When Myrthe Kusse of Dutch company Wallaart & Kusse Public Affairs gets to work in the morning, there’s always someone there to greet her.
Office cat Sammie is sat on a desk, waiting to be fed breakfast and given a fresh bowl of water.
“Until a few years ago, Sammie lived in a student house,” explained Kusse. “But the students had to leave and Sammie needed a new home. A colleague of ours happened to want a cat, but his partner didn’t, so we all decided to take on the cat as an office.”
For bigger companies like Google, it’s nothing unusual to take your dog to the office but the same seems to be the case for a lot of Dutch companies too — on LinkedIn, there are currently 75 active vacancies at Dutch companies that mention an office dog.
Nowadays, it seems it’s not such an outlandish idea to have a pet in the office — there are actually quite a few advantages. For example, a few years ago, research by Virginia Commonwealth University showed that people experience less stress when a dog is around.
Researchers took saliva samples from factory employees and looked at how much of the stress hormone cortisol was in it. The results showed that only the employees who had had a dog in their vicinity had low cortisol levels by the end of the day.
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“It’s definitely good for the work atmosphere to have a dog in the office,” said Marie-José Enders, who studies the relationship between animals and humans at the Open University. “Not only does your cortisol level drop when you stroke a dog; you also produce more of the hormone oxytocin, which makes you feel more relaxed and happy.”
Having pets in the office also has other bonuses
“If your boss is giving you a hard time, a dog can make it easier to put certain situations into perspective. You can just take a bit of space and walk the dog,” said Enders. “An animal at work makes people more motivated — they like their work more and they experience less stress.”
Esther Jonker, the owner of labradoodle Joep, noticed all these effects in video marketing company TVMC’s office where she works.
“I’ve been taking Joep to the office every day for about two years now,” she said, “and he usually lifts the atmosphere considerably. If we’re all a bit engrossed in something, he’ll notice, he’ll pop over and he’ll press his nose against you for a stroke.”
“When we’ve been very busy working on something, it’s nice to play with Joep,” she said. “I think it makes us more productive.”
Joep also brings a lot of fun to the office. “If you put your bag on the floor and there are treats inside, he always manages to fish them out — and sometimes he steals things, then runs through the whole office with a stack of paper or something.”
One thing about the set-up that isn’t quite as popular?
“The walking,” said Jonker, “especially in winter.”
In spite of this, both Jonker and Kusse think office pets are also good for team morale.
“We often laugh together about Sammie,” said Kusse, “She’s scared of the printer and loves to climb into any box she can get her paws on. She often comes to the office with mice too, although some aren’t too keen on that! It’s just entertaining to watch her. Taking care of Sammie together works well for team spirit.”
What’s the best way of choosing the right pet for your office?
According to behavioral psychologist Lotte Spijkerman, dogs and cats have roughly the same psychological effect on people.
“They reduce stress and increase productivity, mainly because they interact with you of their own accord and, when they pop over to your work station, it’s a good reminder that you might need to take a break,” explained the psychologist.
In the case of, say, a hamster, the effect is less pronounced — but if you don’t feel like changing litter boxes or taking the dog for a walk, they’re a bit more of a low maintenance option.
“Watching fish can also be very relaxing”, says Spijkerman. “A fish tank has about the same effect on people as watching a hearth fire. That goes for birds or anything natural in the office, like plants. Even smells can have a soothing effect, with citrus smells being useful for calming.”
So, if the goal is to create a little peace and quiet in the workplace, you could, instead, opt for a lot of plants or a reed diffuser — or there’s another alternative.
“You can give a colleague the responsibility of ensuring people get enough rest,” said Spijkerman. “They can tell you from time to time that you need a break or that it’s time for a walk.”
An office pet may even help you get to know colleagues more quickly
Office animals have another effect that can be crucial to the success of your business.
“They ‘re a great ice-breaker,” said Spijkerman.
“We know from psychology that if you find someone nicer, you move with him or her faster. And if someone looks like you, because he also has a dog, for example, it could be easier to make a deal. ”
“People with a dog are perceived as friendlier,” said Enders.
Jonker claims to have observed that Joep has this effect on her clients.
“Of course there are some who are afraid of dogs and, in that case, we leave Joep at home or we take him elsewhere, but other clients will often give him a biscuit. Last year he even got gifts at Christmas! He’s a part of the company. ”
Kusse said the same was the case with Sammie.
“At Christmas, our contacts get a Christmas card with Sammie on it. She represents us and she’s our pet. She’s always there, even over the weekend. The cleaners and a colleague who lives in the neighborhood ensure that he gets enough attention and food.”
Kusse said she could no longer imagine an office without Sammie. “I really don’t want to think about what we would do if Sammie weren’t around anymore,” she said. “We’re really fond of her. I think if she weren’t there, we’d definitely have to have another cat.”
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