If entertaining your cats for 15-minute breaks has replaced catching up with coworkers over coffee or your customers have started ending emails with “Hope you and your cats are well,” you probably have the privilege of working from home with your pets during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the last five months, my “coworkers” have been my two tuxedo cats, Ruby and Opal. Weighing in at six and nine lbs. respectively, the ladies—as they are widely known—often make guest appearances on my video calls (see below), spend the afternoons snoozing on my lap, and meow energetically for treats around noon.
While they may put you into panic mode on occasion when they accidentally delete a document you’re working on or abruptly end a Zoom call, there’s research suggesting that our pets can make us happier, healthier, less stressed, and more productive at work. These benefits are more important than ever as the pandemic drags on and many of us face isolation, Zoom fatigue, and burnout from blurred lines between work and home. Pet owners everywhere can reap the benefits of having our furry friends by our side!
Support Your Mental Health
The positive power of pets in the workplace isn’t a new concept. Virginia Commonwealth University conducted a study in 2012 that found that employees at a retail business who brought their dogs to work had higher job satisfaction than industry norms and the lowest levels of stress throughout the day.
Stress can be a major contributor to a range of challenges for employees: absenteeism, low morale, burnout, etc. It can lead to significant loss of productivity and resources. During the pandemic, there’s been a boom in pet adoptions as people seek to relieve anxiety about COVID-19 and reduce the effects of social isolation. At a time that demands physical distancing from other humans, having a pet companion can decrease overstimulation and stress, and create physiological changes that make us feel better.
We’re certainly living in stressful times. Taking a 15-minute break to walk or play with your pet can help deescalate feelings of stress and support your mental health.
Maintain Your Physical Health
As many of us spend more time at home, the opportunity to establish deeper relationships with our pets are plentiful. When our dogs or cats have a case of the “zoomies,” take it as a sign to get some much-needed time away from your workstation. With many of us now spending a majority of our days sitting inside, the opportunity to stretch our legs and increase our heart rate is critical in maintaining physical health.
The physical benefits of having a dog are well-documented. A study published in the American Heart Association journal found that dog ownership may be associated with longer life and better cardiovascular health, especially for heart attack and stroke survivors who live alone.
Of course, be sure to follow CDC and local guidelines if you’re planning to take your pup to the park or for a long walk.
Boost Your Productivity
While our pets may not always respect our space when we’re hitting peak productivity, studies suggest that looking at cute animal pictures and videos can actually boost your energy levels. Yes, you read that correctly. A 2012 study out of Japan found that looking at cute animal pictures can improve a person’s performance at work.
“Kawaii (a Japanese word meaning ‘cute’) things not only make us happier, but also affect our behavior,” wrote lead researcher and cognitive psychologist Hiroshi Nittono in the team’s research paper. “This study shows that viewing cute things improves subsequent performance in tasks that require behavioral carefulness, possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional focus.”
If you don’t have a pet at home, spending a few minutes watching kittens squeak at each other or puppies flopping over themselves can recharge your energy and reset your focus.
At U.Group, we’ve created a Slack channel where people can share pictures of their dogs awkwardly splayed out on couches and cats obnoxiously laying across computers. Not only are we creating deeper bonds with our pets during this time, but sharing these photos gives us an opportunity across the company to create deeper bonds with each other.
However, it’s good to remember that your relationship with your pet is not all about you. Candace Croney, a professor of animal behavior and well-being and director of Purdue’s Center for Animal Welfare Science, wrote about how owners should be mindful of their pet’s stress and shared ways to keep them entertained during the workday.
Times are tough (to say the least). Pet your cats. Walk your dogs. Watch cute animal videos. We hope it’ll help you feel calmer and more productive in the end.