Barking Up the Right Tree at Work

Last week, I wrote about bringing fun into the workplace. One of the suggestions I made was to celebrate holidays at the office. That doesn’t only mean holidays like Valentine’s Day and Thanksgiving. What about National Take Your Dog to Work Day? As it turns out, bringing pets to the workplace is both fun and smart. After balancing the pros and cons, you may decide to look for or create a pet-friendly workplace yourself.

Pets: Coming to a Workplace Near You

As you may know, many Americans adopted pets during the COVID-19 pandemic. With so many people working from home, families felt ready to take on the responsibilities of pet ownership. Pets also brought valuable companionship and comfort during a difficult and lonely time. Now, though, many companies are bringing employees back to the office. By and large, these companies don’t welcome animals in the workplace. As it turns out, this policy may be turning away humans too.

This article describes employees’ fears about leaving their pets at home for the workday. Especially for those animals adopted during the pandemic, they may have never been left at home all day before. Owners worry their furry friends will experience severe separation anxiety. In addition, they’ve gotten used to being able to provide care all day long. Some employees are administering aging pets’ medications several times during the workday. They worry about how they’ll handle a return to the office.

You might think these worries are sad but doubt they’ll actually change people’s jobs. Think again. Americans are heavily invested in our animal companions. In fact, we spend over $100 billion annually to take care of them. It’s no surprise then that surveys have documented many employees saying they’d quit if they couldn’t work with their pet nearby. As employers phase out remote work, they’ll need to think seriously about making the office pet-friendly. Otherwise, they could risk losing their people.

Benefits of Pets in the Office

Welcoming pets into the workplace offers a whole host of benefits. As mentioned in the last section, this is a perk many people want. If your organization offers it, you’ll have an easier time recruiting and keeping top talent. You won’t be forcing employees to choose between their jobs and their pets.

Having furry friends around is also great for the work culture. For one, it lets employees know that they are valued. In addition, pets can facilitate better relationships between coworkers. It can be hard to network and start conversations with colleagues sometimes. It’s easier when you can open with, “Aw, so cute! Whats’ her name?” If your workplace needs more collaboration and teamwork, a pet-friendly policy may be just what you need. Plus, animals do the funniest things. They introduce humor into the workday, which is great for productivity.

Finally, letting employees bring their pets to work will actually improve their health and wellness. The Human Animal Bond Research Institute found that pet ownership decreases healthcare costs. In simple language, that means that owning a pet makes you healthier. (And it’s good for your wallet, or financial health.) That’s especially true for dog owners, who enjoy all the typical health benefits of taking regular walks. One of the major benefits of bringing pets to work is that their owners have to take breaks to take care of their critters. As a result, employees at a pet-friendly office will be less likely to experience stress and burnout.

A Few Words of Caution

person sneezingAs amazing as all that sounds, it’s not all a walk in the park. There are some concerns to take into account if you’re planning to invite pets into the office. This article lists some big considerations. For instance, did you know that 10-20% of people have pet allergies? For these individuals, having animals at work may be uncomfortable or even unsafe. People will allergies are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that their employers have to accommodate their needs. This might be one of the most significant challenges to navigate if your organization is trying to become more pet-friendly.

In addition, there are other issues that might be specific to some workplaces or pets. For instance, some jobs aren’t conducive for having animals around. If you work with chemicals or food, it may be hard to maintain safety and sanitary standards with pets around. There’s also the concern around potential damage caused by a pet. Even the most well-behaved animal can get startled. If it jumps at a client or has an accident on the carpet, what will you do? Finally, not all office buildings allow animals other than service dogs. Every organization will need to check with its landlord before welcoming pets in the office.

Creating Your Pet Policy

Assuming you’ve weighed the pros and cons and decided to make a change, you’ll need to create a comprehensive policy for your employees. This article suggests getting input from your workforce before getting started. Find out what your employees want and need out of this policy. Then, start hashing out the details.

You’ll probably want to start with what qualifies a pet to come to work. After all, a chihuahua is different from a pet goat. This blog from USC has some suggestions about minimum criteria. For instance, you can require pets to be groomed and free from pests like fleas and ticks. You can also mandate that pets have their vaccinations. You might even suggest minimum standards for training. Do you want litter boxes in the office? Should pets be trained to go outside only? What will you do if an accident does happen?

On that note, you should definitely have plans in place for handling unexpected incidents. Here are some pointers from SHRM to help you draft this part of the policy. For example, you can allow anonymous reporting for complaints about people’s pets. You can also designate pet-free zones to accommodate workers with allergies. (The last sign in this set will be helpful for marking those spaces.) And be sure to decide in advance who will cover the costs of fixing any damage created by a pet. For more guidance, you can check out this employer toolkit.

Making Pets Feel Welcome

Creating a pet policy is the bare minimum. Of course, every organization can do more to welcome furry friends to the office. USC’s blog post recommends giving owners time to acclimate their pets to the office. This might require some flexibility on their managers’ part for a few days. It’ll make a big difference in preventing accidents later, though. Another idea along the same lines comes from SHRM. Encourage dog owners to walk their best friends together so the dogs don’t act like enemies in the office. 

Besides that, you can provide all kinds of items at the office to show you’re excited to see pets around. These include practical additions, like baby gates for cubicles and carpet stain remover spray. This TIME article also suggests purchasing a robot vacuum to help you control the effects of shedding. In addition, though, you can have something fun, like dog treats at the front desk. These will be appreciated by animals and humans alike.

Lastly, put up these welcoming signs for pet owners to see. You’ll be well on your way to becoming a place where everyone wants to work…. And no one has to work like a dog!