This article reports the findings of an exploratory study examining the perceived functions and psychological and organizational effects of pets in the workplace. Participants were 193 employees from 31 companies allowing pets in the workplace who completed anonymous questionnaires. Results indicated that participants perceived pets in the workplace to reduce stress and to positively affect employee health and the organization. Participants who brought their pets to work perceived greater benefits than participants who did not bring their pets to work and participants who did not own pets.
Animals have been used for practical purposes in the workplace for thousands of years. Horses and mules have been used to help farmers plow fields. Dogs have been used to help law enforcement officers find drugs and other hidden objects. However, many workplaces have animals that do not perform a traditional service. For example, a bookstore may have a resident cat that serves no useful function. Or does it? Previous research on this topic is nonexistent. The present study was the first attempt to explore perceptions of the functions and effects of companion animals in the workplace.
Companion animals, or pets as they are commonly called, have been found to have positive effects on several populations, including children, the elderly, the sick, and even prisoners. With regard to children, Levinson (1969) discovered that pets could be used in therapy with children by serving as an ice breaker between patient and therapist. Other research suggests that pets aid children’s social–emotional development by providing them with unconditional acceptance ( Endenburg & Baarda, 1995), teaching them how to care for others ( Poresky & Hendrix, 1990), improving their self-esteem, and teaching them about life events when their pets have offspring or die ( Endenburg & Baarda, 1995). Pets also have physiological benefits: The presence of a dog lowers the blood pressure of children engaged in a stressful activity ( Friedmann, Katcher, Thomas, Lynch, & Messant, 1983).
Among the elderly, pet owners have been found to be happier, more independent, and more optimistic than non-pet owners ( Hart, 1995; Riddick, 1985). Pet ownership may give the elderly an identity and a purpose in life ( Peretti, 1990), foster social interaction ( Mugford & M’Comisky, 1975; Rogers, Hart, & Boltz, 1993), and motivate them to exercise ( Hart, 1995). Pets may also have mental and physical health benefits for the elderly: Elderly pet owners who have recently lost their spouses are less depressed and make fewer medical visits each year than elderly non-pet owners ( Siegel, 1990). Moreover, among heart attack victims, pet owners are more likely to be alive 1 year after hospital admission than non-pet owners, regardless of the type of pet ( Friedmann, Katcher, Lynch, & Thomas, 1980). For the institutionalized elderly, the introduction of a pet increases resident activity, morale, and social interaction among residents and staff; provides affection and fun; and helps to create an aura of domesticity for residents removed from their homes ( Brickel, 1986; Corson & Corson, 1980; Hart, 1995; Savishinsky, 1992; Struckus, 1991).
Despite the abundance of research over the past couple of decades on the benefits of pets for various groups of people, research has failed to address the possible effects of pets in the workplace on employees. The practice of bringing one’s pet to work appears to be growing ( McCullough, 1998), yet there is no empirical research on the effects of doing so. However, it seems plausible that pets may have similar psychological and physical health effects for employees at work.
Functions of Pets
Research on the social meanings of pets suggests that they serve three major functions ( Veevers, 1985). Pets may serve a surrogate function for people without friends, mates, or children; a self-expressive function by which pet owners express their personalities through their pets; and a sociability function by facilitating social interaction between people. Pets in the workplace are most likely to serve the last two functions.
Pets in the workplace may serve a self-expressive function by which pet owners use their pets to express themselves and their personalities ( Veevers, 1985). For example, a person who chooses a large, aggressive dog may be trying to project a macho image. In the workplace, a common method of self-expression is the personalization of one’s workspace. Personalization is the decoration or modification of an environment by its occupants to reflect their identities ( Sommer, 1974; Sundstrom, 1986). This type of self-expression has been found to serve many psychological functions, including helping people regulate social interaction ( Altman, 1975; Brown, 1987) and helping workers cope with stress ( Scheiberg, 1990). Personalization is even associated with organizational benefits such as greater levels of job satisfaction and employee morale and lower rates of turnover ( Brill, Margulis, & Konar, 1984; Sundstrom, 1986; Wells, 2000). It is clear that expressing oneself at work is important to employees. The present study explored whether individuals who bring their pets to work perceive them as serving as a mode of self-expression similar to workspace personalization.
