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Creating a Pet-Friendly Office Policy: What You Need to Know

July 28, 2018 | by Graham Shorr

Pet Sitters International celebrated the first annual Take Your Dog to Work Day on the Friday following Father’s Day in 1999. The original goals included raising awareness of the human-canine bond so that people without pets would be encouraged to adopt. But as employers and employees realized the benefits of having dogs in the workplace, the event has also played a role in sparking businesses to have pet-friendly policies all year round.

About 300 businesses participated in the first Take Your Dog to Work Day. Now, approximately 20% of U.S. companies have pet-friendly policies year round — and this number doesn’t include coworking spaces that allow pets. Many big name companies lead the pack in pet-friendly office policies, like Google, Amazon, Refinery29, Etsy, and Bark & Co.

Dogs are above and beyond the most common office space companion, so they will be the prime focus of this article, but there are plenty of other potential office pets to consider!

Creating a pet-friendly office should be a carefully thought-out decision. We’ve compiled the top things to consider as well as some pros and cons to keep in mind before opening your office space up to pets.

dog-friendly-office-sign

Understanding the difference between “pet-friendly” and support/therapy animals

First, let’s be clear about one thing: having a pet-friendly office is not the same as having team members with support animals. Why? Service dogs are trained to perform a specific task to assist their owner with a disability and are legally allowed in places where your average pet dog is not. The types of service dogs you may encounter in the workplace include guide, hearing, mobility assistance, psychiatric service, diabetic or seizure alert, and allergy detection dogs.

It’s also important to recognize that emotional support dogs or other types of therapy dogs are not always classified as service dogs according to the Americans with Disability Act. This means if you have a firm no-pets policy at your office, you are likely under no legal obligation to allow employees to bring their emotional support dogs to work. (Some states, like California, do cover emotional support dogs under workplace disability laws, but there are limitations. We recommend looking into your state’s specific laws if you have questions.)

Unlike service dogs, emotional support dogs do not have any specialized training and are not necessarily limited to working with people with disabilities. While you might decide to adopt a policy that allows emotional support dogs in the office, this is still quite different from a pet-friendly policy that opens the office space to all employees who want to bring a pet to work.

Must love dogs

As of 2017, millennials officially comprise more than one-third of the American workforce, making them the largest generation represented in labor force. There’s no doubt the newly dominant generation is influencing major trends in the workplace, from prioritizing company culture to embracing flexible work hours and remote work opportunities, to placing considerable value on work-life balance.

Given that millennials made headlines in the summer of 2017 when a survey from SunTrust showed that dogs made a more significant impact on millennials’ home-buying decision than either marriage or having children, it’s no surprise that the trend of bringing pets to the office (which we first covered in early 2017) continues to show no sign of slowing down.

Perhaps more than any generation before, millennials love their canine companions. Dogs are not just pets, they are beloved family members that influence how people live, work, shop and socialize. Outside of work, nearly 50% of millennials view their first pet as a “starter child” and like it or not, this dedication to their dogs is crucial to consider when weighing the pros and cons of a pet-friendly work environment.

Banfield Pet Hospital has conducted two Pet-Friendly Workplace PAWrometer™ (pets at work barometer) surveys since 2016 which show just how much influence pets have over their owners choice of workplace.

  • 60% of millennials state they are more likely to continue employment at a company that implements pet-friendly policies compared to 39% of the older generations
  • 70% of employees believe pet-friendly workplaces have a positive impact on the office
  • 64% of HR decision-makers report that potential candidates ask about pet-friendly policies

These numbers might make anyone pause to consider the benefits of implementing a pet-friendly office policy, but if you’re still not sure if you’re ready to welcome furry team members to the office keep reading to learn the most significant pros and cons of a pet-friendly office.

6 Advantages of a pet-friendly office

Pet owners are more than likely aware of some of the benefits that come with having a dog in their life, but for those who have little to no experience with pets or are unsure of how the benefits might transfer to the workplace, here are some of the most commonly touted pros.

