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Mental Health and Animals in The Workplace

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Dealing with mental health is clearly a challenge, animals are here to help. Avoid dismissal, develop strategies.

Mental Health and Animals in the workplace

Mental Health and Animals in the workplace, was originally written some 12 months ago and has now been updated. I’m surprised (compared to some articles I post), the extraordinary amount of interest shown in the concept of the article. This is both from employees and some of Australia’s largest organization who have rung me to discuss the concept. I didn’t invent this idea, I merely put it out there in a higher profile. A lot of web sites and articles is only about making money, return on effort. Unless there is a unfair dismissal claim in it, or whatever ,its not published. Its obvious this is not a money making venture. I’m 67 now, and if I can make a difference I’m so happy. It sounds corny, but I don’t care. There is something to that saying, “leaving something behind” Please read on.

Animals in our lives can be important.

Mental health and animals in the workplace, what a great topic. Every recession and tragedy in history has shown that people consequently suffer great detriment and negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing, due to harsh economic circumstances. The possible mental health impacts correlated with the economic recession, now raising interest rates and the pandemic is a prominent topic of discussion.

With such alarming forecasted figures of the psychological toll on Australians, as a direct result of COVID-19, returning to work, we are increasingly concerned for our Australian workforce. Animals are important in developing menu strategies in dealing with mental health both in and out of the workplace.

Day in, day out, we hear the stories of employees from all over Australia who suffer from poor mental health as either a result of hostile and unsupportive work environments or extraneous circumstances. Redundancies, unfair dismissals, discrimination sexual harassment in these dark times is on the increase. With the projected statistics pertaining to declining mental health, it is imperative that employers create safe and compassionate work environments for their more vulnerable employees.

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Indirectly animals contribute to increased productivity, less unfair dismissals (less dismissals)

Treating anxiety by having service dogs or companion animals

An increasingly popular method of treating anxiety is to have service dogs or companion animals as they can help ease the effects of panic attacks, or on returning to work “social anxiety”. Provide a sense of calm and even get your medication for you if need be. Other animals that have scientifically proven to help people reduce their anxiety and stress levels are rabbits, fish, guinea pigs, horses and cats.

Considering your work may be the most stressful part of your life and the biggest cause for anxiety, you would want your anxiety animal to accompany you. But how appropriate is it to bring your emotional support animal present with you in your workplace? You have to be reasonable about it, recently a employee tried to take a large peacock to work on a plane. Clearly this wasn’t allowed. A noisy pig, may not be appropriate.   

Dismissed for bringing a support dog to work

We previously had a client who was dismissed from her employment for bringing in her support dog to work. This made us curious as to whether employers would see a rise in employees wanting to bring their support animals to the workplace. Particularly after COVID-19 and the subsequent economic depression.

Would it be fair to discriminate against an employee who simply uses an animal instead of medication which could impair cognitive functioning or have other health side effects? Is it our human right to be able to treat our illnesses in the way that we think is best? It is a natural therapy, and may reduce medications.

Once-employees-get-over-the novelty- of-having-animals-at-work-they- become-part-of-everyday-workplace- life
Once employees get over the novelty of having animals at work, they become part of everyday workplace life.

Animals reduce stress

Many people feel stress. Research shows that just patting a pet can ease stress and reduce your blood pressure. Even watching fish swimming in an aquarium reduces stress. It can also help you relax and practice mindfulness. The calming effect of animals means you can increase productivity.

Animals provide companionship

Pets can be affectionate, accepting, loyal, honest and consistent. If you feel isolated with little support, a pet can help reduce your loneliness. What’s wrong with a faithful friend?

Animals fulfill the human need to touch

Most people feel better when they have physical contact with others. Simply patting a pet can lower your heart rate. This does not have to be a distraction at work. A pat, two minutes talking to your animal is no different than a coffee, a conversation with a colleague.

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Happy employee stroking her Scotch Collie at the office

Animals require routine and organization

Most pets require a routine of feeding, cleaning and exercise. This can give you purpose and motivation which can help your self-esteem, wellbeing and mental health.

Animals provide a sense of purpose

A pet can provide you with a sense of purpose, which helps improve mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. If you have a pet, you are never alone and you are also responsible for looking after them.

Animals increase your social interaction

Pets create opportunities for better social interaction, especially if you join an animal club or attend pet shows. Going to pet-friendly events, beaches or parks can also help increase your social network. You could make new friends just by taking your dog for a walk or waiting at the vet, due to the shared interest in your pets.

If you have a fear of social situations, or social phobia, a pet can help with slowly introducing you to other people who also have pets and enhance your mental health. Due to the lockdowns during the pandemic social anxiety has drastically increased.

Animals improve your fitness (dog owners)

If you own a dog, they need regular walks, and this exercise is good for you too. Exercise, like walking, has many benefits for your mental health and wellbeing. You can also use the time walking your dog to improve your fitness. to make the most of the outdoors to help you further develop mindfulness and relaxation.

Studies have shown that dog ownership is linked with a lower risk of death over the long term. Which is possibly due to a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.

If you have a fear of social situations, or social phobia, a pet can help with slowly introducing you to other people who also have pets and enhance your mental health.

Animals can lead to flexibility, work-life balance, companies allowing animals into the workplace shows the values of the company. It will lead to employees deciding where they want to work. Smart employers will see it as a positive.

Concerns and outcomes raised have to be rational and reasonable

Our answer to this is to be rational and reasonable. If you currently or will benefit and rely on a support animal in the future and you wish to bring them into your workplace, we suggest you have a conversation with your employer. On whether this would be appropriate and whether it could be facilitated.

It might be interesting for you to know that one of the biggest American corporations, Amazon, allows their Australian employees to bring their pet animals into work! Unfortunately, it will most likely not be appropriate if you work as a nurse in aged care. Or a hospital, or in any workplace that requires the highest level of hygiene. You still need to consider not getting dismissed through all this.

We sincerely hope employers will open their minds to the reality of the serious mental health concerns. This is particularly so as we will be facing in the near future in light of continued uncertainty. If, however, you feel as if you have been unfairly dismissed for exercising your human right to bring your support animal to work, give us a call immediately and we will do our best to help protect your rights.

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Conclusion to Mental Health and Animals in The Workplace

I hope the article on “Mental Health and Animals in The Workplace” has been of some interest to you. We try our best to keep you informed what’s going out there in the work community. If you want to write something, contribute to the debate, workers rights, email me. We are A Whole New Approach P/L, we are not lawyers but the nations leading workplace advisors, if we can help in any way, give us a call, it free, confidential, prompt. 1800 333 666.

Any Fair work Australia and Fair work Commission matters, including unfair dismissal, general protections, redundancy, workplace investigations give us a call now. We work in all states, Victoria, NSW, QLD, SA, WA, NT, Tas

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In these trying times, we should all be treated with respect, not dismissed unfairly for wanting assistance.

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