THE INC. LIFE

The Surprising, Feel-Good Perk That Will Lower Your Employees’ Stress Levels

This sure beats putting a plant on your desk.

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BY Betsy Mikel - 09 Jan 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Think petting zoos are just for kids' birthday parties? Think again. Petting zoos are now making rounds at offices. Bringing cuddly animals into offices for an hour or two is the latest perk to help stressed-out employees relax. Instead of going for a walk to boost your mood, why not a healthy dose of animal therapy and cute overload?

Some companies boast dog-friendly offices, which have stress-reducing benefits. But poorly behaved dogs running amok isn't everyone's idea of a good time (or productive work environment). With a mobile petting zoo, you get all the stress-relieving benefits of cradling a cute animal in your lap -- without the added annoyance of someone else's dog peeing under your desk.

The petting zoo arrives, complete with handlers who teach you how to hold and interact with the animals. Squeals on Wheels is one such mobile petting zoo that serves the Washington D.C. area. Their "Hoppy Hour" packages start at $275 and include cuddles with adorable piglets, snuggly rabbits and hedgehogs. Some companies choose to add on extra animals. Bunzilla, the 25-lb. Flemish Giant rabbit is always a crowd pleaser. Squeals on Wheels can bring a bearded dragon, leopard gecko and tortoise along, too.

Though Squeals on Wheels does most of its business at children's events, Grant Phillips, whose parents founded the company, says the adult interest in their traveling petting zoo is growing. Squeals on Wheels booked three times as many adult events in 2017 as they did the previous year. They expect more growth in 2018.

Companies that have hosted the Squeals on Wheels petting zoo events include a real estate firm, accounting firm, law firm, an entertainment company and National Geographic. Phillips says there's interest from all industries. The common thread between companies who hire Squeals on Wheels is an employee-focused culture. Companies who book Squeals on Wheels are looking for an out-of-the-ordinary treat to reward their staff for a job well done. "They're trying to really show they care about their employees," he says.

Whether it's celebrating a team that's just wrapped an intense project or to provide stress relief during a particularly busy season, the petting zoo is usually meant to thank employees who have gone above and beyond. The visit to the accounting firm a few days before tax day was especially rewarding. "You could see the stress on a lot of their faces," Phillips told the Washington Post.

No matter the office or industry, Phillips describes employees as over-the-moon excited when his team arrives. "Everyone's peeking out their doors," he says. "They're asking: What do you have in there? What did you bring? They're so giddy and so excited."

And for good reason. It's nearly impossible to feel stressed when an adorable lap-sized animal is snuggled in your arms. "The fun thing about animals is that they're so age non-specific," employee Kate Brownstein says. "Animals bring out the warm hearted childlike side of everyone." When she places a piglet in someone's arms -- whether they're five years old or 50 -- she says most people light up and instantly start beaming ear-to-ear. "There's never been a place we've been to where they didn't enjoy it," she says.

If your employer isn't likely to bring a traveling petting zoo to your office anytime soon (though you could send them a link to this piece as a gentle nudge), here are photos of a few irresistibly cuddly Squeals on Wheels animals to tide you over. I can't guarantee oohing and aahing over these will have the same effect as holding one in your lap, but it certainly can't hurt.