Distraction or Stress Reducer? Why a Dog-Friendly Workplace Might Work

Article main image
Aug 1, 2012

I can’t help but notice the abundance of articles dedicated to workplace stress.

Bottom line: Workplace stress is a very real phenomenon that can bring about an array of health concerns. It’s no secret that stress is a major contributor to employee absenteeism and low morale, which can result in a substantial loss of productivity.

But what can we, the business leaders, do to help lower stress levels? Reduce the amount of work given to an employee?

Sure, that sounds all noble in theory, but let’s be realistic, deadlines are there for a reason and work needs to be accomplished. Sometimes reducing the workload really isn’t a feasible option.

Before you throw your hands up in frustration and increase your own stress levels, maybe you should turn to man’s (or woman’s) best friend.

Positive research on dogs at work

Think that idea sounds far fetched? Not according to some new research.

According to a Virginia Commonwealth University study, dogs may make a positive difference in the workplace by reducing stress and making the job more satisfying for other employees.

The study, published in the March issue of the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, found that dogs in the workplace may serve as somewhat of a buffer to the impact of stress during the workday for their owners.

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, according to the university.

“Dogs in the workplace can make a positive difference,” Principal investigator Randolph T. Barker, professor of management at the VCU School of Business, stated in the news release. “The differences in perceived stress between days a dog was present and absent were significant. The employees as a whole had higher job satisfaction than industry norms.”

Barker said that other findings revealed mostly positive comments from employees such as “pets in the workplace can be a great bonus for employee morale … ,” “having dogs here is great stress relief” and “dogs are positive; dogs increase coworker cooperation.”

Encouraging dogs at work

Should you encourage a dog-friendly environment?

Now I view the study with a healthy amount of skepticism. I don’t believe there is one answer that can solve our nation’s stress issues.

Still, being a dog person, I can understand why a dog can, at the very least, help to boost employees’ spirits at work.

Think about it from a work-life perspective: your employees with dogs are used to taking time out of their day to go home to let their dog out, that is, if their home is close enough to the office. If they live far from work, they either need someone to let the dog out during the day or the dog is stuck in the house until the owner gets home. A dog-friendly workplace can help eliminate those concerns.

Let’s not forget that most of the time when you’re around a dog, you feel a lot happier, so why shouldn’t that feeling last in the workplace?

Distraction or morale booster?

Still, not all dogs are alike, and employees should only bring well-behaved pets. You have to give employees the benefit of the doubt that they understand if their dog is suited for the workplace environment or not.

Now as much as we personally may like dogs, we have to keep in mind that not everyone is a dog person. So before you turn your workplace into a dog-friendly environment, you should check with all your employees to make sure it’s fine by them. What could lower the stress for one employee may produce new stress for another employee who is not accustomed to the occasional bark and the sounds of a squeaky toy.

My take on this? Well, I’m a bit on the fence. I see how dogs can help improve employee morale, but also understand that pets can sometimes provide an unwelcome distraction.

Maybe it isn’t appropriate for all workplaces to bring dogs to the office every day. Perhaps a designated “take your dog to work day” can be just what the doctor (or vet) ordered to help reduce stress levels.

Do you allow dogs in the workplace? Why or why not?