For most of us, having pets in the workplace is a novel idea. But it’s one that has been gaining traction in recent years even after the onset of the pandemic. Pet-friendly workplaces have sprung up even far from places you might expect to see four-legged friends like farms, pet stores, veterinary clinics, or parks.
Pets in the Workplace by the Numbers
More than 67% of American households have a pet, a huge increase from the 56% of those that did in 1988. With pet ownership on the rise, day care centers for dogs have become increasingly popular. The COVID pandemic increased these numbers. Apocryphal stories abound of people getting COVID cats and dogs to keep them company during the nearly two years of shelter-in-place orders and restrictions in public venues. If you are in a workplace with frequent Zoom meetings, many of these pets may have dropped into your meetings already.
It’s easy to assume dogs in the workplace would be a thing of the past given the rise of telecommuting in the wake of COVID-19. However, 71% of respondents in one survey said they’d benefit from a pet-friendly workplace. A full 6 out of 10 people in the same study also said they’d previously left a job because it conflicts with pet care.
Prior to the pandemic, a few companies began experimenting with allowing dogs into the workplace. They wagered that having pets present would make the office feel more like a home. They posited it would give colleagues something else to bond over. It meant employees could work longer hours without having to worry about rushing home to feed Sparky. Amazon is famous for their pet-friendly policy. In 2019, more than 7,000 dogs reported to work at Amazon’s headquarters. And many Amazon employees cite this as one of their favorite perks.
So pet-friendly workplaces are possible. Amazon is one of the largest and most powerful companies on the planet, and they are able to successfully manage a program like this. But does that mean that this is something that would work everywhere?
Are Pets in the Workplace Right for You?
There is simply no easy answer to whether your workplace should let the dogs in. Many businesses must observe health and safety codes that may be incompatible with having Fido around. These would include grocery stores, restaurants, taverns, construction sites, or many medical facilities. Furthermore, businesses that are open to the public need to consider the risks of having all those pets and customers together. In some instances, like a pet store, it’s probably just fine and actually expected.
There are probably advantages to having pets around, but there isn’t much hard research on the subject. Pets are known to lower anxiety and blood pressure—so having them around could improve worker mental health and therefore productivity. It might also increase employee engagement generally, which would also have a positive influence on turnover. Also, by having the dogs around, you reduce the amount of overhead your employees need to pay for pet care during the day. It also encourages your employees to step out for a walk at break time, which would help morale. It’s also good for your employees’ mental and physical health.
Muzzling Potential Problems
As we said, there are definite advantages to bringing your pet into work. But those advantages hinge on a lot of variables. If you’re going to install a dog door in your office, you should probably set down a policy on it first. The goal of the policy will be to have the advantages of the program while minimizing the disruptions it might also cause.
First off, identify what you mean by ‘pets.’ Dogs are so ubiquitous in our culture that most existing pet-friendly workplaces only include them. But your staff might include people with pet cats, chickens, parrots, or even tarantulas. So be prepared to set boundaries and explain them if an employee wants to bring in their pet goat.
Second, establish any other parameters around the kind of pet you will allow. Dogs, as common as they are, can be reactive, hostile, anxious, messy, and loud. Identify how you might handle a situation where two employees bring in dogs that are fine individually but problematic together. You might also face a situation where an employee brings in a pet that soils the workplace frequently. Other pets might simply make a lot of noise or distract everyone. Also, determine ahead of time who is responsible if the pet damages the building or furniture, or if they injure someone or another pet.
Next, take into consideration anyone who might have a serious concern. Pet allergies and phobias could cause significant hardship for employees. Some workplaces have instituted pet-friendly and pet-free portions of their offices, but not every business can make that work.
Last, it’s probably a good idea to check with your company’s insurance brokers. The presence of pets could present liabilities that aren’t covered by your policy. Your insurance partner might also have advice on how to structure your program. This might include what kinds of pets to exclude, or other rules that might be useful in mitigating messes and misbehavior.
Alternatives to Pets in the Workplace
There is, of course, the alternative of just not allowing pets in the workplace. This obviously would not extend to service animals. But that doesn’t mean your company can’t support pet ownership in other ways. For example, DailyPay has begun offering a stipend to pet owners who have returned to the office. The stipend can cover dog walkers, cat sitters, or anything the employee needs to help their pets transition from having round-the-clock companionship to spending eight hours alone every day. Perhaps easiest of all, you could also simply continue to allow eligible employees to work from home.
No matter what you decide, it’s important to offer clear communication with your staff. Many employers support pet ownership in a variety of ways. That’s just a commonsense approach to the lifestyle choices of so many Americans. But making the decision to allow pets into your workspace is not one that should be taken lightly. Do your research, check with your partners, and make the best decision for your business.