Who let the dogs in? Meet Tommy, the director of first impressions (and wellbeing)

After enthusiastically walking to work each morning, Tommy impatiently waits for the office door to open as smiles break out on the faces of his co-workers.

Tommy is the director of first impressions at Kidney Health Australia and part of a growing group: office dogs.

Tommy, the English springer spaniel, is the office dog at Kidney Health Australia.Credit:Eddie Jim

Dogs have always played a significant role in human life, from hunting in fields to service dogs. Therapy dogs are found in nursing homes, hospitals, universities and courts. Now dogs are entering the office with increasing frequency.

This growing trend is based on the belief that dogs improve human wellbeing and productivity. And it is not hard to find evidence to verify the claim that dogs reduce stress. A Harvard Medical School special health report found that “just petting a dog can reduce the petter's blood pressure and heart rate”.

Marcia Christmas, general manager of fundraising at Kidney Health Australia agrees, saying “having an office dog definitely reduces stress while boosting morale".

“It’s a busy environment, so it’s great that Tommy encourages staff to take short breaks and get out in the fresh air to take him for a walk," she says. "He is everyone’s friend (especially when there is food around) and he’s been nominated for staff member of the month more than anyone in the organisation because of the fun and happiness he brings to the office.”

Tommy has won staff member of the month many times.Credit:Eddie Jim

A 2017 article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, "Dogs in the Workplace: A Review of the Benefits and Potential Challenges", found “many individuals in today’s workforce struggle with long work hours, increasing job demands, and high stress, the notion of dog-friendly work settings to help mitigate these stressors has great appeal to both employees and employers".

“Indeed, the benefits of dog-friendly workplaces may manifest as lower rates of absenteeism and higher worker morale and productivity," the report found.

Rod Cornelius, a Melbourne family law specialist, is accompanied to work each day by Maisy. “Maisy is invaluable to my business both for staff morale and, more importantly, what she contributes to our clients,” he says.

Maisy ready to welcome clients.

“In family law, often it is the first occasion clients have required lawyers and this is usually at the most difficult and emotional time in their lives,” Cornelius adds.

“New clients are advised prior to their first appointment of Maisy and to date all have opted to have her present. That in itself speaks volumes as to what the right animal in the right environment can add to a business.”

Co-evolving with humans, dogs have played the role of physical protectors, now adding psychological guardians as “interacting with a dog reduced anxiety and negative mood, and increased positive mood relative to the control conditions”, a 2015 research report, Brief Unstructured Interaction with a Dog Reduces Distress, found.

Furthermore, dogs encourage socialising and physical activity. They remind us that sometimes it's time for a break, to step away from the screen and play.

This, in turn, has shown to increase productivity, having a net positive effect on the bottom line at no cost to an employer. This is a point not lost on Silicon Valley, where the office dog has been widely embraced – in fact, Google’s code of conduct has a dog policy. As the tech giants see digital addiction affecting health, “letting the dogs in” gives them a natural antidote.

Not every dog is suitable. Temperament should be the main consideration when contemplating an office dog – as it ought to be for humans. However, office dogs can surreptitiously train their human counterparts to be kinder, more accepting, open to experiences, non-judgmental, weary at times and playful at others. A hardworking, loyal, sociable employee who brings unbridled joy, all while having a calming effect.

Cornelius concurs: “Since Maisy joined our team in late 2018, she has been remarkable at putting clients at ease, providing both comfort and reassurance to them. She has 'humanised' lawyers – sometimes not an easy task.”

The office dog may just be the missing link some workplaces need.

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