Employees can also personalize their collective workspaces with organizational symbols—objects in an organization that convey meanings about the organization that are distinct from meanings connoted by these objects when viewed outside the organization ( Ornstein, 1986). There are three types of organizational symbols: authority symbols, reward symbols, and empathic symbols. These symbols influence a person’s impressions of an organization ( Ornstein, 1986). Authority symbols such as flags convey legitimacy, reward symbols such as plaques convey accomplishment, and empathic symbols such as artwork and plants convey warmth and comfort. The present study explored whether pets in the workplace serve as empathic organizational symbols by conveying warmth and helping clients feel more comfortable.
Research suggests that pets, like workspace personalization items, also serve as “social lubricants” to facilitate social interaction by serving as a conversation piece ( Mehrabian & Diamond, 1971; Mugford & M’Comisky, 1975; Veevers, 1985). The present study explored whether pets in the workplace are perceived to facilitate social interaction among employees, supervisors, and clients.
This exploratory study examined the possible functions and psychological and organizational effects of pets in the workplace. Three main questions were addressed. First, to what extent are pets in the workplace perceived to serve four functions for employees: allowing the pet owners to express their personalities; facilitating social interaction among employees, supervisors, and clients; serving as empathic organizational symbols by conveying warmth and comfort; and reducing employee stress? Second, to what extent are pets in the workplace perceived to affect employee health and organizational issues (e.g., job satisfaction and morale)? Finally, are these perceptions different for owners/managers and employees, and are they different for employees who bring their pets to work, employees who do not bring their pets to work, and employees who do not own pets?
The study was conducted in a two-county region of central Kentucky where the largest city is Lexington (population 225,000). Companies allowing pets in the workplace were recruited using a variety of methods, including advertisements in local newspapers, signs at veterinary offices, an interview on a public radio station, and referrals from other participants. Thirty-eight companies indicated interest, and 31 (82%) completed the study.
A total of 443 surveys were distributed, and 193 were collected for a response rate of 44%. Various types of companies participated: wholesale/retail sales ( n = 15), service ( n = 9), manufacturing/construction ( n = 3), professional offices ( n = 3), and one radio station. The number of employees at each company ranged from 1 to 80 ( Mdn = 5). Participants consisted of owners (16%), managers (18%), and staff/employees (66%). Most participants worked at the company full time (90%), were Caucasian (93%), ranged from 25 to 54 years of age (75%), and had college degrees or some college education (69%). Sixty percent were female, 51% were married, and 46% had children. Most participants (76%) had pets at home.
The materials consisted of a questionnaire we developed for the purpose of this study. There were two versions of the questionnaire: one for the employees and one for the business owner or a manager at each company. The employee questionnaire consisted of several sections. The first section asked questions about the pets in the workplace, including the number and type of pets in the workplace, the owners of the pets, number of hours per day the pets were in the workplace, and the amount of contact the participant had with the pets. The second section asked about the participants’ reactions to the pets by having them rate their feelings about pets in the workplace on a 6-point scale from 1 ( dislike) to 6 ( like). This section also included four open-ended questions asking the participants to describe the benefits and drawbacks of pets in the workplace to them and to customers. This section also asked the participants to rate 25 functions that pets in the workplace might serve for them (e.g., providing companionship, helping cope with stress) on a 6-point scale from 1 ( not at all) to 6 ( very much). Finally, this section asked participants to rate the extent to which pets in the workplace affected them on 10 personal and organizational issues (e.g., mental health, job satisfaction, productivity, and morale) on a 7-point scale from –3 ( negatively affects) to +3 ( positively affects). The owner/manager questionnaire was similar to the employee questionnaire but included additional questions regarding the organization, such as the type of company, the number of employees, and the company’s policy on pets in the workplace. Each questionnaire was delivered in an unsealed manila envelope. Attached to each envelope was a letter thanking the employee for participating and providing instructions.
