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a different perspective on human capital

Office Pets and their effects on workplace stress, concentration, and morale


Nearly every afternoon here at the Treehouse Partners headquarters, we hear the clickety-clack of Kirby, our CEO’s beloved dog, making her way up the stairs to say hello. She makes her way around the office, accepting chin scratches or belly rubs before plopping herself down for a nap. The proliferation of emotional support animals has led more and more businesses to allow cats, dogs, and other furry friends in the workspace. Recent studies have shown that having a pet in the office reduces stress levels, allows for better concentration, and improves overall employee morale. Read on to learn how good boys/girls like Kirby can have a profound psychological effect on your workplace.

For years, therapy animals were essentially limited to those with physical disabilities and were primarily canines–think of the proverbial blind man crossing the street with his trusted golden retriever. These days, however, it’s not uncommon to see anxious passengers boarding their planes with their Yorkies, lonely college students adopting shelter cats, or even more exotic choices (check out this CBS article about a man who brings his pet alligator to cheer up residents at an assisted living facility: https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2019/01/17/emotional-support-alligator-makes-new-friends-at-assisted-living-facility/). The definition of an emotional support animal (ESA) is “an animal that provides comfort just by being with a person,” and they differ from service animals in that they are not trained to perform a specific task. ESAs are becoming more and more common in the workplace as employers realize that pets can be an enormous boon to productivity. One of the major benefits of allowing cats, dogs, hamsters, etc. in a place of business is a reduction in overall stress levels. According to an NCBI study, when researchers compared subjects’ cardiovascular response to a stressful task performed either alone, with a spouse, and with an animal, “heart rate and blood pressure were significantly lower when a pet was present than when a spouse was present. Furthermore, performance of the mental-arithmetic task had the fewest errors in the condition with a pet present.” Physical contact with an animal has a calming effect on many people–a stressful meeting or difficult phone call might be easier to tackle with the promise of a wagging tail once you’ve finished.

Some might view animals as a distraction at work, but further studies indicate employees who are lucky enough to work with an office pet are actually more productive. Many pet owners–particularly those with dogs, who typically require more social interaction and exercise than lower-maintenance pets like fish or cats–fret about their fur-babies’ well-being while they’re at work. Bringing Fido to the office means the employee can monitor him at all times rather than worrying about him peeing on the carpet or chewing up the couch. Dog owners can take their pet for a walk on their break, which can help to clear the mind and renew energy levels throughout the day.

Finally, having an office pet has been shown to increase morale. Animals are unintentional comedians, and watching your office gerbil run on his wheel or seeing your coworker’s shih-tzu chase her tail is a great reminder to take it easy. Coworkers bond over moments with these special friends, leading to better relationships and collaboration. The popularity of Twitter and Instagram accounts like Dog Rates and Catspotting (https://www.facebook.com/groups/officialcatspotting/) are a perfect example of how even looking at cute pictures of pets can make someone’s day–imagine how happy your crazy cat lady receptionist would be if she could have her prizewinning short-haired Himalayan at her desk!

Realistically, bringing pets to the job site won’t work for every business. Restaurant patrons will not be happy to learn that the sous chef is a border collie, and those poor souls who are allergic to cats might be driven out if their cubicle mate is a Maine Coon. If your place of work is considering adopting an office pet, or allowing employees to bring in their own furry friends, consider the mental health benefits outlined above. Decreased stress, improved concentration, and numerous psychological benefits for employees should be reason enough to consider making the change. Seeing Kirby pattering up the stairs to our office never fails to brighten our day!