Dog Day Afternoon - at Work

Employers who allow pet dogs at work may see happier and less stressed employees

(RxWiki News) If you're feeling dog-tired at your dog-eat-dog workplace, consider asking the top dog for a special kind of stress relief - permission to bring your pet dog to work with you.

A small, recent study reveals that employees who are allowed to bring their loyal pets to work with them may feel less stressed and more productive with their furry friends at their feet on the job.

"Pets can help with stress relief."

Randolph Barker, PhD, a management professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, led the study investigating pet-owning and non-pet-owning employees, and the pet-owners who bring their canine best friends to work with them.

The researchers focused on one job site for their study, a service, manufacturing and retail company called Replacements, Ltd., in Greensboro, N.C.

The company has about 550 employees and has allowed employees to bring their dogs to work for more than 15 years. About 20 to 30 dogs are on the company property daily.

Though they aimed to recruit enough employees for three groups of 30, the total number of participants who completed the study ended up being 75 employees, who were divided into three groups: those who brought their dogs to work (18 people), those who owned dogs but left them at home (38 people), and those who did not own any pets (19 people).

The groups had similar characteristics in terms of the participants' age, education and length of time at the company. They also came from a wide range of departments within the company.

Over a period of one week, the participants filled out surveys and provided saliva samples for researchers to measure stress hormone levels.

The surveys included standard assessments to determine a person's job satisfaction, the support they perceive receiving from their company, and their attitudes toward pets.

To provide a comparison within the dog-bringing subgroup, those who brought their dogs to work did so on Tuesday and Thursday and left them home on Wednesday and Friday.

The researchers found that the levels of stress hormone were about equal for all three groups in the morning, but self-reported levels of stress showed a different pattern throughout the work day.

Stress levels for pet-owners who were accompanied by their dogs decreased during the day while non-pet-owners and pet-owners without their dogs had increasing stress levels.

Those who brought their dogs to work reported higher levels of stress during the two days when their dogs were left home than on the Tuesday and Thursday when they were accompanied by their dogs. Their measured stress hormone levels from their saliva, however, was not different across the four days.

Among the dog owners who brought their pets to work, about half reported that they believed their dogs had a positive impact on their productivity and half reported a neutral response.

"Dogs in the workplace can make a positive difference," Barker said. "The differences in perceived stress between days the dog was present and absent were significant. The employees as a whole had higher job satisfaction than industry norms."

Among those who did not bring their dogs, whether pet owners or not, most said not having their dog at work had no impact on their productivity one way or another.

Not everyone was on board with at-work-dog-boarding, however. The results revealed that approximately 20 percent of those who did not bring their pets or who did not have pets believed dogs' presence at work hurt their personal productivity.

An approximately equal number among these participants believed a dogs' presence was beneficial to their productivity.

"Pet presence may serve as a low-cost, wellness intervention readily available to many organizations and may enhance organizational satisfaction and perceptions of support," Barker said.

"Of course, it is important to have policies in place to ensure only friendly, clean and well-behaved pets are present in the workplace," he said.

A side observation made by the researchers outside the scope of the study's specified measurements were occasional requests by employees without dogs to take their co-worker's dog out for a break during the day.

Because this study focused on a single company in a single industry, more studies with larger sample sizes and greater industry variety could provide better evidence of dogs' impact on employee stress levels and morale in the workplace.

The study appeared in the March issue of the International Journal of Workplace Health Management. Funding was provided by the Virginia Commonwealth University's Center for Human-Animal Interaction.

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Review Date: 
March 31, 2012