Can Companion Animals Facilitate Improved Communication In Organizations?

Can Companion Animals Facilitate Improved Communication In Organizations?

By: Melissa Szydlek

It is not difficult to find peer-reviewed studies on the health benefits of companion animals.  For example, Barker, Knisley, Barker, Cobb, and Schubert (2012) discussed the contributions of canine therapy dogs, military and police dogs, guiding dogs for the blind, and canines used in animal-assisted therapy outside of the workplace.  Barker et al. also noted a growing body of research that highlights the benefits of companion animals, most notably dogs, in organizations.  Much of the empirical literature contains discussions about the benefits of stress reduction in employees but other benefits are recognized as studies continue, including increased employee engagement, enhanced interpersonal communication, decreased employee absenteeism, and increased job satisfaction (Barker et al., 2012; Krause-Parello, Tychowski, Gonzalez, & Boyd, 2012; Linacre, 2016; Wilkin, Fairlie, & Ezzedeen, 2016).  Organizations in the United States that allow pets in the workplace and those that are developing policies related to the presence of pets at work are more prevalent now than in the past (Barker et al., 2012; Linacre, 2016; Wilkin et al., 2016).

Amazon, Google, and AutoDesk are just a few notable companies that have pet-friendly workplace policies (Stone, 2006).  Cole (2014) found companies with pet-friendly policies reported reduced levels of employee stress, better work-life balance, increased employee morale and engagement, and increased employee flexibility.  Stone and Linacre (2016) and Wilkin et al. (2016) noted many companies, including Amazon, Ben & Jerry’s, Google, Zynga, and others reported improved employee productivity and employee job satisfaction.  There is a large body of research that supports the positive influence of pet-friendly organizational policies and their correlation with improving or enhancing positive employee behaviors.

Krause-Parello et al. (2012) supported the health benefits of human-canine interactions.  In their study, the authors tested human saliva, cortisol, and immunoglobulin, 1gA, for stress indicators.  The results revealed participants, even when introduced to unfamiliar canines, exhibited reduced stress levels.  The results of the study supported mental well-being when obedient, calm, and well-behaved canines interacted with both men and women.  However, an earlier study by Miller, Kennedy, DeVoe, Hickey, Nelson, and Kogan (2009) displayed different findings.

In the Miller et al. (2009) study, oxytocin levels of men and women were tested as stress indicators.  Only women exhibited marked decreases in stress indicators while men showed either no change or increased levels (Miller et al., 2009).  Other studies by Barker et al. (2012) and Wilkin et al. focused less on biological markers and more on human behaviors such as productivity, employee engagement, and positive attitudes.  The Barker et al. study supported positive outcomes for firms with pet-friendly policies. Barker’s (2005) research was one of the first quantitative studies to focus on pets in the workplace. 

Pet-friendly policies in the workplace and their effects on employee health and behaviors are a passion of mine.  In the empirical literature, researchers have repeatedly illustrated how human-animal interaction reduced anxiety and stress in employees and increased their ability for effective communication.  Barker (2005) and Barker et al. (2012), for example, supported the positive effects of the presence of animals on social interactions between coworkers.  While the effect on interpersonal communication was not fully studied, Barker suggested continuing research on the positive effects of verbal and non-verbal communication in the workplace when animals are present.  Finally, Barker suggested that employees and thus the organization, benefitted from the presence of companion animals in the workplace.  The current empirical literature supports stress reduction, motivation increases, and increases in productivity, with the existence of pet-friendly policies.  Barker stated employee perceptions of organizational support are also increased, thus affecting these areas as well as increasing employee engagement, retention, and coworker/team support.

My Experience As a Certified Therapy Dog Handler

I am a certified therapy dog handler through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and volunteer locally in North Carolina through a nonprofit organization called PEP (Pets-Engaging-People/People-Engaging-Pets).  My Labrador, Artie, and I partner on visits to military bases, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, hospice centers, hospitals, Universities, and organizations.  The purpose of therapy dogs is to enrich the lives of those we visit through pet therapy.  Therapy can include petting the dogs, talking to the dogs, reading to the dogs, or just the presence of the dogs bringing confidence, comfort, and stress reduction.  I have experienced firsthand the positive effects of the presence of dogs on people.

I have taken Artie to organizations, including the firm where I work.  The company, a Civil Engineering firm, has no set pet policies, but they allow workers to bring their companion animals as long as the animals are well-behaved, calm, quiet, and clean.  The environment at work is high-stress, fast-paced, and often very busy.  I have watched two Engineers, for example, who could not come to an agreement on one aspect of a project stop yelling at each other while each of them petted Artie.  Their discussions became less agitated and more constructive, and later they both came to me and said just having Artie in the conference room with them made them calm down and they felt less stressed.  While these informal observations are very unscientific, the implications for future Industrial-Organizational (I-O) research is fascinating and worthy of future study.

Contribution to I-O Psychology

As Barker (2005) noted, several additional areas of future research can contribute to I-O psychology and the existing body of knowledge.  More research on the effects of companion animals on employee stress reduction and increased productivity are small areas that have potential.  Barker (2005) and Barker et al. (2012) noted the importance of pet-friendly policies.  The two studies noted how policies had positive outcomes on communication, teamwork, employee retention, and increasing the marketability and positive perceptions of the organization.  However, there are few studies that focus on how organizations and its Human Resources professionals create, implement, and track the effectiveness and sustainability of a pet-friendly workplace with policies in place that direct the presence of animals.  Future studies of this nature are a potential area of inquiry for I-O professionals.

 

References

Barker, R. T., Knisely, J. S., Barker, S. B., Cobb, R. K., & Schubert, C. M. (2012). Preliminary investigation of employee’s dog presence on stress and organizational perceptions. International Journal of Workplace Health Management, 5(1), 15-30. doi:10.1108/17538351211215366

Barker, R. T. (2005). On the edge or not? Opportunities for interdisciplinary scholars in business communication to focus on the individual and organizational benefits of companion animals in the workplace. International Journal of Business Communication, 42(3), 299-315. doi:10.1177/0021943605277399

Cole, S. (2014). 11 famous companies with enviable pet-friendly policies. Fast Company, 2014, October 22. Retrieved from: http://www.fastcompany.com/3037384/pet-week/11-famous-companies-with-env...

Krause-Parello, C. A., Tychowski, J., Gonzalez, A., & Boyd, Z. (2012) Human-canine interaction: Exploring stress indicator response patterns of salivary cortisol and immunoglobulin A. Research and Theory for Nursing Practice, 26(1), 25-40. doi:10.1891/1541-6577.26.1.25

Linacre, S. (2016). Pets in the workplace: A shaggy dog story? Human Resource Management International Digest, 24(4), 17-19. doi:10.1108/HRMID-04-2016-0042

Miller, S. C., Kennedy, C., DeVoe, D. Hickey, M., Nelson, T., & Kogan, L. (2009). An examination of oxytocin levels in men and women before and after interaction with a bonded dog. Anthrozoos, 22(1), 31-42. doi:10.2752/175303708X390455

Stone, T. (2006). Going to the dogs can be an employee morale-booster. New Hampshire Business Review, 28(21), 1. Retrieved from: http://www.nhbr.com/September-29-2006/Going-to-the-dogs-can-be-an-employ...

Wilkin, C. L., Fairlie, P., & Ezzedeen, S. R. (2016). Who let the dogs in? A look at pet-friendly workplaces.  International Journal of Workplace Health Management, 9(1), 96-109. doi:1.1108/IJWHM-04-2015-0021

About the Author

Melissa Szydlek

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Melissa Szydlek
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