November 14, 2018

The pet-friendly office: Stress-relieving perk or risky practice?

More and more companies are adopting pet-friendly policies. Here’s how to decide if it’s right for your company, and some tips to get you started.

Team Ceridian

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In a recent story overheard at the watercooler, a 30-something employee at a mid-sized newspaper thought he had a great idea for building team morale. He’d bring his pet to work each day and he and his co-workers could bond over caring for her.

But that’s not how it worked out. His pet was a snake. The only bonding was the group rush to the manager’s office, demanding that the snake go home.

Even though that experiment ended poorly, more and more companies are exploring pet-friendly workplaces.

Firms are engaged in a war for talent and are looking for ways to create workplaces that improve employee satisfaction and productivity. They want to attract and keep good people – and a pet-friendly office is one perk that can help.

It’s a dog’s (and cat’s) world

North Americans love their pets. According to a survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are about 70 million pet dogs and 74 million pet cats in the United States. Of those surveyed, 63% considered their dog or cat to be part of the family.

Millennials are big pet owners. Three-quarters of Americans in their 30s have dogs and 51% have cats, significantly higher than prior generations. And a lot of them hate the idea of leaving Fido or Fluffy at home while they work.

Over the next decade, millennials will make up 75% of the overall workforce, and they are known to change jobs every couple of years. But maybe not, if Fido is happy. In a study quoted by MARS Petcare, half of millennials said they would be far more likely to stay at a company that allows pets in the office.

The pros of pet-friendly workplaces

Numerous studies have shown that pets in the workplace can reduce stress, increase productivity, lower absenteeism and improve health outcomes (for example, walking the dog occasionally instead of staring at the computer).

Pets can improve relationships in the office, encouraging more interaction between co-workers. A 2017 U.S. survey of employees and HR decision makers found that pet-friendly policies improved morale, reduced stress, bettered work-life balance, and increased loyalty to the company.

Cons of pets in the workplace

While having Fido or Fluffy accompany them to work may provide benefits to the pet owners and others in the office, the presence of animals may pose some risks and may be off-putting, frightening, or even unhealthy for some co-workers.

About 30% of American adults have allergies and, of those people, up to 30%  have allergic reactions to dogs and cats. There may also be concerns about pet hygiene and infectious diseases that can be transmitted to humans. Potential hazards include dog bites, cat scratches and a higher risk of trips and falls with pets around.

Millions of Americans are also afraid of dogs, and employees from non-Western cultures where pet ownership is less common may not be as receptive to animals in the workplace. Companies need to be sensitive to these fears and cultural differences.

Before you decide

  • Form an exploratory pet committee, with management and employees. Don’t cheat and load up the committee with only pet owners.
  • If the decision is made to go ahead, the committee should create a comprehensive set of guidelines, including behavioral requirements for the pets and safety policies. Find out about local rules and regulations for health and hygiene, and check into insurance coverage.
  • To increase buy-in, do an employee survey. Topics could include: Which types of pets should be allowed and how often pets should be allowed at work?
  • Start small with a Bring-Your-Pet-to-Work day once a month and see how successful it is.
  • Make sure your landlord is on board with the plan.

Tips to make it work

  • Make sure pets coming to your workplace are healthy. Owners must provide up-to-date vaccination records and ensure that all animals have flea protection.
  • Pet-proof the office, keeping animals out of certain areas, including R&D labs, food preparation sites, and manufacturing floors. Create pet-free zones for workers who aren’t comfortable with animals or who have allergies. Keep bathrooms and at least one meeting room pet-free.
  • Create a pet relief area outside. A guide from MARS Petcare says it should include a pet waste station and trash receptacle that is emptied on a regular basis to control odor.
  • Make sure there are cleaning supplies on hand for the inevitable pet accidents.

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