I'm a product of my generation. I'm a millennial, so I love nostalgia, crave constructive communication, and enjoy the freedom to work wherever I want (and get paid for it).
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Almost nothing attracts me more to a job than a steady paycheck and a promise of personal and professional growth.
But you know what would really attract me to just about any job?
Offices around the country have undergone shifts in their cultures as more and more companies focus on new ways to diminish stress and increase profits. Every office tackles the issue differently. For some, the flexible workplace seems to be the answer; for others, it's all about letting employees bring their dogs to work.
Millennials are leading this trend, but it's not just Gen. Y that can benefit from this culture shift. Employees of every age can reap the benefits of an animal-friendly office, and businesses are finding that this approach not only helps employees feel more comfortable, but also results in substantial company-wide improvements in all departments.
The Shifting Workplace Culture
Millennials are entering the workforce in droves as the economy picks up and more and more baby boomers reach retirement age.
We millennials are a unique group that suffers from underemployment and crippling student debt. Despite our technology addictions, we are surprisingly more empathetic than we are given credit for. When it comes to work cultures, we appreciate communication, new opportunities to learn (instead of the same responsibilities day in and day out), and flexibility. We see our jobs not as previous generations have -- paychecks to live by -- but as experiences that enrich us.
Because of the values they bring to work, millennials are actively seeking jobs that allow them to step away from constricting cubicles and the typical 9-5. As a result, the nation has seen an increase in businesses that allow employees to work outside of the office.
The key to getting solid work out of millennial employees isn't a strict schedule; it's happiness. The University of Southern California's applied psychology department sees this fact in action in the embrace of the open office. Gone are the days of cubicles and stale environments. Now, companies recognize the importance of employee satisfaction, and numerous studies have shown the positive influence that satisfaction can have on profits and overall company success.
No matter what your age, enjoying your job is important for both your general happiness and your productivity at work. Of course, happiness is subjective and depends greatly on the personality and life of the employee. There are ways, however, that employers can help boost office morale. One such way is combating any stressors that might get in the path of a productive employee.
[caption id="attachment_86056" align="aligncenter" width="450"] (Elaine would be a great addition to any team! -- provided by Colin)[/caption]
Pets are known to be great stress-relievers in general. There's a reason why animal-assisted therapy is recognized as one of the leading treatments for post-war PTSD and is gaining ground with social workers. Multiple studies have shown that simply petting cats or dogs can be extremely beneficial to a person's health.
But it's not just a lack of pets that makes us stressed at work. The very environment itself can be stifling for millennials (and others), and bringing animals into the office is a good way to break the oppressive feeling of the office. Pets don't only help us reduce stress; they also help us refashion the workplace for our current cultural needs.
Animals Encourage Communication Between Coworkers
The benefits of an animal friendly office don't stop at shaking up the monotony of the traditional office. Pets can also make companies more productive and collaborative.
Have you ever been walking in a park and seen a cute dog? Chances are you then struck up a conversation with the owner, didn't you? If that person didn't have a cute pet to grab your attention, you probably never would have stopped to say anything. Pets are the perfect icebreakers.
Dogs can bring that same level of open communication to the office -- and I was able to experience this firsthand at my own job.
I had asked fellow employees if they would be interested in sending me photos of their dogs. They were happy to do so, and their pictures resulted in an influx of communication in our industry chat channel. For a full hour, employees were gushing over cute photos, discussing how to convince management to make our office pet-friendly (collaborative team effort!), and exchanging information on their pets' histories and lives. Previous to this conversation, I knew only about a quarter of our small 98-person staff. After the conversation, I knew about 15 more people, and they all thanked me for the opportunity to share their pets with everyone.
[caption id="attachment_86057" align="aligncenter" width="500"] (From Left to Right: Panzer as best dog; Humprey as a diva; Zeke at graduation; and Baymax ready for work (or Hogwarts) -- provided by Tara, Nash, Andrew, and Mila)[/caption]
If simply sharing photos of pets created such a collaborative conversation, one can only imagine what physically bringing pets to the office could do for employees.
A 2012 study from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) found that employees that brought their dogs to work were not only less stressed than their pet-free counterparts, but also 50 percent more productive.
Lisa Conklin, public relations manager of Replacements, the company that participated in the study VCU, stated after the fact: "The study proved what we always thought: Having dogs around leads to a more productive work environment, and people get to know each other through the pets. If you are in a position where something is stressful, seeing that wagging tail and puppy smile brightens the day -- it can turn around the whole environment."
Animals Get Employees Exercising
Most office workers live sedentary lifestyles -- at least at work, where they sit in front of computers all day. Now that we know more about the dangers of living a sedentary life, many companies are trying to encourage their employees to stay healthy through paid gym memberships, company-wide yoga classes, and similar tactics. Ensuring workers get adequate exercise is just another step in the total overhaul of company culture in America.
This is another area where pets can help. Bringing your dog to work forces you to get up and go outside every once in a while! Not many pet owners would complain about leaving the office to walk their adorable pooch, and this also gets people to be a little more active at work, instead of sitting for eight hours straight.
The (Manageable) Downsides to Pets at Work
Bringing pets to the office isn't a problem-free proposition. There are some road bumps companies may face along the way to becoming pet-friendly. Luckily, these obstacles are fairly manageable as long as the organizations retains trust in its employees and emphasizes the importance of pet discipline.
As any pet owner can tell you, our animals are great, but they can act like spoiled brats from time to time. Distractions can be easy to mitigate at home, but in the office, a pet owner may have less control over the environment.
Companies may want to institute policies whereby all pets must complete training programs before coming to the office, or allow pets in the office on a trial basis at first just to see how things go. It is also essential that owners walk their pets regularly and clean up after them.
[caption id="attachment_86060" align="aligncenter" width="450"] (Circa on graduation day -- provided by Ally)[/caption]
Will Your Office Join the Culture Shift?
For all the employers out there, it's time to consider whether or not pets could be beneficial to your office. I would insist that they are, but I am a little biased in that regard.
If you're still on the fence, you can check out this list of 12 companies that are now pet-friendly. From Google (Alphabet) to Atlantic Health, companies across the nation are finding out just how transformative and impactful pets are to their businesses. Will you join the movement?
[caption id="attachment_86062" align="aligncenter" width="500"] (Toby on graduation day and dressed for his job interview -- provided by the author)[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_86063" align="aligncenter" width="600"] (Toby's resume -- provided by the author)[/caption]
Katie McBeth is a freelance writer out of Boise, ID. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth.