Finding canines a place in the workplace
Interdisciplinary research puts collar on workplace stress
Conventional wisdom says to leave your dog at home when going to work. VCU’s “Barkers,” however, beg to differ.
That’s Randolph T. Barker, Ph.D., a professor of management at the VCU School of Business with a passion for workplace dynamics, and his wife, Sandra B. Barker, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry in the VCU School of Medicine with a keen interest in potential health benefits of human-animal interaction.
The research power couple works at VCU, an academic environment that encourages interdisciplinary studies, and they have sent conventional wisdom to the dog house.
“The best ideas and solutions often come from unexpected places,” Randolph says. “Exploring how people interact with dogs in a work setting isn’t an obvious combination, but it has yielded some intriguing findings.”
In March 2012, the Barkers and colleagues published a preliminary study in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management. The key finding: A pet dog in the workplace contributes to reduced stress and increased job satisfaction and communication. The research was reported by media around the world, including CNN, BBC, USA Today and a segment on “CBS This Morning” in which anchor Charlie Rose brought his own dog to work.
In an earlier study, Sandra and colleagues found that even a brief interaction with a dog during the workday can reduce levels of cortisol, a hormone that reflects the body’s stress reaction. The researchers found that five minutes with a therapy dog had a similar reduction on cortisol levels as 20 minutes of quiet rest.
“While most of us can’t take a 20-minute nap during the day, it’s nice to know that these brief moments with a dog provide a stress-relieving benefit at the office,” says Sandra, who also serves as director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at VCU.
Other collaborators contributed their discipline’s expertise to the research project, including professors from the VCU School of Nursing and even a professor of biostatistics at the Air Force Institute of Technology.
“What I love about VCU is the support for faculty creativity and innovative programs,” Sandra says. “Whether it’s the School of Medicine crossing with business, the arts, social work or any other discipline, VCU embraces new approaches to existing challenges to create some incredible opportunities for faculty and students alike.”