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Bringing your dog to work can ease stress, study finds

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers studied workers at a company that allows pets in the office and found it has benefits.

March 30, 2012|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
  • Solomon lounges on his bed in the Seattle salon where his owner, Lisa Black, works on a client's hair. Bringing your dog to work may ease your stress levels, say researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Solomon lounges on his bed in the Seattle salon where his owner, Lisa Black,… (Elaine Thompson, Associated…)

If your office seems like it's going to the dogs, try bringing your dogs to the office.

Researchers reported Friday that bringing Rover to work seems to reduce stress on the job.

"Pet presence potentially can be a low-cost wellness intervention," said Randolph Barker, a professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University's business school in Richmond, Va., who led the study in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management.

Barker and his team conducted their study at Replacements Ltd., which sells china, stoneware, crystal and other dinnerware. The company's 550 or so employees bring about 20 to 30 dogs with them to the Greensboro, N.C., office each day.

Replacements has allowed pets in the office for more than 15 years. Pooches lie quietly at their owners' feet — in the call center, at reception, in the corporate offices and even in a repair area where workers handle fragile crystal and china. Even the company's chief executive has been known to bring his miniature dachshunds to work.

The VCU researchers divided 76 employees into three groups: those who brought their dogs to work, those who owned dogs but left them home and those who didn't have pets. For one week, the scientists measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol in samples of the workers' saliva and used surveys to gauge their stress levels four times during a workday.

There was no significant difference in cortisol levels among the study participants. But by the end of the day, the average stress level scores fell about 11% among people who had brought their dogs to work, while they rose as much as 70% for members of the other groups.

The researchers also observed "unique dog-related communication" in the workplace, Barker said. During the day, people who hadn't brought pets walked over to colleagues who had and asked whether they could take the four-legged visitors for walks.

"People who typically are not as verbal were more engaged," he said.

Barker's wife, Sandra, a researcher in VCU's psychiatry department who also directs the university's Center for Human-Animal Interaction, was a coauthor on the study.

Meredith Wells-Lepley, a research associate at the Institute for Workplace Innovation at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, said the new study helps quantify the stress-reducing value of bringing pets to the office.

Her own work showed that cats also had a stress-relieving effect — and that, for the most part, people responded positively to all breeds of either animal.

"Short-haired black cats were the exception," she said.

Barker emphasized that the findings were only preliminary and that he'd like to start a larger study that might examine pets' influence on worker productivity.

He also hopes to investigate whether spending time in the office affects stress levels in dogs.

eryn.brown@latimes.com

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