Surveys were hand-delivered to the owner or manager of each company. The owner/manager was instructed to distribute the questionnaires to all employees having access to the workplace pets and ask them to complete the questionnaires, seal them in the envelopes provided for confidentiality, and return them to the owner/manager within 5 days. After several days, the questionnaires were picked up by a research assistant.
Several composite variables were developed to make the data analyses and reporting more concise. To assess the self-expressive function of pets, we developed a composite from four variables that were summed and the sum divided by 4. These questions asked whether pets served to express one’s personality and emotions, to present a positive impression of oneself, and to show one’s status. Cronbach’s alpha was .84. To assess the social function of pets, we created a composite from seven variables assessing whether pets provided social interaction with coworkers and clients, attracted attention, entertained people, and improved relations with coworkers, superiors, and clients. Cronbach’s alpha was .88. To assess the perceived function of pets as empathic organizational symbols, we created a composite from four variables assessing whether pets attracted clients, presented a positive impression of the company, reduced clients’ anxiety, and fostered company identity. Cronbach’s alpha was .80. To assess the extent to which pets serve a stress-reduction function, we created a composite from two variables assessing whether pets helped one cope with stress and improved one’s mood. Cronbach’s alpha was .88. To assess the perceived health effects of pets, we created a composite from two variables assessing whether pets affected one’s mental health and physical health. Cronbach’s alpha was.78. Finally, to assess the perceived organizational effects of pets, we created a composite from eight variables assessing whether pets affected satisfaction with one’s work environment, job satisfaction, productivity, work quality, attendance, commitment to the company, morale, and creativity. Cronbach’s alpha was .94.
Coding Open-Ended Questions
There were four open-ended questions regarding the participants’ perceptions of the benefits and drawbacks of pets in the workplace for themselves and for their customers. To analyze these questions, two research assistants listed every type of response given to each question, and then we determined which responses fit together and decided on the final categories. To assess interrater reliability, we selected a random sample of 30 questionnaires, and two research assistants unfamiliar with the study separately coded all four questions. Agreement was 84%.
Descriptive analyses were performed to get some information about the pets and participants in our sample. The workplace pets in our sample included only cats (32% of companies; range = 1–3) and dogs (74% of companies; range = 1–5). In most companies, the pet policy had been determined by the owner (86%), and the pets stayed at work only during business hours (63%). Fourteen percent of participants brought their pets to work, 63% did not bring their pets to work, and 23% did not own pets. Of those participants who brought their pets to work, the majority (84%) were the business owners or managers.
The participants’ number of hours of contact with the pets ranged from 1 to 24 ( Mdn = 2.00). However, a Mann–Whitney test revealed that the owner/managers had more contact with the pets ( Mdn = 7.25) than did the employees ( Mdn = 1.50), z = 2.79, p < .01, perhaps because the pets usually belonged to the business owners rather than the employees.
When asked how they felt about pets in the workplace, the participants’ responses ranged from 1 ( dislike) to 6 ( like; Mdn = 6.00). Although both groups’ median score was 6.00, a Mann–Whitney test revealed that owner/managers felt more positively about pets at work ( M = 5.52, SD = 1.18) than employees did ( M = 4.92, SD = 1.56), z = 2.12, p < .05, perhaps because the owner/managers tended to own the workplace pets. Because most pets belonged to the owner/managers, in further analyses we did not compare owner/managers with employees. Rather we focused on the three pet-owning status groups: brings pet to work, does not bring pet to work, and does not own pet. A Kruskal–Wallis test revealed that participants who bring their pet to work like pets in the workplace more ( Mdn = 6.00, M = 5.81) than both participants who do not bring their pets to work ( Mdn = 6.00, M = 4.96) and participants who do not own pets ( Mdn = 5.00, M = 4.66), ? 2(2, N = 191) = 17.19, p < .001.
