Resilience is a major weapon in the fight against mental illness. One of the best ways to build resilience is to identify and support those things in our lives that revitalize us. For many people, pets provide significant emotional support and joy. Smart business leaders would do well to be mindful of this resource and create pet-friendly workplaces for their employees who need it.
Just in time for Mental Health Awareness Month, Mental Health America provides a helpful guide to the many benefits of pet companionship.
- Pet ownership can improve cardiovascular health, decrease stress, and lower blood pressure.
- Pets can also reduce loneliness, a critical factor in mental health, and many chronic health conditions.
- Animal-assisted interventions can play an especially important role for those facing severe mental and physical health conditions.
Benefits of pets in the workplace
Although hard research into the benefits of pets in the workplace is limited, the studies that have been done show promising results.
A study by Virginia Commonwealth University found the presence of pets to be a significant stress buffer for their owners. The researchers found the benefits may extend to co-workers as well, who reported enjoying brief interactions with the pets and sometimes even asked to take them for a walk.
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute has studied the effect of dog presence on group problem-solving. Their research indicates improved cohesion, trust, and cooperation in groups with a dog. They have also conducted a nationwide survey showing greater employee engagement and retention in pet-friendly workplaces.
Finally, the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction is a collaboration between the nursing and veterinary schools at the University of Missouri. Their studies of the benefits of pet companionship for weight loss, for treating veterans with PTSD, and for alleviating anxiety in those with autism may translate into the workplace as well.
Overall, workplaces that adopt a pet-friendly policy experience the benefit of attracting and retaining happier and healthier employees.
The logistics of pets on the job
According to the Society of Human Resource Management, only seven percent of employers now allow pets in the workplace. While this is up from five percent a few years ago, it indicates that we have a ways to go in making the workplace pet-friendly.
Doing so requires careful planning and consideration. It is important, first of all, to get consent and buy-in from the whole team. Not everyone loves pets, and some may have allergies. However, having designated pet-free zones may be one way to accommodate both groups.
Appointed pet-friendly days can clarify expectations about when pets are and are not allowed on the job. A select pet committee can settle any disputes that may arise, and can also share the benefits of pets in the workplace. Finally, be sure to pet-proof the workplace to ensure that our furry friends are safe at work.
Creative pet-friendly policies
Even if it is not feasible to welcome pets into your workplace, you can demonstrate support for pet-owning employees and build community and engagement with these alternative policies:
- Host a picnic or happy hour at a dog park
- Sponsor a pet photo contest with pet-related prizes
- Organize a volunteer program at an animal-focused charity
- Provide a discount for pet insurance
- Offer “pawternity” time for those with new pets, and bereavement time for those saying goodbye to old pets
Innovative companies such as Google, Salesforce, Etsy, and Amazon playfully embrace the role of pets in the workplace. Dog-owning Googlers are called Dooglers, and the company’s corporate code of conduct explicitly welcomes pets. “Google’s affection for our canine friends is an integral facet of our corporate culture,” the policy states.
Smart business leaders will see a pet-friendly policy as yet another opportunity to create a workplace and a culture that cares for and supports the whole employee. Holistically-minded and compassionate companies will not only boast better mental health—they will be magnets for the most loyal and innovative talent.