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Work like a dog: the pros and cons of bringing pets to work

Over recent years, we have seen the emergence and increasing popularity of ‘bring your pet to work’ days. While a relatively new concept, there is evidence that pets can help reduce stress and build a sense of community.

Who doesn’t love a quick cuddle with a kitty or a game of catch with an energetic pooch to break up the drudgery of office life? Well, anyone who isn’t an animal lover. And, pet owners may be shocked to discover, there are plenty of non-animal-lovers out there. You may even be one yourself – or you may sit next to one all day at work.

Studies have reported on both the benefits and the cautions of bringing pets to work. ‘They even show that pets can be good in engaging customers in some situations,’ says Dr John Molineux, Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management at Deakin University. But depending on the workplace and situation, having pets around can also be seen as unprofessional.

If you’re planning, or thinking of planning, a pet-friendly work day, being considerate of your colleagues is key to making sure it all runs smoothly. It’s important to be mindful of the potential problems that bringing pets into a traditionally usually-human-only workplace can bring up.

Here, we discuss both sides of this trend.

A dog’s life: the upsides of pet-friendly work days

The importance and value of workplace wellbeing is increasingly relevant for organisations of all sizes. Dr Molineux believes ‘bring your pet to work’ days have increased in popularity because employers are recognising this need for wellbeing. They’re also becoming more aware of the need to create connections in the workplace.

‘You don’t stop being yourself at work; you have many non-work aspects to your life,’ Dr Molineux explains. ‘Owning a pet is one of those, and pet ownership has a strong social networking aspect and a sense of community.’

As humans, we want to connect – and feeling connected with others brings an uplifting sense of community to the workplace. ‘Pets have been shown to help improve physical and mental health, as well as promoting a calming influence at work, relieving tension or stress, and enabling social interaction,’ Dr Molineux adds.

How to avoid biting off more than you can chew

Aside from the obvious issues of making a mess, damaging property and distracting staff, Dr Molineux says health and cultural issues are two of the biggest areas to consider.

Your allergic colleagues might not appreciate the sniffing and sneezing that comes with having animals around while they’re trying to work. In most cases, working alongside a pack of puppies or a chatter of budgerigars (yes, that’s really the collective noun) isn’t exactly what they signed up for! Asthma, allergies and other illnesses are common reactions to animals, so it’s important to be aware and respectful of people’s tolerances.

Also, you need to be mindful of various cultures in your workplace, Dr Molineux adds. ‘In some religions, mixing with certain animals is taboo.’ Don’t forget that if someone hasn’t grown up around cats and dogs, it’s not uncommon to be afraid of them.

Dr Molineux also warns of something many often don’t immediately consider: that inviting pets to work can create marginalisation in the workplace. Those who bring pets to work may naturally become split off from those who don’t, which can create an ‘us and them’ mentality within the team.

'You have many non-work aspects to your life. Owning a pet is one of those, and pet ownership has a strong social networking aspect and a sense of community.'

Dr John Molineux,
Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

Keeping the cat in the bag: the legal perspective

Unless you’ve previously hosted a ‘bring your pet to work’ day, it’s unlikely your organisation has a policy around this kind of event. Perhaps companion animals such as guide dogs are the only non-humans currently welcome at your workplace.

Dr Molineux suggests that no employer wants to be involved in causing illness or injury to an employee. This means it’s crucial to plan carefully prior to the event. ‘The major issue is health and safety, so the implementation needs to involve consultation, risk assessment and guidance/warnings to employees,’ he says.

If a policy needs to be created, the most important aspect for inclusion is health and safety. In addition, interaction guidelines for employees, clients or the public are a good idea. ‘The policy does not have to be comprehensive, just cover standard practice, guidelines and/or principles,’ Dr Molineux advises.

Everyone will have a better understanding of expectations and health and safety implications if there are clearly stipulated guidelines before the day. For example, there may be outlined requirements stating specified areas that are out of bounds, or expectations regarding dogs on leads or birds in cages.

Important points to bear in mind

If you’re still keen to implement a pet day in our own workplace, Dr Molineux suggests you first:

  • ask: is it something employees actually want?
  • do a risk assessment
  • plan it carefully and issue guidelines
  • enjoy the day when it happens
  • evaluate the event.

With some careful pre-planning and mindful execution, it is easy to identify the benefits of ‘bring your pet to work’ days. Knowing your workplace and employees and having guidelines in place is key to pulling off a disaster-free day that builds a sense of community in the workplace and encourages staff to connect and release tensions.

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Dr John Molineux
Dr John Molineux

Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

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