Theories about the prehistoric relationship between men and animals often highlight the mutual benefit of these two working together. To date, this alliance continues, however, modern societies have given a new twist to this relationship: pet owners increasingly treat their animals as family, thereby changing mankind’s cultural structures and lifestyle.

The concept of pet-friendly spaces emerged in the second decade of the 21st century: a new trend that allows domestic animals to access and remain in public places that were commonly used exclusively by humans, such as cafés, gyms, hotels, shopping centers and even the workplace.

Nowadays, it’s increasingly common to find a pet around a work desk. The United States is one of the countries with the largest number of pet-friendly offices. According to surveys of the American Pet Product, 11% of dog owners in this country indicate that their pets are allowed in their place of work. In the last 4 years this percentage has increased by 3%, which shows that it is a growing trend, especially in developed countries.

Even though estimates indicate that 57.8% of Panamanians own pets[1], this reality is not too widespread here yet. The City of Knowledge Foundation (FCdS, for its acronym in Spanish) is one of the few pet-friendly workplaces in Panama.

Leonel is a Graphic Designer at FCdS and, for months, he’s had a peculiar “neighbor” at work: Paquito.  Paquito is his colleague Aitor’s dog, and he is not the only pet-colleague at the Foundation:  there are other pets that come to the FCdS offices daily, such as Canela and Chubi.

Leonel affirms that pet-friendly workplaces are a great initiative, since they bring a positive element to the work environment: “I like animals very much, especially dogs, they are very affectionate, and they make your work day more manageable. Having Paquito around has been very good, he is a good dog and, like the others who visit us, very affectionate. ”

This is a relief for Aitor, the pet’s owner: “I am relieved, because I do not have to leave him alone at home all day. Besides, Paquito is very happy here: here, he can socialize with more people and other dogs; you can tell by how energetic he is.”

Pet-friendly workplace policies are beginning to have an impact even when it comes to attracting or retaining talent.  This is an issue particularly relevant for millennials, and companies such as Amazon and Google know this and were pioneers in implementing such policies. The City of Knowledge Foundation has joined this trend seeking to create greater value for its employees.

“It is definitely something I value,” Aitor adds.  As a dog-owner, there is no better news than to be able to work somewhere where they allow you to be with your pet on a daily basis,”  he confesses.

A study by the University of Virginia Commonwealth, published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, states that dogs in the workplace can help relieve their owners’ stress during the day, in addition to contributing to greater job satisfaction for all employees of the organization. The research was carried out with the participation of 550 employees, among whom they were able to identify a significant difference in stress patterns related to the presence or absence of their dogs: in those days without their pets, the stress of the owners increased over time.

Other studies show that pets in the workplace also have a positive effect on interactions among employees in general: animals improve social life in the workplace, as they foster a greater frequency of conversations between people.

Although these new “office partners” seem to offer many benefits, their presence can also pose various risks that must be properly managed by companies: such as protection against diseases transmitted by animals, allergies or bites, situations that can be kept under control if the necessary measures are put in place.

Aitor recognizes the responsibility that comes with enjoying this benefit and thinks that, applying common sense, it is possible to prevent the presence of your dog from affecting your colleagues: “I try to have my dog stay in a pet bed beside me, where he sleeps for most of the day.  This is where other employees can often find Paquito and come visit him.”

Testing for the pet-friendly policy at FCdS started in May 2017, with the execution of pilot tests to measure the acceptance of change among employees, suppliers, customers and external visitors. To ensure that everyone had a positive experience, specific guidelines were co-designed to ensure the health and safety of people and animals.

“Having taken into account the employees’ input to establish the policy guidelines, the challenges have been minimal since then. The truth is that we are diverse group of people, and even though there may be a few who are not so happy with the measure, since they were all part of the process, we were also able to meet their needs so that they are minimally affected by having pets in the office,” explains Lacey Agredo, Organizational Development Analyst.

Allowing employees to take their pets to the office at the City of Knowledge Foundation has had an effect in the corporate climate and in productivity: “Having pets in the office generates a feeling of well-being and belonging among employees, they feel at home. Being around pets makes us release oxytocin, a hormone that is linked to the generation of bonds of trust. By increasing the level of that hormone, stress declines and a sense of balance arises,” says Lacey.

The key to a successful pet-friendly office is to achieve harmony between the organizational culture and the pet-owner’s responsibilities, thus guaranteeing benefits for all: dogs happy with their owners, owners happy with their jobs, and companies with more productive, efficient employees with a heightened sense of belonging.

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