123RF.com/Bernard Yong

Keeping workplace stress in check is a job perfectly suited to the four-legged set, or at least that’s the hope of a few enterprising petting zoos and some companies.

Organizations such as Squeals on Wheels, a mobile petting zoo in Potomac, Md., bring animals into workplaces for employees to cuddle, pet and hold as a break from hectic office life. According to Grant Phillips, the company’s co-owner, the animal visits help boost employee morale and act as a stress reliever. 

Read: Cadillac Fairview eases effects of Blue Monday with indoor puppy parks for Toronto workers

It’s usually the human resources department or office manager who sets up the animal visits, he adds, noting Squeals on Wheels’ petting zoo has visited many workplaces, from law firms to an ambassador’s house.

Cinemazoo Animal Agency, based in Abbotsford, B.C., brought its animals to Telus Communications Inc. last year as a surprise for the company’s 1,100 employees. “They did not say anything, and that’s usually how it goes for these ones,” says Jennifer Neville, Cinemazoo’s owner and operator. “They say nothing to their employees; it’s just a regular workday. And then they shut down at noon and invite the employees outside and there’s all these animals, there’s popcorn, there’s barbecue, and it’s just, ‘Go relax because we appreciate you.’”

Neville says employees often react to the animals by acting like children. “It’s like they’ve forgotten everything in their world and they let goats and bunnies crawl all over them and it’s awesome. There will be 40-, 50-year-olds, 60-year-olds, just as children again.”

Read: 25% of Canadian employees quit work due to stress: survey

While many employees will have a positive experience when animals visit the workplace, it’s important to be aware that everyone will feel differently about having a goat or a dog in the office, says Lisa Kay, president and lead consultant at Peak Performance Human Resources Corp.

“I think people who love puppies and animals look at these cute little creatures and say, ‘How could you not love it?’ But actually, the fact is, not everybody does,” she says. “I think being cognizant of that is really important.

“One person’s perk might be somebody else’s peril. . . . It could be extremely stressful for somebody if the sound of a dog barking is irritating to them or if they’re afraid of dogs or if they’ve been bitten in the past and they have a traumatic experience there. So not just jumping to the conclusion that everybody is going to welcome this is really important. And making sure, before you move in that direction and allow people to bring a pet to work, for example, that you’ve surveyed your workplace and [everyone is] comfortable.”

The potential for negative reactions is there, she notes. “I think it can have the opposite effect. It can cause a lot of stress; it can make people feel uncomfortable to even voice the fact that they are uncomfortable. You don’t want to defeat your own purpose by creating unwanted stress in an attempt to alleviate it.”

Read: A look at Mars’ pet-friendly workplace policies

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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