Study finds dogs at work lower stress, boost morale

EDITOR’S NOTE: This semester WTVR.com has partnered with VCU’s School of Mass Communications “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project. Those VCU students reported the following story.

By Audra Shreve and Allison Landry (Special to WTVR.com)

RICHMOND, VA – A new study by a VCU research team suggests that bringing dogs to work lowers stress and increases employee satisfaction. Dr. Randolph Barker, a professor of management at the School of Business, conducted the study with his wife Dr. Sandra Barker, the director of VCU’s Center for Human-Animal Interaction.

“The overall results generally are that pets in the workplace may provide a buffer to the stress that occurs throughout the day, not only for individuals that bring their dogs to work but for the entire workplace in terms of enhancing their job satisfaction overall,” said Sandra Barker.

The researchers decided to mix their individual professional strengths with their love for dogs and then collaborated with a team of three other researchers. Over the course of one week, they tested employees’ stress levels and job satisfaction at Replacements, a retail manufacturing business in North Carolina.

The team compared three groups of people, individuals who brought their dogs to work, individuals who did not bring their dogs to work, and individuals who did not own a dog. Based on stress level measurements with saliva sample in the morning before work, the three groups seemed to have no difference.

But throughout the day individuals who brought their dogs to work displayed lower stress levels than those who did not. The entire workplace also seemed to have a high level of job satisfaction, indicating the dogs in the workplace boosted company morale.

“The dog became the communication organizer. People started talking more to each other because of the animal being there,” said Randolph Barker.

The research team observed that the animals in the workplace heightened communication between employees. Some employees would visit with each other more, if dogs were in their co-workers office and some would even ask to take their colleague’s dog for a walk.

Some companies and organizations in Richmond have already made positive experiences by letting their employees bring their dogs to work. While rescue dogs are sheltered downstairs at the Richmond SPCA, dogs can also be found upstairs in the offices with their owners.

Contrary to common beliefs that having an animal in a work environment is distracting, Laura Palin, admissions manager of the Richmond SPCA, said it actually helps her focus.

“Sometimes I have to work eight hours a day and it can be up to 10 hours, so being able to know they are safe and using the restroom appropriately is just such a stress reliever,” said Palin.

Robin Starr, the CEO of the Richmond SPCA, said once the animals had become a routine at the office, it didn’t take away from her employees’ productivity.

“We’re very used to each other’s pets. We know each other’s pets. Our pets know each other and are accustomed to interacting with each other. So it creates no problems and it actually provides just a lovely, both calming effect and a little bit of fun interactive diversion during the day,” said Starr.

But there are guidelines. Even the SPCA believes they should be discussed before allowing this practice.

“If you work in a cubicle environment with carpeting, you might have to set some guidelines that your pet has to be 100 percent house broken and needs to get along with other dogs and other people,” Palin said.

It is also important to make sure the canine meets certain health and behavior standards as well.

“We require that any pet that comes to the office is up to date on their vaccinations and a rabies vaccination is required by law,” said Tabitha Hanes, director of communications for the Richmond SPCA.

Hanes said that any pet visiting the workplace will need to be checked for parasite control, such as flea and tick prevention, and also develop basic obedience skills.

These conditions and more guidelines are part of a pet policy at the Richmond office of Neathawk Dubuque & Packett, an advertising agency. Roger Neathawk, one of the company’s executives, said a task force was appointed at the company, made up of employees who brought their dogs and some that didn’t, so that it was fair for everyone

“I don’t personally bring a pet to work, but if I’m having a stressful day and I walk by and see one of the dogs, I’ll go over and pet it. Or if it licks my hand or whatever, it just has a way of taking all that stress away,” said Neathawk.

Neathawk also added that the employees often give feedback about how important it is to them to have their pet with them throughout the day, and how much more productive they feel since they don’t have to worry about their pets at home.

Shaun Amanda Herrmann, an account supervisor at the company, has been bringing her dog Ransome to work for the past six years.

“If I have to work late, I can take him out here. I can feed him here. It’s a great relief,” Herrmann said.

This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s School of Mass Communications.

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