I remember the first time I heard that a local software company decided to make their employees' pets welcome in the office.
What, I thought? Pets at work? If you allow pets, won't that disrupt the office?
I never was a dog person, and I'd grown allergic to cats, so to me, the whole thing just didn't have any appeal.
Then last month, I adopted my first dog, and now I understand.
Smart companies allow pets because it makes work more fun for the employees, who become more productive and fun to be around.
I find that I work with more focus as my dog sleeps next to me, and when he's ready to go out for a walk, that's a good break for me, too, because it lets me clear my own head and get the blood pumping again. And when I'm feeling pressure or stress, giving the dog a belly rub brings me right back to calm and centered.
Purina, the dog food people, are leaders in the pets at work movement.
The company thinks that their PAW (Pets at Work) program is one reason they're rated first among 19 St. Louis "Top Places to Work."
Many of their 6,500 employees take advantage of their Pets at Work program, and happy pet owners talk about how much better it feels to bring their dog or cat to work with them, and say that having the animal they love with them makes them feel better and get more done.
Purina wants to inspire other companies to their own Pets at Work program, and they cite many benefits.
FOR PETS: Pets get to see new things and meet new people and other animals, which is great for their socialization and keeping them mentally strong. They also get to spend much more quality time with their owners, and few pets would complain about that.
FOR EMPLOYEES: People just feel happier and more relaxed around their pets, and that influences how they work, and the quality of work they produce. They also become more social with coworkers, because pets give them something to talk and interact about. Their health improves because a break to the dog park is always better for you than a break with a cup of coffee and a newspaper.
FOR COMPANIES: Letting employees have their pet at work gives them a stronger sense of work-life balance means a happier workforce, and that means more productivity. It's also a great marketing highlight when trying to attract and retain top talent. An employee who's used to bringing Fifi to the office with them is less likely to take another job where Fifi isn't welcome.
The biggest benefit is how much a pet at work can reduce stress.
A study in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management looked at Replacements, Ltd., a North Carolina company that sells pieces of china and dinnerware, which began allowing pets in the office back in the 1990s.
Their three test groups included employees who brought their dog to work, employees who left their dogs at home and employees who did not have pets. The study took saliva samples to monitor the presence of the stress hormone cortisol to see how stress levels changed during the day.
The result was dramatic: People who brought their dogs to work actually reduced their cortisol level by 11% at the end of the day, while people who didn't have pets, or who didn't bring their pet to work, increased their stress up to 70%.
There do need to be some ground rules, of course.
Obviously, pets need to be well socialized, vaccinated, stay on leashes and behave. It's important to put guidelines in place, and to have executive leadership and support.
Companies that allow pets at work can see productivity go up, employees who are much happier in their jobs, new ways that employees can interact, and employees spending break time playing with their pet in the dog park rather than another cup of coffee and a newspaper in the break room.
Pets welcome is good business.
If you'd like to start your own PAW program, Purina has put together information for you, including five simple steps to get started. From authorization forms to tips about how to set up the office, it walks you through getting your office into a pet-friendly mode.
I know I'm hooked on having my dog by my side as I work. He's snoring next to me right now.
(And by the way, a shout out to all the great people who rescue dogs and help them find their forever homes. My little guy had a rough start in life, but a few kind souls (thanks Peggy!) saved him from a high-kill shelter and now he's right where he needs to be. If you are looking for a dog, won't you consider adopting a rescue?)
More about office culture in the 21st century: