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Should we really bring our pets to work?

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
Dogs in the workplace can improve an office environment. Photo: Getty

Pet-friendly workplaces are becoming more common, with Google, Amazon, Etsy, and other large companies allowing employees to bring their furry friends to work.

For animal lovers, the chance to bring a pet to the workplace is a dream come true. Let’s face it, nothing brightens up an office worker’s day more than seeing a cheery dog lounging on the floor.

Not everyone wants to see people’s pets at work, though. So what are the pros and cons of office animals?

Starting with the positives, research suggests that having pets in the office reduces stress and makes employees feel more relaxed. In 2012, a study in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management found people who brought their dogs to work had decreased hormonal stress levels when compared to those who did not bring pets to work.

Multiple studies have suggested that petting animals can help lower blood pressure, ease loneliness, and improve general wellbeing. In 2004, researchers at the University of Missouri found the hormonal changes that occur when humans and dogs interact could help people cope with depression and stress.

The results showed even just a few minutes of stroking a dog releases “feel-good hormones” in people, including serotonin and oxytocin.

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Dogs in the workplace can provide social support for employees, as well as improve an office environment, making it a more positive setting for workers. Social support is also a “key factor in whether people with serious mental illness return to work or remain unemployed,” according to a May 2017 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Happier, more relaxed employees are far more productive than stressed and unhappy ones, but research also suggests allowing pets at work can reap other benefits for employers. A 2017 paper on the perception of dogs in the workplace by the University of Lincoln and the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition suggested dogs “may facilitate cognitive performance” at work.

“Although, there is a lack of research on the impact of dogs on adult’s cognitive performance, those conducted with children reveal that the presence of a friendly dog improves motor and cognitive abilities, perhaps by increasing motivation and attention,” according to the study. “If such improvements translate to adults in the workplace, then they could have a significant impact on outputs.”

The focus on pets in the workplace has, so far, largely centred on dogs. But that isn’t to say that cats can’t make good office companions too. Aside from lying on keyboards and knocking cups of coffee off desks, cats can be well-suited to office life — and not just in memes. In Japan, an IT company called Ferrey has been actively encouraging workers to bring their cats to work since 2000, to help boost productivity.

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But not all pets are perfect for these environments and not all employees want to see animals in their workplace. A barking dog can disrupt phone calls and meetings — and cats are notorious for seeking attention, like pawing at you when you’re trying to type. And some people just don’t like animals, have phobias, or are allergic.

Pets can also cause damage to office equipment by scratching and chewing — and even the most well-behaved animals can have the occasional accident, which is likely to go down badly with staff and bosses.

Only 16% of people love the idea of having an office pet, according to a recent survey of more than 5,000 UK office workers by the cleaning company SMC Premier. While the thought of having a pet in the office is cute and can boost morale amongst employees, more than three quarters (77%) of those surveyed actively believe having a dog in the office is unhygienic.

“Our advice to employers are to check that all staff are happy with having dogs in the office before the day. One percent of the people we surveyed were actually allergic to our furry friends — so don’t assume your office will greet the dogs with open paws,” Oliver Byrne, operations director at SMC Premier, said.