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A dog’s (work)life?

22nd January 2015

A dog’s (work)life?

Once, the days of a workplace pet extended only to the ‘Blue Peter dog’, Shep – or perhaps Goldie, depending on your generation. 

Even then, the presence of the animal brought a little something to the show – allowing children with no hope of owning their own pet an insight into the relationship between a dog and its owner. 

Dog ownership worldwide is at an all-time high. Yet, so are working hours, and the two aren’t compatible. The answer? A workplace pet. 

More and more workplaces are taking on a pet (or in some places, taking in a – stray – pet), and not just an unobtrusive goldfish that doesn’t last as long as the photocopier toner. Dogs are the favourite of the four-legged friends, given their love of human contact, but there are others. 

Sometimes the dog ‘belongs’ to the company, with volunteer staff taking it home at night, and in other places of work staff are encouraged to bring along their own pets from home. Self-proclaimed ‘dog company’ Google welcomes canines through its doors each day, along with their owners, while Amazon headquarters in Seattle claims to have over 35 dogs accompanying their owners to work each day. 

A dog once again returned to the BBC last year in the form of Miss Molly, the pet dog of Andrew Neil, present of the politics show, This Week, even making on-screen appearances and taking fame in its stride. 

In fact, while the big-name companies make the headlines in terms of dog-friendliness, most of the pet-welcoming workplaces are small ones, with 50 or fewer employees. In the USA 20% of workplaces allow pets, while in Taiwan, it’s as much as 50%. 

The UK lags behind, though advocates for pets at work are putting in the effort. On 27th June this year, the UK celebrated ‘Bring Your Dog to Work’ day; in 2015 it’s a day earlier, on 26th June, and the day aims to raise money for animal welfare charities. 

While dogs are the most common pets in the workplace, it’s not exclusively a canine privilege. Businesses run by cat-lovers have been known to have a feline around the place. This is even more the case when the cat can earn its keep. For example, the fact that the cat is predisposed to catching mice can prove indispensable in certain work environments. The tradition of a ‘ship’s cat’ is long established, as is that of the farm cat, and today they can be seen prowling around distilleries, whose barley and grains are inevitably a draw for mice. 

The pluses

Some companies claim that having a dog around the office makes them stand out from the crowd, and acts as an ice-breaker for clients. Some clients, arguably, may even choose a business based on its dog-friendly policies. Although, on the other hand, there are many dog-wary people – so it could work the opposite way!

There has been research carried out in recent years as to the positive effects of having a pet around the place. Nearly five years ago the University of Central Michigan conducted an experiment involving worker volunteers, none of whom knew each other; one group was given a dog, and the other, sadly, no dog. In the projects undertaken by the volunteers, the findings were that the dog-group performed more cohesively, and the feedback provided in questionnaires showed that the subjects viewed their ‘co-workers’ more positively. The findings highlighted the higher incidence of cooperation, improved collaboration and reduced stress. 

Having a dog around can also encourage workers to take breaks that they may not otherwise have made time for – ultimately making them more relaxed and more productive. Owners of the dogs – or even other workers – can gain health benefits by taking the pooch for a lunchtime walk, stimulating the vital brain cells ready for the afternoon. 

The minuses

Some dogs may not be ideal work companions, particularly if they are overenthusiastic greeters, somewhat smelly, or yappy. 

It goes without saying that the dogs ought not to be allowed to have the run of the office. Google, for example, has rules in place that limit the extent to which the dogs are allowed in the office (not every day, for example), and where they must stay (in or around their owner’s desk). 

Health and safety applies to pets too: the pet dog at Tatler’s headquarters died in an accident with a revolving door in the Conde Nast building in London. Not all buildings are going to be suitable for animals. 

In addition, pets can also pose a risk to other workers, either in terms of allergies or as a hazard in themselves. There are even law firms that specifically advertise their services to those who have suffered a fall caused by an at-work pet. 

UK pets at home at work

UK workplaces that welcome pets include Pets at Home, the Blue Cross and Dogs Trust, which is somewhat unsurprising. But what about the rest of the workforce? Are they having to rely on dog walkers and dog sitters while spending their working day at their desk? The UK, despite its reputation as a nation of animal lovers, is not renowned for its take-your-dog-to-work attitude. Some care homes and residential homes have pets, as they believe them to have a positive effect on the residents. A graphic design company in Bristol has a pet dog that sits in the large front window, enticing people to come in and say hello; a PR company in Manchester has its own pet dog; and UK vehicle recovery companies often keep dogs such as Alsatians and Rottweilers for security, but all the while ensuring they integrate with the staff so that they don’t get lonely – and sometimes also allowing their workers to bring their own dogs in to join in the fun. While a university in North America has an official ‘pet policy’, with the added benefit of creating a more relaxing environment for anxious students, one UK university, in the north of England, sees its academic staff bring their dogs to the office with them. And we mustn’t forget the ‘mascot dog’ commonly seen at Royal Air Force and Royal Naval Air Stations, commonly Labradors. 

One lucky dog that accompanied its owner to work was Dougie, who went to work with the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman and chairman of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Jane Irvine, ever since being a seven-month-old puppy. A more unusual pet at work includes a Pets at Home snake in Cheshire, named Jean Genie, resident in a tank on her owner’s desk – quite the opposite of a ‘pet at home’!  

This news was brought to you by Morgan Pryce, a specialist tenant acquisition agent with offices in Oxford Circus and the City. Morgan Pryce specialises in search, negotiation and project management and works exclusively for tenants.

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