Perceived Functions of Pets at Work
The first two research questions asked to what extent pets in the workplace are perceived to serve various functions and have various effects. We report mean ratings of the composite scores for each function and benefit. The four functions were rated on a 6-point scale from 1 ( not at all) to 6 ( very much). Pets in the workplace were most likely to be perceived to reduce stress ( M = 3.91, SD = 1.74), followed by to facilitate social interaction ( M = 2.78, SD = 1.22), to serve as an organizational symbol ( M = 2.76, SD = 1.32), and lastly to serve a self-expressive function (all participants: M = 2.19, SD = 1.08; only participants who bring their pets to work: M = 2.65, SD = .92). The two effects were rated on a 7-point scale from –3 ( negatively affects) to +3 ( positively affects). Pets in the workplace were perceived as positively affecting both health ( M = 1.09, SD = 1.25) and organizational issues ( M = .80, SD = 1.10). It should be noted that the means for the two benefits were above 0 ( not at all affects).
The third research question asked whether perceptions of the functions and effects of pets in the workplace differed depending on one’s pet-owning status (brings pet to work, does not bring pet to work, or does not own a pet). A between-subjects multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was performed on six dependent variables: the four functions and the two effects of pets. The independent variable was the participants’ pet-owning status. SPSS MANOVA was used for the analyses. Using the Wilks’s criterion, the combined dependent variables were significantly affected by pet-owning status, F(6, 163) = 3.67, p < .001. The multivariate ? 2 based on Wilks’s ? was .12.
As a follow-up to the MANOVA, a discriminant analysis was conducted to determine whether the perceived functions and effects of pets in the workplace could predict pet-owning status. Discriminant analysis was selected because the predictors were correlated (see Table 1). The four functions and two effects were entered as predictors. The overall Wilks’s lambda was significant, ? = .78, ? 2(12, N = 171) = 41.89, p < .001, indicating that the six variables differentiated among the three pet-owning status groups. The test revealed that there were two discriminant functions. However, after partialing out the effects of the first discriminant function, the residual Wilks’s lambda was nonsignificant ( p = .33). Therefore, we interpret only the first discriminant function, which has the strongest relationship with health ( r = .95), followed by organizational issues ( r = .70) and stress ( r = .66). Thus, we have labeled this discriminant function health/organizational effects. Twenty percent of the variability in scores for this function is accounted by differences in pet-owning status (? 2 = .20). The means on the health/organizational effects function indicate that participants who bring their pets to work perceive more benefits ( M = 1.13) than participants who do not bring their pets to work ( M = .00) and participants who do not own pets ( M = –.45).
ocp-6-1-81-tbl1a.gifCorrelation Matrix for Functions and Effects of Pets in the Workplace
Classification analysis was used to produce a classification function. This function correctly classified 66% of the participants in our sample into their pet-owning status groups. To take into account chance agreement, we computed a kappa coefficient, which obtained a value of .19, indicating a better-than-chance level of prediction ( p < .001). Finally, to assess how well the classification procedure would predict in a new sample, we estimated the percentage of participants accurately classified by using the leave-one-out technique, which correctly classified 63% of the cases.
It was considered that the three variables correlated with the health/organizational effects function may be redundant. Therefore, we conducted another discriminant analysis using a stepwise method. Results revealed that the variable entered first always accounted for a significant percentage of the variability among the groups, and the variables entered next were nonsignificant, suggesting redundancy. However, when pet-owning status was predicted using only one variable, fewer participants were classified correctly (33%–44%), suggesting that the combination of variables discriminate better than any of the variables individually.
Perceived Benefits and Drawbacks of Pets at Work
Responses to the open-ended questions regarding participants’ perceptions of the benefits and drawbacks of pets in the workplace are reported as the percentage of participants who gave that response. Results are reported separately for participants in companies with cats ( n = 97) and dogs ( n = 110).
The most frequently reported benefits to employees were that the pet relieves stress (cat = 29%; dog = 21%), makes the environment more friendly (cat = 21%; dog = 18%), provides a pleasant diversion from work (cat = 19%; dog = 9%), and provides companionship (cat = 4%; dog = 12%), or there are no benefits (cat = 16%; dog = 19%). When asked about the potential benefits to customers, two of the most frequently noted benefits were actually benefits for the company: The pet is good for business (cat = 15%; dog = 34%) and creates a positive impression of the company (cat = 25%; dog = 21%). Other common responses were that the pet fosters social interaction (cat = 20%; dog = 22%) and reduces stress (cat = 9%; dog = 16%), or there were no benefits (cat = 38%; dog = 26%).
