(Full disclosure: I’ve been known to sneak a dog into work.)
Think of them as furry stress-relief balls. Stress is a major contributor to employee absenteeism, morale and burnout and results in significant loss of productivity and resources and apparently, dogs in the workplace can reduce stress not only for their owners, but for coworkers as well.
A study published a couple of years ago in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management by researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University found that dogs in the workplace may buffer stress for their owners and make work more satisfying for other employees with whom they come into contact.
The VCU researchers compared employees who bring their dogs to work, employees who do not bring their dogs to work and employees without pets in the areas of stress, job satisfaction, organizational commitment and support.
“Although preliminary, this study provides the first quantitative study of the effects of employees’ pet dogs in the workplace setting on employee stress, job satisfaction, support and commitment,” said principal investigator Randolph T. Barker, Ph.D., professor of management in the VCU School of Business.
“Dogs in the workplace can make a positive difference,” he said. “The differences in perceived stress between days the dog was present and absent were significant. The employees as a whole had higher job satisfaction than industry norms.”
The study took place at Replacements, Ltd., a retail business located in Greensboro, N.C., which employs approximately 450 people. Approximately 20 to 30 dogs are on the company premises each day. The study took place over a period of one week in the company setting, during which time participants completed surveys and collected saliva samples. Pagers were assigned to prompt employees to complete surveys during the day. (Other companies that allow dogs at work include Google, Embrace Pet Insurance, P&G Pet Care, Ben & Jerry’s, Amazon and Autodesk.)
The researchers did not observe a difference between the three employee groups on stress hormone levels, which was measured via a saliva sample, in the morning, but during the course of the work day, self-reported stress declined for employees with their dogs present and increased for non-pet owners and dog owners who did not bring their dogs to work. The team noted that stress significantly rose during the day when owners left their dogs at home compared to days they brought them to work.
According to Barker, the team observed unique dog-related communication in the workplace that may contribute to employee performance and satisfaction. For example, he said, although not part of the study, that employees without a dog were observed requesting to take a co-worker’s dog out on a break. These were brief, positive exchanges as the dogs were taken and returned and also resulted in an employee break involving exercise.
“Pet presence may serve as a low-cost, wellness intervention readily available to many organizations and may enhance organizational satisfaction and perceptions of support. Of course, it is important to have policies in place to ensure only friendly, clean and well-behaved pets are present in the workplace,” he said.
Another study, conducted by Central Michigan University confirms the benefits of such programs. The research found that when dogs were present in a group, employees were more likely to trust each other and collaborate more effectively in the office.
“It’s heartening when research confirms our instincts and our practices," commented Jennifer Fearing, co-author of Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces and California senior state director for The Humane Society of the United States. “We heartily agree with the positive impact that dogs can have on workplace morale, collaboration and productivity. The more than 50 dogs that ‘work’ in the HSUS offices every day have been a huge boost that more companies should be enjoying.”
The CMU study involved several experiments; one involving groups of four individuals, some with or without dogs. Each group member was charged with a fake crime, and surveyed to see if they would report their fellow group members. Groups with dogs present made employees 30 percent less likely to report each other, showing that canine co-workers make for a more cohesive and trustworthy workplace environment.