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Offices go to the dogs... or vice versa

LEADING PET food company Hills Pet Nutrition has really gone to the dogs – or rather, the dogs have gone to the company. According to a report in the Financial Times several dogs can often be found in the office at the company’s site in Hertfordshire.

‘We are a company of pet lovers. It is encouraged by the business and enshrined in the mission statement,’ says Libby Sheridan, veterinary affairs manager, adding that there is nothing like walking her dog Gulliver at lunchtime to blow the mental cobwebs away.

There are plenty of scientific and anecdotal studies that show how pets are good for people, lightening their mood and reducing stress. To this end, for many employees, the presence of the family pet at work is seen as a big perk, making them more relaxed and keeping them in good spirits. They may even work longer hours if they know the dog is under the desk.

Leading animal welfare charity the Blue Cross would like to see more canine companions in the office and has been running Take Your Dog to Work Day in the UK for the past 12 years. This year’s event takes place on September 14. ‘If it is practical it can be a great benefit,’ says Ziela Haider, a spokesperson for the charity. ‘Dogs really do reduce stress. We have a part-time office dog and spending a few minutes stroking him lets you take a mental break.’

The report goes on to say that, for a nation of celebrated animal lovers, British workplaces allow pets in the workplace are a surprising rarity. The nation that has truly embraced pets at work is the US. According to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers’ Association, nearly one in five companies allows pets in the workplace. In fact, employees are so concerned about their furry friends that last year the American job website designed a filter to let candidates search for vacancies in companies that are pet-friendly; it is now one of the most popular.

Of course, there have to be rules for those who want to let the dogs in. The animals must be well behaved (with appropriate sanctions if they are not); they should not affect employees who do not like or get on with pets; the policy needs agreement by consensus; and there must be firm rules about cleaning up.

There are conflicting opinions about the idea of pets in the workplace. Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University management school, says inviting pets into the workplace could reduce stress, act as a perk and make the company a more fun place to be. But, on the other hand, poorly behaved or large numbers of animals could cause workplace angst. It would be far easier to maintain a pet-friendly policy in a small business where everyone knows each other than a large one.

Still, he allows, pets definitely ‘humanise’ colleagues in each other’s eyes: ‘People step out of the corporate roles they play with animals. You no longer think ‘Fred’s my manager’, you think ‘Fred loves his dog’.