldman said companies considering a pet-friendly workplace should first develop common-sense policies for pets.

“For example, pets must be current on their vaccinations, be on flea and tick prevention, and be well-trained. Veterinarians play a key role in partnering with pet owners so that their pets are ready for the office,” he said. “If having a happy, motivated workforce that works together is important, companies should strongly consider written pets-at-work policies.”

Award-winning freelance journalist Jen Reeder considers herself extremely fortunate to work at home with her Labrador retriever mix, Rio.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Sturm

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