The global coronavirus pandemic and its lockdowns means that many employees are now working from home, which has allowed those of us with pets to spend more time with them.
Prior to the pandemic, many workplaces in the UK were already offering workplace benefits and perks such as flexible working, unlimited annual leave, and for the pet lover out there: the chance to bring their furry friend to the office.
Now a new study highlights the benefits of having a dog in the office, whether it be in a traditional office environment or working from home (WFH).
The study, conducted by Garden Buildings Direct, a UK-based garden office supplier, showed that having a pet while working from home can increase work output and can have positive impact on our mental health.
The study questioned multiple experts (including in the fields of psychology, mental health, workplace wellbeing, productivity, and more) among the benefits of having a dog during work from home include: helping with mental health, companionship, productivity, routine, and exercise.
Pets can have a positive impact on mental health
Catherine Burn, consultant at Shine Workplace Wellbeing, said, “The evidence is mounting that those forced to work from home during the pandemic have experienced decreases in their mental wellbeing. The most common problems which impact employees’ mental health have been loneliness and burnout.”
“In a usual working environment, we are surrounded by colleagues which helps us to feel part of a community, but without these daily interactions we can soon become lonely,” Burn said.
Paul McCrossin, chiropractor and United Chiropractic Association President, N8 Health, and contributor to the study added that any strategy that reduces stress is helpful and pets have been shown to reduce stress levels not only having dogs but cats as well. Reducing stress means lower blood pressure and reduced cardiovascular disease risk as an added benefit.
Brandon Engley of website Dog Friendly Sheffield, said that “stroking a dog for 10 minutes can lower cortisol levels while also increasing the release of our feel-good hormones”.
Pets also offer companionship during WFH
As well as helping mental health, pets can also offer companionship, helping us to combat loneliness.
Burn said that “pets are great companions. They can give you company, especially when you’re not around your colleagues, which can help you feel less isolated”.
While virtual working, pet parents can connect better with other co-workers who also have pets. They can also provide affection, someone to talk to and could lower stress.
Pets can boost productivity at work
There are studies that show that having a pet can actually increase our work output.
Sean Liddell, managing director at Mindful Training Ltd and contributor to the research, said, “Pets also help increase productivity for remote workers by providing a distraction, avoiding burn out and enabling workers to work consistently throughout a working day at a more even pace due to regular small breaks which recharge the workers capacity for work”.
Sue McCabe, trainer and behaviorist at Muttamorphosis Dog Training added, “Psychologists have long since known that taking regular breaks increases productivity and creativity levels at work. Whether working from home or in an office, having a dog to keep workers company could help to positively affect their health. This turn can lead to fewer sick days being taken and in an increase of overall productivity”.
At the office, dog can also help improve communication and team bonding when co-workers come to greet a dog and their dog parent.
Burn added, “Colleagues rated teammates higher on trust, team cohesion and camaraderie when they had a dog on screen during their virtual meeting”.
Pets help us stick to a routine
The study found that pets can also help their humans to stick to a routine.
“Having a pet means that you have to care for someone other than yourself, who will need feeding and care at particular times during the day,” Burn said. “Dogs thrive on having a routine, and in the absence of a usual routine ourselves they can provide a great lifeline to us to keep ourselves in a routine too”.
Having a routine can help manage symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Pets can help with exercise
Having a dog can be a great way to get exercise while working from home.
While commuters in London and other big cities can usually get in a number of steps walking and taking the tube and bus to the office, they can now get in that same exercise (and more) by walking their dog more often as they work from home.
Burn added, “In particular, dogs are a great excuse to get out and have some exercise, and even speak to a few dog owners along the way which helps social connection. The benefits of regular exercise on mental health are well supported; it can reduce stress, improve your mood and help you sleep better”.
The impact on pets
The lockdown has already had an impact on our pets as many of us are around them more often. The study cautioned that this impact could be positive or negative for different dogs.
McCabe said, “Some dogs will have relished in having their owners at home more, but others will have found the noise and activity of the busy household more difficult to cope with.
While there are many benefits to having a dog, Tara Quinn-Cirillo, Horsham Psychology has some words for those who are adding a dog to their home during the lockdown.
“We do also need to consider the ethics of acquiring a pet during lockdown if this is not something you have considered before. A new pet can be a large transition and involve a considerable amount of emotional and physical input. This may not be wise if you are already struggling with the demands placed upon you when working from home and perhaps managing additional pressure such as childcare,” Quinn-Cirillo said.
Case studies on Garden Buildings Direct’s research can be found here.