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Pets and Productivity - Global Perpectives: Indigo Era

Pets and Productivity

Laura Knight

Laura Knight is Regional VP, People & Organisation, Europe at Mars Petcare. She has worked in Human Resources for some of the world’s biggest brands and companies for almost 20 years. She began her career at Wrigley and most recently, prior to her current position, was the Regional Vice President for People & Organisation for Royal Canin in the US.

The old saying that dogs are a man’s best friend has always been true and it’s becoming increasingly important for the productivity of our workforces. Pets provide companionship and, in a workplace setting, help to reduce stress, improve morale and create a good work life balance.

The need for increasing the connection of employees to pets is becoming more and more necessary as the prevalence of mental health issues such as loneliness continues to grow around the world. According to the British Red Cross, there are now over nine million lonely people in the UK, while a recent survey in the US by health insurer Cigna found that nearly half of all Americans feel lonely. This problem is significant, it’s growing, and it’s having a big impact on global wellbeing.

The success of strategies to improve mental wellbeing and reduce loneliness depends on companies rising to the challenge. It’s time to consider the question: what effect does poor mental wellbeing have on our economy? How can businesses react? And how can pets play a pivotal role?

But firstly, why should businesses care? Well, a widespread wellbeing problem means that employees are likely to be affected. The food and grocery industry alone employs 3.9 million people in the UK, which means there’s an awful lot of people in our sector who are really struggling. Just consider that impact on their mental health, attendance, productivity and more. This is something we can’t afford to ignore.

In addition, loneliness affects our customers. There have already been pioneering initiatives from our industry partners that are making a difference. In the UK, Sainsbury’s recently launched its Talking Tables scheme – a new initiative designed to help facilitate more conversations and bridge community connections using the café spaces in their stores.

Finally, it’s because we have a responsibility as a business – and as an industry – to use our profile, our brands and our expertise to make a societal difference. This really matters to our employees. Every day, Associates at Mars tell me that our work in tackling loneliness is helping to bring a clear purpose to their work and serves as an important motivator.

At Mars, as one of the world’s largest pet food manufacturers, we take a different approach to tackling these issues because we believe that animals play a crucial role in addressing both the causes and effects of loneliness. In fact, in its 2017-2018 survey of national pet owners, the American Pet Products Association found that over 80% of pet owners named companionship as a benefit of pet ownership and over 65% said their pets relieve stress and help them relax. This is because the bond between people and animals can be enormously powerful. Kids that grow up with a pet see social, emotional and educational benefits, and as people grow old, pets can help people cope with grief or isolation. I know, as a parent of two little boys, that the bond between my kids and our yellow labrador is extremely meaningful and crucial to their development. Pets also help people stay healthy and active with increased levels of exercise, which reduces the likelihood of depression, anxiety and loneliness.

So, what are we doing? Well, from supporting our employees to bring their dogs to the office, through to launching Pedigree Dog Dates, we’re using the power of pets to address issues of isolation and bring people together. Our Pedigree Dog Dates campaign is an initiative that connects older people with dog owners for walking events in their communities. We’ve launched this in Melton Mowbray, a town near our UK headquarters, and we will be harnessing the data from this pilot to roll this out globally, ensuring that it is sustainable.

Pets are good for business and it’s something we’ve championed for a while now. People with pets are more likely to visit pet-friendly businesses, and to stay longer during their visit, leading to added revenue. Plus, having pets around leads to more social media buzz, providing both tangible and intangible benefits for the business. But as well as being good for business we believe pets are good in business too; they boost morale, build a sense of community among Associates, reduce stress and encourage us to get up for regular walking breaks – all things that are good for our health. If you walk into to any Mars Petcare office, whether it’s in Paris, Chicago or Singapore, you’ll see four legged co-workers walking about and relaxing which makes for a really vibrant and fun culture.

However, for HR and recruitment teams, there is a wider implication here. A 2017 “PAWrometer” survey by Banfield Pet Hospital in the US found that 73% of employees would be more likely to accept a job offer from a company with pet-related benefits other than allowing pets at work. The data was clearest within the millennial set, demonstrating that this age range is particularly receptive to pet-friendly offices with 70% of 18-35 year olds finding value in the positive impact pets at work have on the workplace. As society evolves, it is clear that if companies want to attract millennial talent, they will need to consider investing in pet friendly schemes that will have a positive impact on the wellbeing of their employees. We already see this when we go into shared office spaces like WeWork and tell office managers and employees about our “Petiquette” policy which shows offices how to adapt to having dogs, and teaches people how to be responsible pet owners.

At a wider level, Mars Petcare has created an initiative called “Better Cities for Pets”. The programme is a mix of advocacy, education and giving back, and involves partnering with businesses, non-profits and government to help make life better for pets. This includes helping pet shelters, increasing the number of responsible homes for pets, improving park space for play and working with communities to add to the number of pet-friendly businesses operating. We’ve rolled out this initiative in a number of cities globally, including Nashville and Sydney, and we know from our conversations that the programme is being welcomed. In particular, people love the focus on education and giving back to the community.

Every day I see the positive impact that pet ownership has on people’s wellbeing and I’m determined that we do everything possible to help more people experience that for themselves. However, I believe we still have a great opportunity to partner with businesses to continue to address this challenge. Retailers are unique for their customer-facing opportunities, while the ability of our sector’s brands to reach and influence consumers is second-to-none. What we’re doing is just the start and I look forward to seeing more examples of how pets continue to impact positively on global wellbeing.