Animal magic – the attraction of ‘canine colleagues’ in the workplace

Three years ago, food manufacturer Nestlé UK adopted a pets-at-work strategy. Allowing dogs to come to work with their owners has improved morale, working relationships, and work-life balance and reduced stress levels, as June Clark outlines.

As the world’s largest food manufacturer, it will come as no surprise to readers of Occupational Health and Wellbeing that here at Nestlé we have a very proactive employee health and wellness strategy.

However, when I spoke earlier this year to a packed room at the Health and Wellbeing at Work Conference in Birmingham, it was not our people but dogs who were the main draw.

About the author

June Clark is health and wellbeing manager at Nestlé UK

Let me explain. We’ve been welcoming dogs to our Nestlé Gatwick site since 2015. Our pet food company Purina has always been dog-friendly and, when we all moved under one roof, it gave the entire company the opportunity to experience the benefits.

It’s been such a positive move and Nestlé has really adopted pets at work as being a fundamental part of our employee health and wellbeing strategy. We have more than 1,000 employees at our head office and more than 100 employees have chosen to put their dog on to the scheme. This means that, on average, we have around eight dogs a day coming to work with their owners. You can really feel and see the benefits.

Nestlé is not alone. In the UK, office pets are steadily on the increase, and it is estimated that currently a quarter of companies nationwide have a policy in place to allow workers to bring their dogs into the office, with a further 28% wanting to introduce one.

While dog-owners may find dogs in their workplace a no-brainer, there are a myriad of advantages for firms. Here are four reasons I’d argue why, if it is appropriate and safe to do so in your workplace, we could all do with having canine friends at work.

1) They can calm and de-stress.  Research from Purina suggests that pets inspire us and lower stress levels. A total of 41% of companies who have dogs in their offices have seen that dogs calm and de-stress their workforces.

It’s no surprise that a quick stroke of a friendly office pup when deadlines are looming can help your team take a deep breath and face the day.

2) They boost morale. Got the Monday blues? Nearly a third (32%) of employers say that having a dog in the office is a morale booster. Confidence, enthusiasm and levels of creativity are a lot higher and make a positive environment to work in.

For any businesses, that’s a powerful tool, as well as an employee benefit that comes at little or no cost. Plus, it may make employees think twice about that job move when Rover rolls over for his daily belly rub at their feet!

3) They improve working relationships. It is never easy on your first few weeks starting a new job to try and make friends. A little four-legged mutt touring the office is a great conversation starter.

More than a quarter (29%) of employers with office dogs say their pooches encourage social interactions between staff, while nearly half (46%) of employers believe having a pooch in the office creates a friendlier atmosphere.

Bringing a dog to work will also encourage employers to make the most of your lunches and go on team walks that also help them walk more, be refreshed and stay healthy. All of this leads to better wellbeing for your workforce.

4) They encourage work-life balance. According to the Purina research, one in four (40%) of companies who have the pets at work toolkit in place suggest that work-life balance is a top reason for introducing the scheme.

The opportunity to bring your pet to work can help staff out with dog care issues. This way, working the odd bit of overtime is not an issue and workers don’t have puppy dog eyes in the back of their mind wondering when they’re going to get home, or the annoying thought of wondering what the dog is getting up to when they’ve been away from home all day.

This, in turn, helps to save money on any daily pet care or dog walkers, which is something your employees may well be grateful for.

The benefits don’t just stop at current staff. If organisations want to attract the best new young talent, a pet-friendly policy could also work in their favour. According to our research, many working millennials are looking for companies with dog-friendly policies.

A quarter of 18-34-year-olds said a dog-friendly policy would be attractive to them, with 42% saying they would like or enjoy an office with a dog-friendly policy, some 11% more the national average.

Carry out a consultation

So, what’s stopping employers from adopting a pet-friendly policy? There is no doubt that the perceived complexity of implementing a pets-at-work policy can be a barrier for some organisations. From our own experience, we know many of the perceived barriers can often actually be easy to overcome and don’t entail a huge time or cost investment on the part of the business.

You need to accept too that, despite the many benefits of having a pet friendly workplace, not all will welcome such a policy.

As Laura Vallance, Purina corporate affairs manager, advises: “We would strongly encourage any business who wants to implement a pet-friendly policy to undertake a proper consultation process with all their employees.

“Everyone’s views need to be taken into consideration; particularly those who suffer from pet related allergies or asthma or who have a fear of dogs. We take these issues seriously and have put measures in place to ensure that dog owners and non-dog owners feel comfortable.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to adopting a pets-at-work policy. Employers should start by getting their leadership team on board and, if possible, facilitate a ‘bring your dog to work’ day to test out how it might work and be received in your office.”

Purina has produced an easy-to-use Pets At Work Toolkit, based on its own experiences, which offers a six-step approach for businesses of any size to successfully introduce their own scheme. This contains health and safety advice, responsible pet ownership guidelines, advice on work space requirements and ready-to-use resources.

Finally, Purina has also recently launched the Pets at Work Alliance, which is designed to help other businesses reap the benefits of having dogs in the office.

As Laura Vallance puts it: “Our goal is to help 200 organisations across Europe open their doors to pets by 2020.”

If you’d like to find out more about the Pets At Work toolkit or to join the alliance, please visit: https://www.purina.co.uk/pins/pets-at-work or email pawallianceuk@purina.nestle.com

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