by Brock Weatherup, Pet360 CEO and Guest Contributor to Philadelphia Business Journal
On Friday, June 20, thousands of workplaces across the country got a glimpse into what is already well-known by Google, Amazon and other leaders in business innovation: Dogs make for a happier and more productive workforce.
“Take Your Dog to Work Day” was started 15 years ago by Pet Sitters International to celebrate dogs’ companionship and encourage more adoptions from local shelters, rescue groups and humane societies. But as some business leaders know – and others should – encouraging dogs in the workplace should be the rule rather than a one-day exception.
Sure, I’m in the pet business, as CEO of a family of websites that provide trusted products, content and expert advice to pet parents. But that’s not the only reason why my dog, Boulder, accompanies me to the office nearly every day – along with as many as two dozen other dogs belonging to my team members.
It’s just smart business, no matter your business.
Research consistently finds that employees who bring their dogs to work – if only occasionally – work longer, harder and happier. They cite having higher job satisfaction and their companies report lower employee turnover. And based on the research, these benefits are infectious, spreading to other workers without pets of their own.
One study, published by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, showed that when working in a room with dogs, employees display (and self-report) higher levels of teamwork and cooperation. They listen more closely, trust each other more openly, and have deeper and more thought-provoking discussions. Another study, in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, finds that having dogs in the workplace reduces stress and improves job satisfaction – for both their owners and others they have contact with.
Surprised? Don’t be. For decades, scientists have known that just petting a pet – yours or another’s – can trigger the release of the feel-good hormone oxytocin. Remove the worry of having to rush home to let the dog out, throw in their playful antics for some 9-to-5 smiles or chuckles (as well as oxytocin) and it’s a recipe for less job-related stress…and more workers who actually like coming to work.
I see it every day. I hear it from others. And it often starts with events like “Take Your Dog to Work Day.” If you want to take it to the next level, with ongoing or permanent pet-friendly practices, here are some tips to consider:
- The first step: Get signoff (or ideally, support) from your executive team, maintenance staff, and landlords or facility managers if your office is leased. Chat with your legal beagles about potential liability.
- Make an honest assessment of your environment. Is there enough space to house a dozen or more pets on any given day? Is there an area for pets to relieve themselves? Are there exposed electrical cords or other potential hazards?
- Gauge interest and concerns of all employees – not just pet owners. Whether you have a committee comprising of equal members of both camps or an anonymous questionnaire, ask about pet allergies, discomfort or other potential problems. (If you move forward with a pet-friendly workplace, follow-up with quarterly feedback.)
- Consider a written agreement or waiver spelling out that those employees – not the company – are responsible for the care, behavior (including barking) and maintenance of their animals. Aggressive or destructive behavior should warrant immediate removal of the pet; lesser infractions by either pet or owner (including not picking up after a dog) may be better handled with a three-strike-and-out policy.
- Only allow pets that are trained in basic commands, socially acclimated with other animals and people, housebroken (with owners responsible for “accident” cleanup), up-to-date on routine vaccinations, and free of illness when at the workplace.
- Have pet-free area for employees who may be allergic, fearful or otherwise don’t want to be around others’ animals – or at least ensure that owners keep their pets away from those employees. Don’t allow pets in kitchens, dining areas or bathrooms.
- Have some supplies on hand – poop bags, cleaning supplies and the like – but make sure that employees provide food, water and bowls, treats and toys. A leash is a must for dogs (at least to enter and exit the building), while baby gates might be useful for cubicle dwellers.
- Encourage pet owners to instruct co-workers on whether or not their pet should be given treats, belly rubs or played with. Provide “good sense” guidelines on when to not bring their animals, such as when they’re attending long “group” meetings.
- Instruct all employees to follow common-sense pet-protective policies, such as ensuring doors are closed, and floors and desks are free of choking hazards. In addition to owners, have others serve as “eyes and ears” for signs of pet stress or aggression – such as excessive panting, pinned-back ears, rigid body stance and guttural barking.
- Don’t allow squeaky toys. Trust me on this.
The bottom line: If you want your employees to work like a dog – with more smiles, better teamwork cooperation and fewer gripes – let them work with dogs.