Workplace stress causes negativity, which can lead to a tense work environment for employees. Creating a positive workplace culture is important to reduce the risk of office-based negativity. One way to work toward positivity is to introduce pets into the workplace.
Pets in the office can create benefits for both employers and employees alike. Dr. Meredith Wells-Lepley, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology at USC, conducted foundational research on the effects of pets in the workplace. Dr. Wells-Lepley undertook a study with Dr. Rose Perrine on workplace pets at 31 companies in Lexington and Richmond, VA. They found that “most employees in the study believed that workplace pets reduced their stress levels and positively influenced their health, job satisfaction and organizational issues such as productivity and employee morale,” — all factors that contribute to business success.
Those who understand the psychological implications of bringing pets to work and other employee wellness initiatives can help better their workplaces and increase productivity.
Pets in the Office Benefit Work-Life Balance
Finding the happy medium between work and life is a constant struggle, and is of particular concern in the tech industry. Nearly half of the professionals who work in big tech “often” work late nights or weekends, according to a 2021 article by the Silicon Valley Business Journal.
Therefore, it’s not surprising to hear that tech companies like Amazon and Uber have reputations as pet-friendly work environments. Allowing pets in the office can make an office environment feel more like home, and this change in atmosphere can help reduce employees’ feelings that they’re spending too much time at work.
Additionally, pets remind people to pause and step back from whatever they are involved in. Dr. Wells-Lepley notes that pets can provide “a pleasant diversion from work,” as well as companionship and entertainment. Short walks, a little playtime, and temporary distractions allow mental breaks, enabling employees to not overwork and become stressed. Spending too much time too close to a project, problem, or other work can inhibit productivity and cause unnecessary stress.
Pets in the Workplace Reduce Stress, Nurture Productivity and Promote Exercise
Pets can keep workplace spirits high and add some comic relief, which can be critical for the overall office mood. Pets in the workplace can also have calming effects, reduce blood pressure, lower stress, and make employees more cordial and productive.
Better communication leads to more trust, a key component in a successful work environment. Trust and communication mitigate stress and promote productivity, causing improved morale and reduced absenteeism. Furthermore, reduced stress means fewer stress-related ailments and the health care costs accompanying them.
Additionally, pets in the workplace can encourage people to incorporate exercise into their daily schedule. Dogs need to be walked. Responsible pet owners can use this as an excuse to step away from their desks and get moving.
Pets Help Keep Positive Attitudes in the Workplace
Pets in the office can serve as an icebreaker that keeps tension down and promotes a positive spirit, even if the discussion doesn’t necessarily involve positive information. Laughter, collaboration and positivity are just as contagious as negativity and stress, but come with benefits like great morale and better communication. An improved attitude and work atmosphere can even help facilitate a better sense of understanding among co-workers — it’s tough to retain negativity when sensing the bond between a pet and its owner.
This boost in attitude can lead to a more open, transparent work environment. It can also lead to better office morale, as the positive energy stemming from pet relationships can deliver an extra dose of happiness that can potentially lead to boosted production and less burnout.
The Importance of Positive Attitudes in the Workplace
No matter its form, negativity is damaging to the workplace. It may be found in gossip, poor personal attitudes, or a general lack of civil communication, and can warp a business’s outlook. Unless a leader quickly and directly addresses the situation, the consequences will unequivocally affect the business.
For instance, negativity can lead to distrust within a team, a decrease in employee engagement, or even liability issues if it devolves into harassment. Negativity in the workplace saps energy and diverts attention from productivity and performance. If left unchecked, this can have fiscal consequences, as these lapses can create inefficiencies that cause delays in production or service, which can ultimately affect an organization’s bottom line.
As a leader, preventing negativity through recognizing early warning signs is key. Methods of countering negativity can range from expressing positive language by sharing success stories or engaging in positive conversation, to actively preventing the spread of office gossip through conflict resolution. Establishing a pet-friendly environment can integrate with these strategies to create an atmosphere of unflinching positivity.
Pets in the Office Can Attract New Employees
Pets in the office can be a draw for new employees who are seeking a more dynamic or positive work environment. A pet-friendly office implies that an organization’s corporate culture is casual, accepting and employee-focused. This means companies may be able to be more selective in their hiring process, as a larger pool of job applicants means a better chance of finding exceptional new hires.
Tips for Pets in the Office
Pets in the workplace can be beneficial, but the proper steps should be taken to ensure a healthy environment for both pets and employees. Following are some actions employees can take.
- Maintain good hygiene. Employees should be healthy at work to avoid spreading sickness, and so should pets. Pets should be groomed and cleaned, as well as free of contagions and fleas or ticks.
- Confirm vaccinations are up to date. Employees should bring paperwork from their veterinarian that lists all of the pet’s vaccinations and appropriate veterinary care.
- Introduce new pets slowly. Pets need to be acclimated appropriately to new environments, especially when there are other pets and people involved. New and unique environments can stress pets out and cause unusual or destructive behavior
- Inform all employees of a pet’s training and dietary needs. Employees have to respect and appreciate that their pet is not the only one in the workplace. They also need to understand just how well their pet is trained and what their dietary needs are. Some pets eat anything and as much as they can, leaving little to nothing for others. Respecting the workplace by training and observing pets can prevent any unseen issues.
Employer Awareness of Unique Factors
Employers should also take steps to ensure a healthy environment for pets and employees. Naturally, some organizations may have reservations regarding pets in the office. While there can be benefits, there are obstacles that every employer should take into consideration.
- Company culture. Make sure any pet-friendly policy fully integrates with the office culture and aligns with the desired office atmosphere. In other words, it shouldn’t be used as a novelty to improve reputation or short-term job satisfaction, but as a genuine means to build cohesion within the office.
- Additional costs for pet care and pet-proofing offices. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates the annual cost of keeping a dog at $1,391 and the annual cost for cats at $1,149. Including pets in the workplace requires employers to take on some of these costs, such as providing food, toys, and treats and repairing any miscellaneous accidental damage that naturally occurs when caring for pets.
- Pet and employee safety. Animals may act out for any number of reasons — or no reason — and they cannot be held accountable for their actions. Awareness and a plan to handle these incidents should be prepared and taken seriously. Industries involved in medicine, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and foods may not be safe for the animal. Furthermore, pets in the workplace can open the road to legal issues that can potentially create more stress and a negative work environment.
- Avoiding distraction. It is easy to become over-distracted by pets in the office and hinder productivity instead of promoting it.
- Allergies to pets. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America found that 15%-30% of the total population has some kind of pet allergy. Employers need to be sensitive to employees who have these allergies and the effects they may have on the workplace experience.
Build a Dynamic Corporate Culture
Creating a pet-friendly environment does more than bring happiness to an office, it can become a key component of the corporate culture. This can ultimately help retain top talent, help attract talent from elsewhere and keep morale high.
Understanding human behavior is more than the basis of psychology. It is an essential component of every business and organization. It helps make sense of how and why workers act in specific ways in specific office environments. The USC online Master of Science in Applied Psychology Program prepares professionals to excel in the fields of consumer and organizational psychology.
Find out how USC can help you embark on a rewarding career.
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