Dogs May Take the Bite Out of Stress at Work

Having Dogs at Work Reduces Stress, Increases Job Satisfaction for Some

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 3, 2012 -- Bringing your dog to work may take the bite out of stress and improve overall job satisfaction for the whole office.

A new study suggests having dogs at work may provide healthy benefits for their owners as well as some other employees.

"The differences in perceived stress between days the dog was present and absent were significant," researcher Randolph T. Barker, PhD, professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Business, says in a news release. "The employees as a whole had higher job satisfaction than industry norms."

Previous studies have already shown pets can provide a number of stress-busting benefits for their owners, such as lowering blood pressure and providing social support.

But researchers say this is the first study to measure the effect of employees' pet dogs in the workplace on employees' stress and job satisfaction.

Although the findings need to be confirmed in larger studies, researchers say the results suggest that dogs may buffer the effects of stress for their owners and make the day more enjoyable for others who come in contact with them.

"Dogs in the workplace can make a positive difference," Barker says. "The effect of pets in reducing the impact of stress and enhancing communication found in other settings may extend to the workplace."

Dogs a Bonus for Their Owners

In the study, researchers looked at the effects dogs have on their owners at work, as well as other employees' stress levels, perceived support, commitment to their employer, and job satisfaction.

The employees worked at a service-manufacturing retail company in Greensboro, N.C., that has about 550 employees. About 20 to 30 dogs are at the company headquarters each day.

Over the course of a typical work week, researchers collected saliva samples in the morning and surveyed the employees throughout the day. The saliva samples were analyzed for the stress hormone cortisol.

The results showed that cortisol levels were similar in the morning for all employees, but self-reported stress levels declined during the course of the day for employees who had their dogs with them.

Meanwhile, self-reported stress levels increased during the day for dog owners who did not bring their dogs to work.

Dogs Improve Bottom Line?

Researchers also found that having dogs at work fostered unique dog-related communication between employees that may improve job performance and satisfaction.

For example, employees without a dog would request to take a co-worker's dog out on a break. This resulted in positive exchanges between employees, as well as breaks involving exercise, another known stress reducer.

"Pet presence may serve as a low-cost wellness intervention readily available to many organizations and may enhance organizational satisfaction and perceptions of support," Barker says. "Of course, it is important to have policies in place to ensure only friendly, clean, and well-behaved pets are present in the workplace."

The results appear in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management.

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SOURCES: Barker, R. International Journal of Workplace Health Management, March 2012. News release, Virginia Commonwealth University.

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