The positive impact of pets at work

Illustration Janelle Barone, Makers MGMT

Good’s wellness columnist Rachel Grunwell contemplates on the positive impacts of pets at work. 

A wagging tail is how a dog smiles and when we see that wagging tail, it makes us smile too. It turns out smiling more is one of the top benefits of a pet-friendly workplace. Smiling, enhanced employee engagement, motivation and likability are all benefits of a pet-friendly workplace, according to a recent study by Purina PetCare. More than 60 per cent of employees agreed they liked their employers more because they offered them this benefit.

At Tangible Media (publisher of Good) staff can bring their furry friends into work, and public relations company Pead PR has ‘Dog Day Fridays’. 

“It’s a great way to keep stress levels in check and boost creativity,” says Pead PR CEO Deborah Pead. “Having the dogs around is great for both mental and physical wellbeing – whether it’s having a quick cuddle or taking them out for a walk.”

It’s not only dogs that imbue that feel-good factor. Jenna Todd of Time Out Bookstore, Mt Eden, Auckland has been working with her cat Lucinda for the past seven years. Many locals also pop into the store just to see Lucinda.

As a home-based freelancer my cat Hermione is my constant companion and best distraction to my deadlines. When I pick Hermione up for silky-soft snuggles, I get an immediate pick-me-up and smile. Stroking her fur, and hearing her purr, is soothing.

I laugh as she jumps onto my work chair to ‘swipe’ my hair. Or she pounces on my desk wanting to play. She’s mischievous and joyful. 

Jarrod Haar, professor of human resource management at the Auckland University of Technology, calls Hermione and other pets “mood influencers”. 

So Hermione also helps me in other ways, explains Haar. “We perform better when we’re in a more positive frame of mind,” he says.

A growing number of employers now have pet-friendly policies across New Zealand.

According to Cigna Insurance’s 2017 360° Wellbeing Survey,  29 per cent of those surveyed said their employer offered a wellness programme, with 59 per cent saying it makes them feel that their company values their work/life balance. 

Haar says wellness initiatives can influence better productivity, workplace retention, and result in less absenteeism and a healthier ‘bottom line’. He says this is all linked to the ‘contagion effect’. “Essentially if you work in a healthy and happy team you ‘catch’ people’s moods”. 

Haar says benefits to staff in general “help a company to have a competitive advantage… benefits signal to employees that the company cares”. Workplace wellbeing can also help with the ‘social exchange theory’. This means that when we treat people well, they can want to ‘give back’ i.e., work well.

A growing body of research suggests pets are powerful health champions in their own right. According to University of Canterbury pet expert Dr Annie Potts, “just watching a fish can reduce blood pressure and produce a state of relaxation”. Scientists have also shown that levels of the ‘worry hormone’ cortisol were lower in samples taken from employees who were allowed to take their pets to the office. Relaxed workers tend to make better decisions, have fewer accidents and are more pleasant to their colleagues. 

There are also benefits from stroking pets. The combination of the caring gesture and the calm, rhythmic patting has been shown to release a string of feel-good chemicals in the brain, including dopamine and oxytocin.

Rachel is a mum, marathoner, writer and yoga teacher. For more, visit inspiredhealth.co.nz

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