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The Break Room: Are You a Cat Person or a Dog Person?

Jan. 9, 2013
I'm ringing in the New Year with an updated photo for this column. Here I am with my cat Saucy, whose brief cooperation during the photo shoot was nothing short of a Christmas miracle.
When someone asks whether I'm a cat person or a dog person, I answer, "I love both – but cats have the edge." So I think it's fitting that every issue of EHS Today opens with an editorial showing Sandy posing with one of her dogs and now closes with my more cat-friendly Break Room column. Here at EHS Today, we're equal-opportunity animal lovers.

Maybe you've seen the popular "Cat-Friend vs. Dog-Friend" video that made the Facebook rounds during November and December. It features (human) actors playing the roles of a cat and a dog to showcase just how bizarre, funny or annoying our pets' behavior can be. For me, the video also highlighted the differences between your classic cat person and dog person. As anti-social or calculating as some of the cat's behavior was in the video, I couldn't help but find this quiet, smart and devious pet more appealing. Others, of course, watched the video and concluded that the friendly, helpful and lovable dog is the superior pet.

Thinking about the differences between cat people and dog people led me to contemplate the different types of employees and personalities, and how bosses might interact with – or even hire – workers who may be more or less like themselves. A recent study appearing in the American Sociological Review, for example, reveals that employers often are more focused on hiring someone they would like to spend time with than they are on finding the person who can best do the job.

Study author Lauren A. Rivera, an assistant professor of management and organizations and sociology at Northwestern University,  said that in addition to hiring someone with the right skills and abilities for the job, employers also want to hire someone who can be a friend or even romantic partner. In fact, more than half of the participants ranked cultural fit – the perceived similarity to a firm's existing employee base in leisure pursuits, background and self-presentation – as the most important criterion at the job interview stage.

This can be problematic, Rivera explained, considering that "the types of cultural similarities valued in elite firms' hiring processes has the potential to create inequalities in access to elite jobs based on parental socioeconomic status."

I imagine companies and workers alike would be better served if a greater emphasis is placed on job compatibility rather than friendship compatibility. And OK, I also happen to think our workplaces could be less stressful, more fun and more engaging if employees regularly brought their dogs to work, but that's a story for another day (and one that comes with its own host of health and safety concerns). For now, I simply hope for a safe, healthy and productive 2013 for everyone, whether you're a cat person, a dog person or are blissfully pet-free.

So with that, Saucy and I wish you a happy new year. (As a bonus, here's a photo of my other cat, Cirrus. To learn more about him, read "Drawing Blood: The Time My Cat Created a Workplace Safety Hazard.") And if you're game, send me a photo of you with your pet. With your permission, maybe I'll even post it on our Web site or Facebook page. Cheers!


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