CHICAGO — Four-legged family members can bring a boost to employee morale and comradery in the workplace, and could be an inexpensive avenue employers can take to attract and retain talent, especially millennials.

A majority of workers feel a stronger connection to employers who embrace pet-friendly policies, according to new findings from Nationwide and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute.

Workers who see their employers caring about their pets, who in almost every sense are family members, just as much as they do about their own health are going to stay, said Kerry O’Hara, a research director at Nationwide told EBN at the Society for Human Resource Management annual conference.

And there is an intangible benefit to pet ownership that employers can latch on to, she says. For example, pet owners are more likely to exercise and have a generally improved physical and mental state of health, she added.

According to the study, 91% of the workforce feels more fully engaged in the work compared to 65% of employees who work in a non-friendly workplace, which is defined in the study as one that allows pets in the workplace (regularly or occasionally) and/or offers a pet-friendly employee benefit, such as health insurance.

One of the interesting things that the study noted was the camaraderie and positive relationships with both supervisors and coworkers (52% and 53%, respectively) at pet friendly companies versus non-pet-friendly workplaces (14% and 19%).

For AnchorFree, the California-based VPN company, the decision to let employees bring their pets to work started with an unusual request from one of the company’s first employees.

“He was given the wolf as a puppy as a gift from an Indian Reservation and had raised it himself,” says AnchorFree’s CTO and co-founder Eugene Malobrodsky. The wolf “was extremely mellow and friendly, he never growled.”

Malobrodsky says pets are expected to be well behaved when brought to work by their owners. There have been no unpleasant incidents, even when an employee brought his cat to the office, where dogs are the majority of workplace pets.

Out of AnchorFree’s nearly 105 employees, there are five “resident” pets at the campus and there are “visiting” pets on any given day. AnchorFree found that the presence of animals helped create a family environment and help employees feel more at home.

Along with bringing pets to work, AnchorFree offers pet insurance that costs up to $50 a month. “We have family insurance. Pets are part of our family,” says Malobrodsky.

Malobrodsky says pets also helped create comradeship and improve health of everyone as both owners of dogs and their colleagues walk the dogs in the walkway on their campus, with everyone getting a nice exercise. “It was a bonding experience in general,” he says.

AnchorFree did not rearrange their offices except to create an area where pet could have water. The firm found that dogs had a natural tendency to stay with their owners.

Building a pet-friendly workspace

Creating a pet-friendly workplace doesn’t have to be difficult, added Eric Raidmae, a business development executive with Nationwide.

Not every employer can rearrange their office structure or update their campus to handle pets in the workplace, he said, you can do something as simple as sharing images of your pets dressed in Halloween costumes at Halloween to help engage employees in pet-friendly policies.

In addition to employers offering pet insurance or implementing pet-at-work policies, some other outside-the-crate perks that draw employees in include pet bereavement leave, pet adoption leave and pet caregiving/pet sitting benefits.

For employers looking to possibly implement policies that allow animals in the office, Nationwide suggest a couple pet-etiquette steps to take:

· Use friendly pets only — bring pets that don’t have aggressive tendencies and aren’t territorial. If your dog or cat bites or harms another pet or person, you’ll be responsible for any healthcare bills, or worse, a lawsuit for damages.
· Create safe zones — workers can bring a portable pet bed, crate or pet’s favorite blanket. Put this in an area that offers refuge, such as a corner spot under the desk or against a wall close to the employee so your pet can feel protected.
· Assign a pet buddy — have employees partner with a willing colleague to take over pet sitting duties if they have to leave, to help ensure pets don’t chew on an electrical cord or desk surf for your leftover lunch.
· Ensure pets are up-to-date with shots — there’s always a chance of spreading kennel cough or other contaminates from one pet to the other. Current vaccines reduce the chance of this occurring.

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