Sept. 22--There is ample evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, that having dogs in the workplace can reduce stress and offer opportunities for exercise and non-work-related interaction among employees.
But bringing pets into the workplace also raises questions business owners shouldn't ignore. Such as, what if the office dog bites someone? What if an employee or customer is allergic? What are the liability and insurance concerns?
Additionally, there are myriad other factors a business owner should keep in mind when it comes to service animals in a business, whether those of an employee or, if it's a retail or hospitality environment, of a customer.
Linda Varrell, president of Broadreach Public Relations in Portland, regularly brings her three golden retrievers into the office. As they walk around the office looking to be petted or for someone to toss a ball, they're helping lighten the mood and increase morale and even serve to de-escalate tense situations at times, Varrell said.
"If we're having a real serious conversation or we might be having a disagreement and all of a sudden the dogs do something goofy, we start laughing," she said. "There's a lot of ... resetting the atmosphere so creativity can continue to flow, because a lot of times we get uptight and we don't really know why, or things get emotional, and it's proven if there's a dog around, or you even touch a dog, it lowers your blood pressure."
Allowing employees to bring in their dogs has "definitely boosted the morale of the office," according to Tricia Richardson, vice president of marketing at Unified Technologies, a Portland-based company that offers managed IT services. "It's a healthy distraction from work when you have a dog come into the office and you can take a break from staring at the computer screen."
A recent academic study from Virginia Commonwealth University supports what Varrell and Richardson already empirically know.
The study, published earlier this year in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, observed a retail business that employs approximately 450 people and has as many as 30 dogs on the premises each day and found that employees were less stressed and more satisfied with their jobs when they came in contact with dogs. It provides the first quantitative study on the effects dogs in the workplace can have on employee stress and job satisfaction, according to Randolph Barker, professor of management at the VCU School of Business and one of the study's authors.
"Dogs in the workplace can make a positive difference," Barker said in a statement. "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."
But what about those business concerns? Both Varrell and Richardson have taken steps to make sure they're covering their bases.
Richardson said Unified Technologies was writing a formal pet-friendly company policy as a result of the inquiry from the Bangor Daily News.
Varrell has checked with her insurance agent to make sure she is covered under her existing insurance, which she is. She also has looked into best practices when it comes to handling pet-friendly offices from a human resources perspective. As a result, Varrell now includes the fact that it's a pet-friendly office on job postings.
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