Chief cuddling officer: How pets ease stress in offices

  • Riddhi Doshi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 12, 2015 14:27 IST
Dog Bodoni at Beard Design Studio, Porvorim, in Goa. (HT PHOTO)

When she gets into work and sees him, her heart leaps. When he is sad, she knows a hug will help. Such is the affection between sub-editor Sanjana Donkar, 22, and, well, Ginger, the workspace pet at edutech company

In the 4,000-sq-ft space, Ginger is the only one with his own drawer; he also has two cushioned beds, a scattering of toys — and a designation: Chief Stress Buster. “Of the 40 employees, he is the only one who can walk into the CEO’s office without knocking,” says chief community and content manager Harshal Modi, laughing.

On the company’s account sheet, Ginger is listed as Employee Number 97. His expenses include food, medical service and miscellanies such as bedsheets and toys. The company spends about Rs 9,000 a month on him.

Ginger, Chief Stress Buster at edutech company, has an employee number, and his own drawer, cushioned beds and toys. (HT PHOTO/ANSHUMAN POYREKAR)

Across urban India — from Mumbai and Delhi to Bangalore and Goa — companies big and small are adding pets to their rosters, and it’s not just a quirk. Hector Beverages, Bangalore, has two ‘Chief Explorers’, a black Labrador named Hector Jr and a stray named Beverages or Bevvie. “They make the office a very happy place,” says founder and CEO Neeraj Kakkar, 41. “They give you such a warm welcome when you enter and are great stress busters.”

Beard Design in Goa lists its pariah, Bodoni, on its team web page. All 16 employees love her. “She is pampered to the point of being spoilt,” says founder and executive director Abhisek Sarda.

PW PR and Brand Consultancy, Mumbai, has a 14-month-old Golden Retriever named Rio. “He brings a positive energy to the workplace, which raises productivity,” says founder and director Parikshit Wadhvani, 26. “He welcomes us all with so much warmth that you feel loved and wanted. Moreover, smoking breaks have now become Rio breaks.”

And CoworkIn, a co-working space in Delhi, has a stray cat named Kira who is so beloved that the other branch of CoworkIn, at Greater Kailash, now wants a workspace pet too.

“Taking care of a pet together is a great team building and ice-breaking exercise,” says coaching psychologist Khyati Birla. “Pets also add an element of warmth, emotion and positivity to a workplace and are known to increase job satisfaction, act as a therapeutic stress-reliever, and lead to increased productivity.”

Watch | What it’s like to have pets at work

The trend has its roots in the US’s Silicon Valley tech startups — known for their informal approach to workspace organisation and their acceptance of unusual additions like sleep rooms as they sought to improve productivity and morale and lower attrition.

“Over the past five years, non-tech companies in the US have begun adopting pets too,” says Kunal Sen, vice-president of HR consultancy Teamlease. “The dog at the Procter & Gamble office in the US is referred to as the vice president of canine communications. They also have a detailed succession plan in place. Google, Facebook and e-retailer Zing all have workspace pets.”

In India too, the trend can be traced back about five years, with most of the companies from the relatively informal and experimental tech startup sector, Sen adds. As in the US, most office pets are cats or dogs, animals with longer lifespans and basic needs. Most roam in and out of offices at will, spending much of the day eating, sleeping, being petted and boosting morale in their offices. “He is a great stress buster,” says Donkar. “Any time you’re tense, spending some time with him refreshes you.”

There are a few aspects to consider before adding an animal to the environment. Every pet needs a caretaker, someone who will be responsible for maintaining regular feed, walk and vet visit schedules. Employees need to be sensitised about appropriate behaviour with the animal. If the pet chooses to stay indoors at night, somebody has to stay with him since pets panic and usually fail to spot emergency exits in a crisis. Strays need to be given the option of leaving the premises after dark, says canine behaviourist and trainer Shirin Merchant.

It is also important to balance the work environment. “Too much focus on a pet can negatively affect productivity,” says Birla. “The death of an office pet could also prove extremely upsetting to the environment. But overall, the benefits far outnumber the risks.”

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