The worst job I ever had was brightened up one day by a therapy puppy being brought into the office. Based on the rest of my time in the job, I’d say this was more a treat for the bosses rather than a sign of their interest in our wellbeing. But that day at least, as I stroked the tiny beast’s back and palpated his droopy cheeks, I did feel a little better. It certainly reduced the lingering stress from that morning, when I’d had to ask Amnesty International over the phone if they’d like to sell our products through their online store, then hang up the moment they asked what country the products were made in.
Various studies have found that animals in the workplace, like plants and whatever the opposite of clowns are, boost employees’ moods and increase productivity. This interests me, as in most cases since then my own experience has suggested these findings are completely untrue. When present all the time, animals are a massive, welcome distraction from the drudgery of work, and productivity goes way down. A case in point is the aftermath of the therapy puppy’s visit. So taken were we all with it that everyone started bringing their own pets into work.
Within days, the keys on our keyboards could no longer be pressed down for all the cat hair that had been moulted onto and into them. One of the team brought their bird in, which literally parroted our line manager’s words back at her until she went insane, and pecked off half my fellow intern’s face (the line manager’s bullying had taught him not to complain, which is why it took us that long to notice). It grew impossible to make a phone call over the howls of the animals, who clearly agreed with the majority of the team that our workplace was a loathsome environment. We considered and quickly ruled out getting therapy dogs for them, realising it would exacerbate the problem all round.
There, at least, was a workplace where animals were certainly not conducive to an efficient work pattern. Elsewhere, different conclusions might be reached. A notable grey area, for instance, are farms. Working with livestock is nigh-on impossible without animals in the workplace. But if their presence only increases, this will generally be a sign of poor sales, so the numbers do need to be carefully controlled to ensure a healthy business.
At the other end of the scale to my old office, one workplace where animals are definitely needed in quantity to guarantee optimal performance is a zoo. Here, they create more satisfied customers, and largely boost the mood and productivity of the keepers too. Any escaped animal is always a worry, not just because of any potential risk to the public, but because any reduction in animals will worsen the zookeepers’ moods and could even have a domino effect in terms of efficiency. I’ll never forget the legendary Bristol Zoo Palaver of 1996, when almost every single animal gradually escaped, the rate of breakout having increased exponentially after one penguin strayed out unnoticed. The zoo had to be shut down for several years and slowly built back up again from the one remaining, strikingly loyal, goat.
Museums have cleverly got round the zoo problem by making sure all their animals are thoroughly stuffed beforehand, making them the most productive environments in the UK, surviving even after nine years of slashed government funding entirely because of carefully planned therapeutic taxidermy.