STRESS
April 2, 2012

When Workplaces Go to the Dogs

Taking your pup to work can reduce stress and may increase productivity, even for those who don't own pets.

Taking your dog to work could help reduce stress on the job. A study has found that dogs in the office or on the factory floor can boost morale and make work more satisfying, not just for dog owners, but also for other employees with whom they come into contact.

Workplace stress, burnout and stress-related absenteeism are the sources of reduced productivity and low morale. Having a smiling or sleeping canine at your feet or a furry head to pat can be a source of comfort. The study, by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University, looked at the levels of stress, job satisfaction, organizational commitment and support in three groups of employees: those who brought their dogs to work; those who did not bring their dogs to work; and employees without pets.

"Dogs in the workplace can make a positive difference," said principal investigator Randolph T. Barker, Ph.D., professor of management in the VCU School of Business in a press release.

Though the researchers did not observe a difference between the three employee groups on stress hormone levels, the average perceived stress scores fell about 11% among people who had brought their dogs to work, while they rose as much as 70% for members of the other groups by the end of the day.

Researchers looked at employee satisfaction over one five-day workweek at a dog-friendly service-manufacturing-retail company in North Carolina that employed about 550 people. Approximately 20 to 30 dogs are on the company premises each day. Employees filled out surveys and gave saliva samples so researchers could gauge work satisfaction and check levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Pagers were used to prompt employees to complete surveys during the day.

Though the researchers did not observe a difference between the three employee groups on stress hormone levels, the average perceived stress scores fell about 11% among people who had brought their dogs to work, while they rose as much as 70% for members of the other groups by the end of the day. Dog owners who did not bring their dogs to work on a given day had increasing stress during the day in a pattern mirroring that of workers who did not have a dog. According to Barker, "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."

Even employees without pets benefited from doggie company. Barker said that although not part of the study, some employees without a dog were observed requesting to take a co-worker's dog out on a break. These were brief, positive exchanges as the dogs were taken and returned and also resulted in an employee break involving exercise.

So, are pets a low-cost way to encourage exercise, increase productivity and de-stress employees? Maybe. This was a small study, but the results point to the value of dogs' presence. Clearly, the behavior of the dogs makes a difference, and it may be that the presence of dogs increases stress for those who are dog phobic. "Of course, it is important to have policies in place to ensure only friendly, clean and well-behaved pets are present in the workplace," Barker said. It remains to be seen whether spending days at the office or plant rather than at home affects dogs' stress levels.

The study was published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management.

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