About animals in organisational research – from resources to sentient agents and subjects

What do non-human animals have to do with organisational research? How can animal agency and interests become central issues in future organisational research? In our human-run organisations and societies, animals work for and with us in a variety of roles, even though their economically valuable, medical, and health-related contributions are rarely considered as work.

In PAWWS, organisational researchers, veterinary scientists, and clinical dog experts collaborate to generate new and integrated knowledge about human-animal relationships and the intertwined well-being of humans and working animals in organisations.

We scrutinise issues of animal and human interrelationship and health, exploring the significant health impact that animals can have on us humans in different organisations (and vice versa). Simultaneously, we address ethical questions about animal perspectives, interests, and well-being in human-animal work and human-led organisations. How can we, as humans, improve our ability to organise from an animal or more-than-human perspective by taking issues of animal agency, occupational health, and well-being seriously? How do animals, as social actors, adapt to human-led organisations or workplaces that operate according to human norms, rules, and logics? Additionally, how can we change unsustainable structures and create more inclusive multispecies organisations that not only promote human interests and needs?

How animals organise as individuals, actors, and subjects, or how they engage in various organisational processes, are highly relevant questions in the age of the Anthropocene. Organisational researchers, in particular, seek to understand and explain the complex phenomenon of organising, along with the associated practices of disorder and management. Organising is a central component of all human actions and extends to non-human actions as well. The question of how we, as humans, can organise in a responsible and ethical manner alongside other animals on our shared planet is of paramount importance. This issue is prominently reflected in our work organisations through our attitudes, behavioral patterns, and interactions with others. At the core of the PAWWS project is a commitment to changing unethical ways of organising and treating other animals, aiming to foster more ethical human-animal relations and create more inclusive organisations.

Human-animal relations are inherently complex, shaped by cultural and situational contexts, often presenting paradoxes. In organisational research, animals have traditionally been perceived as resources or objects rather than sentient subjects. However, animals are sentient beings with unique perspectives, emotions, will, reactions, and intentional behaviors within their environment. Despite lacking a shared language, communication between species is possible, and as humans, we can attentively listen to animal voices and perspectives on their own terms. Non-verbal and physical communication plays a central role in many human-animal relationships. Animals also function as social and organisational actors, influencing, co-creating, participating, resisting, or refusing to engage in our organisational lives, even though people may tend to overlook or underestimate their roles. Animals significantly impact the everyday organisation of many individuals; for instance, those who share their lives with dogs structure their days around the needs of their canine companions, ensuring they receive adequate exercise and rest. The presence and agency of other animals contribute to the coloring of our reactions and actions in organisational settings.

As humans, we have (re)shaped and organised our environment in ways that have had disastrous consequences for both animals and nature. In a world where humans have left a lasting mark on nature, it is imperative that we increasingly recognise our interdependence, our connections to others, and foster more responsible interactions with other animals, nature, and the environment. In PAWWS, we challenge the traditional perception of animals as mere resources and advocate for alternative, more ethical approaches. Our aim is to advance organisational research beyond human-centric perspectives, towards a genuinely multi-species inclusive, multidisciplinary discipline that acknowledges animals’ unique perspectives, agency, and interests. We urge future organisational studies to address contemporary sustainability challenges by wholeheartedly including multifaceted animal issues among the topics that demand immediate academic and societal attention. Let us collaborate to establish human-animal relationships characterised by empathy, care, relational ethics, and respect, making these values the norm rather than the exception in our organisations and societies at large.


  • There is often a lack of acknowledgment and consideration for animal agency, perspectives, welfare, and interests in our society and work organisations.
  • It is crucial to ensure that animal perspectives and welfare are not only considered but also heard, while recognising the interdependence between humans and animals.
  • Recognising the different power dynamics between humans and other animals is essential, with an understanding that power entails responsibility.
  • There is a need to critique human-centric (organisational) research and incorporate new perspectives that genuinely prioritise animal welfare, perspectives, and interests.
  • To enhance the well-being of both humans and animals, important societal decisions should move beyond human-centered approaches and adopt more empathetic, holistic, and multi-species inclusive perspectives.

A longer article in Swedish on the topic will be published by Finsk Tidskrift in spring 2024.


Astrid Huopalainen, Assistant Professor, Aalto University