Pets at Work: Can Dogs Help With Mental Illness in the Workplace

Pets at Work by Olivia Pennington Wright  |Last Updated 12-8-2021

Mental Illness has long been an issue that has been swept under the carpet, but as Jordan Peterson will tell you, life is suffering.

As we make our way through life, loved ones die, relationships fail, we get sick, we lose jobs, and most of us struggle financially.

All these things can get us down and make us stressed.

However, many of us are predisposed to depression. At least 1 in 4 people will encounter mental illness throughout their lifetimes.

Healthy workers are more productive and pets at work can help.Healthy workers are more productive and pets at work can help.

Workforce Woes:  Dealing with Employees with a Real Mental Illness

And yet, the subject of mental illness is still in many ways taboo. Countless attempts are being made to bring mental health into the arena, and yet the stigma still remains.

The charity Heads Together, spearheaded by William, Kate & Harry attempts to advocate for those suffering from some issues including anxiety, PTSD and grief.

Employers have for a long time acknowledged that healthy workers are more productive and have provided perks such as gym memberships and fresh fruit.

Yet when it comes to mental illness, it’s a touchy subject. Employers will groan and tell you about workers who are “still off sick with depression” with a roll of their eyes as though they are taking an extended holiday at their expense.

Yet Employers are not taking a proactive approach to what is a prevalent problem that they could perhaps have helped with before it got to the stage of long-term sickness.

Many companies are now acknowledging the issue and are putting in to place meaningful measures for workplace mental health including sending staff to courses to become mental health first aiders.

Once trained such staff can provide assistance themselves or refer employees to appropriate counselling or medical services.

Mental health issues are complex, and for the most part, a complex problem demands a complex solution.

However, that’s not always the case.

For the mental health first aider, putting their training into practice can be difficult.  Even after hours of training, realizing a colleague may have a mental illness may be uncomfortable.

There’s the how to approach factor? Should I delve a little deeper? Take them off to a side office and try to cure sad mood with a cup of tea and a sympathetic ear? Or refer them to a relevant counselor? Hopefully, they can provide some useful help either immediate or otherwise.

Pets at Work

However, there is another solution.

Enter Molly the Golden Retriever. She has not been on the mental health first aid course. 

Pets at work can boost the morale of all employees.Pets at work can boost the morale of all employees.

However, somehow, she just knows you’re really down in the dumps and makes her way over to you without any awkwardness.

Molly happens to be a dab hand at dealing with mental health issues, in fact, she’s been doing it since she was a pup.

So, a good two years now.

She approaches gently with her trademark big doey eyes; her tail wagging, and straight away begins administering treatment.

Molly has a well-practiced routine. It’s sometimes a knowing nudge and an offer of a bear hug. She has a full repertoire of looks, being the professional she is.

There’s the: I understand. I’m sorry.

Please cheer up. Come on, things are not so bad. Are you feeling just a little better? I see you’re feeling better, how’s about a treat or a walk?

It never ceases to amaze me the enrichment that pets can bring to our lives. From being the eyes for blind people and giving them back their independence, to being able to warn their owner, they are about to have a seizure. Dogs are truly amazing.

Healing Power of Dogs in the Workforce

But pets of all kinds have amazing healing effects including lowering blood pressure. In fact, doctors have known for years that the stress relieving qualities of pets are remarkable.

Benefits of Pets at Work

Research has illuminated a host of benefits that dogs can bring to the workplace. They reduce stress levels and boost morale.

Having pets at work also increases productivity, provides inspiration, improves job satisfaction, encourages employee interactions, promotes healthy break times and provides a healthy work life blend.

All of this means that the better an employee feels, the more focused they are, and consequently, they produce better quality work.

Pets at Work can help reduce stress and lower levels of anxiety and depression.Pets at Work can help reduce stress and lower levels of anxiety and depression.

Having dogs in the workplace not only reduces stress levels but is associated with higher job performance and lower levels of depression and anxiety diagnoses.

Workplaces that allow dogs to come in also benefit from having lower levels of absenteeism. Not just that dogs as well as being endearing by nature are also amusing.

They raise spirits, and the comic relief from their antics produces shared laughter throughout the office making the workplace a happier and more united one.

Employees also feel that if an employer allows them to bring their dog to work, they actually care about them and this is another factor in increasing staff retention.

Managing Pets at Work

Having been convinced of the benefits of bringing pets into the workplace, it does take a little management as not all dogs are suitable to bring to the office. 

Nestle Purina has launched the Pets at Work (PAW) Alliance which aims to raise awareness of the benefits of pets in the workplace and help 200 organizations across Europe to become pet friendly by 2020. 

Purina notes that it’s not all about the benefits for employees and employers.

Dogs are sociable creatures and given the choice of a long day spent on their own at home or a day in the office interacting with their owners, other dogs, and people, they’d choose the latter every time.

It does have to be said that cats do tend to fare better than dogs when left at home. They are far more adept at amusing themselves at home and also not so many cats would be able to handle an office environment.

Pet Friendly Employers Have an Advantage

Many employees when considering where to work will look for pet friendly employers and may even view this policy as an absolute must, so to attract top talent that are pet owners, employers need a pet friendly policy.

Allowing employees to bring their dog to work portrays a positive reflection. The company is perceived to be approachable, flexible, considerate and forward-thinking. This results in a better public image to prospective employees.

Currently, these are some of the top pet friendly workplaces in the UK:

  • Nestle
  • Ben & Jerry’s
  • Amazon
  • Google
  • Etsy
  • Firebox
  • Blue Cross
  • CTJT
  • GoDaddy
  • Next Model Management
  • Pets at Home
  • Procter & Gamble
  • SalesForce
  • Dogs Trust
  • WeWork

Pitfalls to Pets at Work

Obviously, there are some things to consider before implementing a pet friendly policy. You may have employees that are allergic to dogs, scared of them or just dislike them.

Having a dog in the office could lead to an issue if a dog damages or chews office equipment or if they get into a fight with another dog. It’s likely that large companies will have your dog go through an assessment to ensure he is suitable.

Purina has an independent specialist who will assess your dog and guide him through the PaW programme. After 3 months’ probation, your dog receives his Pawsport.

If your workplace doesn’t have a pet policy, then Purina have some ideas to help you pitch the benefits of pets to your boss.

Once again, it has to be said that the healing power of pets is simply amazing. Their bond with humans and joy they give is unrivalled.

Undoubtedly developing a first class employee assistance program is paramount to tackling mental health in the workplace but implementing a pet friendly policy in conjunction with this is a proven winning formula.

About the Author

Olivia Pennington Wright is a professional copywriter and marketing strategist, specialising in health, wellness and nutrition content. She also runs the blog MissPetPaws which focuses on sustainable choices for cat owners.  

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About Janice (author and voice behind this site)

Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, Janice served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu, but she has also lived with Poodles, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, Beagles, English Bulldogs, Carin Terriers, and a Cocker Spaniel.

When not writing, reading, and researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, husband, and family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu and Smart-Knit-Crocheting

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