Dogs at work can not only bring down stress levels among their owners, but they can also help make work more satisfying for other employees as well, according to the study in the latest issue of the International Journal of Workplace Health Management.
"The bottom line is that dogs in the workplace can make a positive difference," said professor Randolph Barker of Virginia Commonwealth University's business school, who led the five-member research team.
"They may in fact be a great buffer to the impact of stress" on productivity, absenteeism and employee morale, Barker told AFP in a telephone interview from Richmond, Virginia.
Previous studies have underscored the benefits of therapy dogs in hospitals and nursing homes.
But Barker said his team's investigation was among the very first to focus specifically on dogs in the workplace and their potential as "a low-cost wellness intervention readily available to many organizations."
For a week, the researchers monitored day-shift staff at Replacements Ltd., which sells dinnerware from a fast-paced facility in Greensboro, North Carolina that is the size of seven American football fields.
For more than 15 years, Replacements has allowed its 550-odd employees to bring their dogs to work.
Seventy-six volunteers, from the president on down, were split into three
groups: those who brought their dog to work, those with a pet who did not, and those with no pet at all.
Saliva samples upon awakening verified that all participants started their workdays with low stress hormone levels.
In the ensuing hours, however, self-reported on-the-job stress levels fell among those with their dogs by their side -- and grew for those who either left their animals at home or who had no pet at all.
"The differences in perceived stress between the days the dogs were present and absent were significant," Barker said. "Employees as a whole had a higher job satisfaction than industry norms."
In passing, the researchers also detected that dogs inspired greater personal interaction -- for instance, when staff without pets offered their dog-owning colleagues to walk their dogs.
Not everything was perfect. Among the comments collected by the researchers included "some dogs are disruptive, "allergies problems for some" and "dogs should be well-behaved and quiet."
But Barker said his team, partly funded by Virginia Commonwealth University's center on human-animal interaction, is keen to expand its work to include more and different workplaces over greater lengths of time.
They also want to delve into how stressful it can be for dogs to hang around a human's workplace all day.
The Humane Society of the United States says there are 78.2 million dogs across the country (outnumbered by 86.4 million cats), with more than one in three households owning at least one dog.
Two years ago, it said, researchers at Central Michigan University found that when dogs were present in a group, employees were more likely to trust each other and collaborate more effectively.
To encourage more dog-friendly policies among employers, the Humane Society published a book in 2008 titled "Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces." (AFP)
<관련 한글 기사>
직장에 개 데려가면 분위기 좋아진다
미국에서 직원들이 일터에 애완견을 데려오면 전체적인 분위기가 더 좋아진다는 연구결과가 나왔다고 AFP통신이 30일 (현지시간) 보도했다.
‘직장에서의 건강관리 학술지 (International Journal of Workplace Health Management)’ 최신호에 따르면 애완견을 일터에 데려오는 것은 애완견 소유주뿐 아니라 직장 동료들의 스트레스까지 줄여준다고 한다.
연구를 주도한 버지니아 커먼웰스 대학의 랜돌프 바커 교수는 “일터에 개가 있는 것은 긍정적인 변화를 가져올 수 있다며” 직원들의 생산성, 출석률과 사기가 저하되는 것을 완화시키는 효과가 있다고 밝혔다.
앞선 연구에서는 병원이나 요양원에 개를 두는 것의 긍정적인 효과가 강조된 바 있으나 이번처럼 직장에서 개의 존재가 가져올 수 있는 효과가 밝혀진 것은 처음이라고 교수는 강조했다.
연구진은 식기판매 업체인 리플레이스멘트 (Replacement) 사에서 일하는 임직원들을 관찰했다. 회사의 사장 이하 직원들 중 연구에 자원한 76명은 각각 개를 일터에 데려온 그룹, 개를 소유하고 있지만 일터에 데려오지 않은 그룹, 개를 소유하고 있지 않은 그룹으로 분류되었다.
연구진은 타액 분석을 통해 실험에 참가한 대상자들은 낮은 스트레스 수준에서 하루를 시작했다는 것을 확인했다.
그러나 시간이 흐르면서 일터에 개를 데리고 온 그룹의 스트레스 수준은 전체적으로 내려간 반면, 다른 두 그룹의 스트레스는 올라갔다.
또한 애완견들의 존재가 사회적 상호작용을 촉발한다는 점도 관찰되었는데, 이와 같은 경우로는 개와 함께 하지 않은 직원들이 애완견 소유주들에게 산책을 제안하는 경우가 있었다.
그러나 일부 직원들은 애완견들이 일에 지장을 주고 알레르기를 유발한다고 불평하기도 했다.