Article: Animals beyond Pets: As employees and engagers

Culture

Animals beyond Pets: As employees and engagers

Is getting a pet to office a good idea after all? Where all do animals become employees? Let's find out!
Animals beyond Pets: As employees and engagers

The debate around allowing pets in workplaces has been a bone of contention (pun intended) between the lovers of furry ones and naysayers for decades. The former consider pets to be stress-busters and vouch that they are more productive around their pets, whereas the latter consider them distractions and their slobbering despicable.  In this piece we try to extend the debate from a new perspective, and also explore professions where animals and pets are actual employees. 

A study in International Journal of Workplace Health Management, by Virginia Commonwealth University, in 2012, found that during working hours, stress levels were lower among the employees that had their dogs by their sides, as opposed to people who had no pets or who left their pets at home. The study showed that employees who brought their pets to the workplace experienced an 11% drop in stress levels, while those who were forced to leave their pets at home had 70% increase in stress levels. Increasingly companies have started attracting prospective employees, specially millennials, with pet-friendly policies. 

The most noted one is from Google, although it clearly expresses its bias towards dogs, "Google’s affection for our canine friends is an integral facet of our corporate culture. We like cats, but we’re a dog company, so as a general rule we feel cats visiting our offices would be fairly stressed out." 

Other famous organisations that have pro-pet policies are Amazon, PixelKeet, Refinery29, Zynga, Ben & Jerry’s, Glassdoor, Nestle, MeetUp, AutoDesk, Etsy, Bissell and Petco. Over 2,000 dogs are brought in regularly to Amazon's main campus where about 25,000 employees work. The company provides doggy-treats at all of its reception desks and each of the nearly 30 buildings on the campus has spaces for pet exercise. Having a pet within reach also encourages employees to work longer hours, and they are prone to take lesser leaves. For some employees, this convenience is reason enough to join an organisation and an excuse to get some physical activity in the form of mid-day walks, and play games with their furry friends during breaks. 

"Employers are starting to realize that having a millennial bring ... a pet to work, you wind up getting a more focused employee, you get someone more comfortable at the office and a person willing to work longer hours," Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association, a trade group representing about 1,200 manufacturers of pet products, has been quoted saying. 

What’s more, often the antics of the pets bring in a comic relief at the office, and they have been known to help work around creative blocks. Several organisations allow pets, as they have been shown to increase team bonding, and facilitate warmer and cordial conversations, and improve employee engagement and communication. Dogs remain a favourite, with about 76% of employees bringing in a dog, and around 15% bringing in cats, and the remainder getting other smaller animals, a survey revealed. 

However the same argument works against allowing pets in workplaces as well, because although people who own pets gain tremendously, others suffer. 

People with allergies, or people who fear animals, are going to be uncomfortable with ‘bags of fleas’ roaming around in the office, and will view them as a disruption, and might as well be a cause of stress for them. Pets could induce traumatic childhood experiences and the constant barking from uneasy dogs is likely to be a distraction than boost creativity. Additionally, certain organisations have known to introduce pet-friendly policies to boost employee morale and productivity, only to eliminate it in a few months, as they witnessed no increase in output, rather some saw numbers dropping. 

Shreyans Parekh, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Koyal Wholesale—the world's largest wedding and event-supplies company— experimented with the idea of allowing pets in offices. He has been quoted saying, “We ran an experiment allowing dogs at work to lower stress levels and increase productivity. After four months, we eliminated it. Productivity, quarterly numbers, and error rates did not improve with the pets being present—in fact, [they] dropped during some weeks." Furthermore, it isn’t fair to the pet or others, if you take them to your office, but are unavailable to them all day because of meetings and unending work. 

From the organisational perspective, even if the investment required, in terms of infrastructure and supplies – which don’t come cheap - is something they are willing to incur, the liability increases if the furious dog ends up biting an employee or the cat scratches a customer. Thus a good chunk of people are against letting pets roam around freely in office cubicles, and do not encourage the problems they bring along.

Several professions like the military, police, or protective agencies actually train animals, almost like any other employee. Visually impaired people greatly benefit from programs that coach animals to become service animals, to become well-trained, housebroken, and even-tempered pets to accompany their owners in their daily chores. Recently, a report showed that nine publically funded animals were a part of the British Army, who are allowed the services of the Veterinary cops. 

Back home, this Republic Day history was made, when Army dogs marched at the Rajpath, after a gap of 26 years. Chosen from the 1,200 dogs that are a part of the Indian Army, the select dogs were trained for four months. In the army, the dogs provide several services like mine detection, explosive detection, tracking, assault, guard, infantry patrol among others. More recently, a cat named Felix, a beloved cat, also made news on being promoted to the post of Senior Pest Controller and given a new jacket and a name badge by TransPennine Express.  Studies have also shown how pets have a positively calming effect on us, and how they are also used extensively to help children with learning disabilities. Pets have also known to reduce blood pressure, and induce other health benefits, as a direct result of reduced stress levels. 

If you too are mulling over allowing your employees to allow their pets in office, even if as a short experiment, make sure you cover basic steps like getting all your employees and executive team on board, checking with the owner of the building – if your office is rented, creating a comprehensive policy, pet-proofing the office premises, and establish etiquettes and tips, and creating facilities to treat the pets right. The experiment might just give you great results! 

Would you like your pet to be your office companion? Let us know what you think!

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Topics: Culture, Employee Engagement, Life @ Work

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