The power of pets in the workplace – should your next hire be a dog?

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New recruit: Billy joins the pack at Basepoint Haywards Heath

New recruit: Billy joins the pack at Basepoint Haywards Heath

The power of pets in the workplace – should your next hire be a dog?

Today is #BringYourDogToWorkDay – the one day of the year, when you don’t have to feel guilty about leaving the hound at home.

At Basepoint Haywards Heath, though, it will be business as usual.

Workers here don’t need an excuse to bring their pet to the office. The Centre makes its dog-friendly policy a selling point and almost a third of its 33 self-contained units are manned by as many four as two-legged staff. Far from being bone idle, they work hard at keeping spirits up, blood pressure down and provide endless cute Twitter content.

Everyone has a soft spot for Boris, a handsome golden Labrador who effortlessly upstaged his owner Alex when he first arrived. “All the girls here loved him at first sight. Alex didn’t get a second glance,” confides Assistant Centre Manager, Claire Johnson.

Then there’s Buster, a cheeky young cockerpoo and his older sidekick poodle, Kola; Digby, a “talkative” cocker spaniel barely out of puppyhood, whose owner wouldn’t have had a dog if she couldn’t take him to work; the elegant whippets Kubla, Ghengis and Balti; butch terrier Bruno; relative newcomer black Lab Isla; and this month’s raw recruit, Tibetan terrier Billy, who came with a posh Crufts-winning pedigree.

All in a day's work: Buster, left, and Kola in the office at Basepoint Haywards Heath

All in a day’s work: Buster, left, and Kola in the office at Basepoint Haywards Heath; and below with owner Alex (still on the phone!)

“The beauty of a business centre is that it doesn’t have to be a lonely experience,” says Claire. “And I’ve definitely noticed the dog owners bonding, the dogs certainly do. Some licensees walk other people’s dogs and nearly everybody stops and makes a fuss of them.”

New recruit: Billy joins the pack at Basepoint Haywards Heath

New recruit: Billy joins the pack at Basepoint Haywards Heath

Curiously, having all these canines around the place makes it feel more, well, human.

It’s why Nestlé introduced a dog-friendly workplace policy at its Gatwick HQ in 2015, installing special tethering stations into the floor and dedicating an area of the grounds for dog walking – Central Bark, of course. The owner of the Purina pet food brand has a dog ‘hiring’ policy – every hound undergoes checks before being issued a ‘pawsport’ to the building – and the company works hard at making sure the pets are as happy as their owners, figuring that a happy dog means a happy, productive worker. The positive PR fall out, of course, has been massive.

It’s expected that 100 dogs, out of 1,000 staff, will be registered to ‘work’ at Nestle by the end of this year and managers talk of there being a more “social” atmosphere with better communication between departments.

I once worked an entire shift at a national newspaper office with my cocker spaniel curled up beside my desk. I’d like to say it was because the company had a wellbeing policy that recognised bringing your dog to work was good for mental health. But the truth is, I’d forgotten Abby was still in the boot of the car when I drove off late for my morning shift. Throughout the day, though, colleagues I barely recognised, wandered over to have a pat and a chat.

The US Center for Health Research points out that more studies are needed on the psychophysical effects of pets on our health. But it quotes a 2002 study in which researchers measured changes in heart rate and blood pressure among people who had a dog or cat, compared to those who did not, when participants were under pressure – in this case, performing a timed mathematics task.

“The pet owners had lower resting heart rates and blood pressure measures at the beginning of the experiment than non-pet owners. People with a dog or cat were also less likely to have spikes in heart rates and blood pressure while performing the test, and their heart rates and blood pressure returned to normal more quickly,” it said. “They also made fewer errors in their maths when their pet was present in the room.”

It concluded: “These findings indicated that having a dog or cat lowered the risk of heart disease, as well as lowering stress so that performance improved.”

If this all this gives you paws for thought but you’re reluctant to turn your workplace into a pet crèche, then you could always hire in a spot of fur therapy (or maybe that should be furepy).

Doggy De-stress, launched last year by former animal welfare professional Rob Harris, takes dogs into companies and universities in London and the South East to help stressed-out students and workers switch off. He’s been overwhelmed by the response.

“I saw the power of dogs in the workplace in my previous jobs,” he says, “and it was a light bulb moment I suppose.”

His chilled out team – many retired assistance dogs and mostly Labrador retrievers – pad around a room full of clients for 15-20 minutes at a time to be stroked, patted and played with. The sessions cost £250 an hour for a maximum of four hours.

“The dogs need a break after a while because it’s tiring being the subject of constant attention,” says Rob, who most recently held Doggy De-stress sessions at Harrods HQ.

“We use mainly Labrador retrievers because they’re generally more submissive and they just love being fussed. People know them as safe, happy dogs, too.

“Some people just want cuddles – even to lay down on the floor with the dogs. We went to one university where the students were so de-stressed they were falling asleep on them, so we ended up extending the session.

“People go away with huge smiles on their faces and we’re told productivity for the whole week goes up.”