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There’s been a lot of focus on workplace stress recently. Could pets at work, where that is possible, make a bigger difference than the latest well being initiative?
Pets are supposed to be good for reducing stress. Research shows that they also improve heart health as well as being great companions. Some workplaces even allow you to bring your pets into work occasionally. Indeed June 21st is this year’s Bring your dog to work day.
I’ve worked at an education publisher’s where dogs and cats wandered around the place. It definitely made for a more relaxed atmosphere. In the home office, of course, you can’t escape pets if you have any. They are your colleagues. They sit on your papers and try to knock your pen out of your hand which you are trying to work. They swing from the curtains or slobber all over your shoes while you are involved in a detailed conference call. This could be quite stress-inducing, but generally pets just lounge about looking really, really relaxed, belly up, as if they had not a care in the world. This can help to put things into some sense of perspective when you are battling some new organisational tool which is supposed to make your life easier and which you only master just as it is being replaced by yet another one.
Pets are also great for children’s emotional development. I recently interviewed someone whose research showed that children who had suffered adversity in their lives, such as a bereavement, divorce, instability and illness or were from disadvantaged backgrounds, were more likely to have a stronger relationship with their pets than their peers and that those with stronger relationships with their pets had a higher level of socially positive behaviour – such as helping, sharing, and co-operating – than their peers. Interestingly, these children, particularly girls and those whose pet was a dog, were more likely to confide in their pets than in their siblings.
The researcher speculated that this was maybe because they felt pets didn’t judge them. Girls tend to be the subject of thousands of daily micro-judgements. I can well imagine the attraction of not being judged.
In our house, with three teenage girls, pets are definitely more popular than siblings, depending on the time of day and who has ‘borrowed’ whose clothes and make-up, although that popularity does not extend to actual pet care, such as feeding. This is a task reserved purely for parents, it seems. It adds to the to do list, but pets are not stupid. They know that if they give back in the form of purring or rolling around or generally looking adorable, such tasks are performed willingly.
Managers could perhaps learn a lot from pets.