Are American workplaces going to the dogs?

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More than a third of Americans today own a pet, and increasingly these “pet parents” are millennials. While this age group is delaying marriage and human children in record numbers, many are embracing pet parenthood — and spending a lot of money on their four-legged friends in the process. More than 35% of millennials already own a pet, and 20% who do not currently have a cat or dog say they are likely to get one in the future.

When it comes to finding employment, many of these same pet parents are looking for pet-friendly workplaces, and employers are taking note. Companies like Amazon, Kimpton and Salesforce now allow employees to bring pets to work with them. Some provide walking trails, “pet desks,” or special dog-friendly rooms. The floor cleaning company Bissell Homecare has an indoor dog spa, and Procter & Gamble gives pets titles such as “Vice President of Canine Communications.”

Still, turning a workplace into a pet-friendly zone is a big decision, and it’s not for every company. With major increases in pet ownership and a cultural shift in pet parenting, HR leaders should review the pros and cons and start building a clear pet policy.

Potential benefits to allowing pets in the workplace

Workplace pets can help reduce stress and improve well-being. As workplaces strive to create more informal, comfortable atmospheres, pets can add a special warmth. According to a 2012 study from Virginia Commonwealth University, employees who were around dogs in the workplace reported feeling less stressed than employees who have dogs but left them at home. Also, having a dog to walk a few times each day also supports wellness.

A “pro-pet” policy attracts and retains workers. Making room for pets at the workplace is a great way to attract job candidates — especially millennials. And it’s a retention-booster as well: Pet owners who work for pet-friendly employers are more likely to experience job satisfaction, increased morale and appreciation for their employer. In turn, employers will experience higher
retention and lower turnover.

See also: Is a pet-friendly office the purr-fect way to engage employees?

Having pets in office may improve coworker interactions and connection. Pets also trigger workplace interactions that would not normally take place. Naturally, co-workers will ask about each other’s pets, learn their names, and connect on a level beyond work, projects and tasks. Bringing dogs to work can also bring some comic relief and reduce tensions.

Potential challenges to allowing pets in the workplace

Pets can be disruptive. Pets can be loud, and can damage or destroy property. Attending to their needs (such as feeding or walking pets) can interfere with employee productivity, and many employees will be distracted from work by the presence of animals scurrying around the office. It also is important to consider how many pets, especially dogs, should be running around the office at any given time. Many pet parents also have two or more dogs, and it can get crowded, especially as many pet parents prefer to leave pets unleashed in office.

Not all employees will feel happy or safe. Not everyone loves animals, and some feel deeply uncomfortable and scared around them. In addition, many people have allergies. At least 25-30% of Americans suffer from pet allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Companies that invite pets into the office need to ensure they can accommodate the needs of such employees with clear policies on behavior, and should consider designating pet-free zones. Also, not all pets are the same, and some are more aggressive or out of control than others. Even in the case of bringing service animals to work, the law defines that these animals be well-trained, housebroken and even-tempered.

Pets may bring on greater liability. Employers that allow animals at the workplace have to prepare for the liability this might entail. Before creating such a policy, it is advisable to address possible worst-case scenarios, from damaged property, contamination, employees or customers getting hurt, or even pets getting hurt. Also, specific industries like medical, pharmaceutical, laboratories, and food businesses are all businesses where pets can be pose a specific contamination hazard, and are best kept out of the work environment.

Even if allowing pets at the workplace is not an option, there are a variety of creative pet-related perks that companies can offer. Many employers offer pet insurance, an employee assistance program with pet care resource and referral services, and discounts on pet products and more. Popular concierge and errand running perks also offer dog walking, pet sitting, and other much-needed pet care support resources. Many of these pet care perks do not have a high price tag, and can make a big difference for the many employees today who are struggling with “work-pet” balance.

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