When asked about the drawbacks of pets in the workplace to employees, the two most frequently reported drawbacks were “none” (cat = 43%; dog = 55%) and nuisance issues such as barking (cat = 25%; dog = 19%). Other frequently cited drawbacks included hair/fur problems (cat = 32%; dog = 9%), cleanliness issues (cat = 24%; dog = 9%), and distraction (cat = 8%; dog = 16%). When asked about the drawbacks to customers, the most frequent responses were “none” (cat = 43%; dog = 55%), customers’ potential fear or dislike of the pet (cat = 26%; dog = 35%), allergies (cat = 29%; dog = 11%), hair/fur problems (cat = 15%; dog = 3%), and unprofessional appearance (cat = 13%; dog = 4%).
The present study discovered several interesting findings regarding companies that allow pets in the workplace and the perceived psychological and organizational effects of these pets. In terms of company characteristics, the majority of companies participating in this study were small companies employing fewer than 10 employees. This may suggest that small companies are more likely than large companies to allow pets at work or that small companies may be more likely to participate in research. The findings also suggest that the majority of pets at work belong to the business owners and stay at work only during business hours.
With regard to the functions of pets in the workplace, pets were most likely to be perceived to reduce stress but were less likely to be perceived to facilitate social interaction, to serve as an organizational symbol, or to serve a self-expressive function. However, pets were likely to be perceived as positively affecting employee health and organizational issues. The findings also suggest that participants who bring their pets to work perceived greater benefits than both participants who do not bring their pets to work and participants who do not own pets.
The open-ended questions also revealed interesting findings. Participants reported that pets make the work environment more comfortable, provide a pleasant diversion from work, and provide companionship. Participants also reported benefits to customers, stating that pets entertain and relax customers. However, they did have some concerns: Some participants perceived the pet as a nuisance or a distraction, and some complained of allergies, fur on furniture, and uncleanliness. Others were concerned that some customers might be afraid of or dislike the pet.
The findings of this study should be interpreted cautiously owing to several limitations. First of all, the sample was self-selected, so those companies and employees who participated may have been different from those who did not participate. For example, all the companies in this sample had pets in the workplace. Companies that may have had pets in the past but perhaps discontinued doing so because of drawbacks were not included. Therefore, because the companies in the sample still had pets at work, they may have been more positive about pets at work than other companies. In addition, the employee-level response rate was only 44%, indicating that 56% of the employees did not participate. The employees who participated could have been more or less positive about pets in the workplace than those who did not participate. Second, the companies in this study were small, so the findings may not generalize to larger companies. Future research should examine the effects of pets in larger companies. Third, the study relied on self-report measures of employees’ perceptions of the effects of pets in the workplace. This leaves room for error because perceptions are not always accurate. Furthermore, although self-report measures may be the best way to assess some constructs such as job satisfaction and mental health, future studies could use objective measures for some constructs such as productivity, work quality, and attendance. Fourth, it is plausible that those who brought pets to work had more positive attitudes toward pets in the workplace to be consistent with their behavior and avoid cognitive dissonance. Perhaps bringing one’s pet to work leads to a more positive attitude toward pets in the workplace, rather than vice versa.
Future research may want to address a couple of other issues as well. Most importantly, future research should compare companies with pets and companies without pets to determine whether the perceived psychological and organizational effects are real. Also, this study surveyed business owners, managers, and employees and asked them questions about the functions and effects of pets in the workplace. Future studies should survey the customers of companies allowing pets in the workplace to get their perspectives.
In conclusion, this exploratory study of the perceived functions and effects of pets in the workplace suggests that many employees perceive pets in their workplaces to reduce stress and to benefit their health and their organization. The existing body of literature suggests that pets provide benefits for various populations, such as children and the elderly. The present study suggests that perhaps one day business owners and employees may be added to this list.
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