  1. Happiness: Having pets in the office can boost one of the most in-demand, non-financial office benefits: employee happiness. Work/life balance is increasingly valuable among employees, and being able to bring one’s dog to work can help employees feel they are closer to achieving that balance. In fact, nearly 100% of millennial employees describe work/life balance as vital to them, with 70% saying work/life balance is a critical aspect of their careers. Multiple studies show that employees who bring their pets to work experience reduced stress. This decrease in stress is a result of both the companionship pets provide and the decreased guilt and worry over leaving a pet at home during the day, which can cause stress spikes as high as 70% in employees! The happiness benefit of bringing your pet to work often spreads to other employees and can have a positive impact on the whole team’s work experience.
  2. Creativity and productivity: Studies have shown having pets in the office can also help make employees more creative and productive by having a calming effect on people’s bodies and minds, reducing blood pressure, and helping people focus better. Banfield’s PAWrometer™ shows that 67% of employees believe pets help increase productivity, with an even higher percentage of HR managers reporting the same belief. A 2010 study conducted at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant also found that when working together, people are more likely to trust their teammates and experience positive team cohesion with a dog present than when collaborating with just human participants.
  3. Employee retention: If you’re looking to keep your younger staff members from moving on too quickly, a pet-friendly office policy might do the trick. When Banfield surveyed employees at non-pet-friendly workplaces, approximately half revealed that they would be more likely to stay with their current company if it was pet-friendly. Other studies have reported that number to be closer to 60%, with 42% of job seekers describing a pet-friendly office as among their criteria for a new job.
  4. Connection and socialization: A large majority of surveyed employees in pet-friendly offices also attribute improved workplace relationships to having pets in the office. As nearly every dog owner (or dog lover!) knows, a pet is a natural conversation starter and a great way to break the ice. Some workplaces even have structured breaks around playtime or taking the dogs for a walk, which can be an excellent way to bring people together and foster team bonding.
  5. Willingness to work: While too much overtime is rarely a good thing, pets can make the long hours more bearable and improve employees’ opinions toward working late. One survey of 50 large and small companies even showed that in addition to affecting employees’ willingness to work extended hours, pet-friendly policies even lowered the rates of absenteeism.
  6. General health benefits: Pets are associated with a variety of general health benefits, including decreased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness. Because pets require time outside, pet owners often have more opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities which can lead to greater overall health.

office-dog

5 Key Considerations before Establishing Pet-Friendly Office Policies

If you already love pets, the pros of a pet-friendly office might seem incredibly persuasive, but there are an equal number of legitimate reasons why having a pet-friendly office may not be the best idea.

  1. Allergies: According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, up to one-third of the population has some form of pet allergy. Allergies can range from mild to severe, and should always be taken into serious consideration if a member of your team or regular clients have a pet allergy. In some cases, the ADA will cover a pet allergy as a disability, in which case you could be liable for discrimination if you allow pets into the workplace.
  2. Fear and Safety: Cynophobia, or the fear of dogs, is actually one of the most common phobias in the world. While the statistics listed under our PROs section show that many people experience less stress around dogs, the presence of a dog in the office can be debilitating to a member of your team if they are afraid of dogs. It’s also worth noting that no matter how well-trained a dog might be, there is never a 100% guarantee that an unexpected situation won’t cause a pet to feel threatened and try to defend itself. The safety and comfort of your employees must always come first.
  3. Disobedience: A pet-friendly policy opens the office up to any and all dogs, and despite an employee’s reassurance, you can never be sure of just how well-trained and obedient a dog is. A poorly trained dog can have safety ramifications — ignoring the owner’s commands and attacking a coworker — and can also lead to the destruction of office property, whether through chewing, scratching, or peeing.
  4. Cleaning Responsibilities: If an office dog makes a mess, someone has to clean it up. This is not only a nuisance but can also cost additional money that you may not want to spend. In addition to basic office cleaning supplies, you’ll need to make sure the office is stocked with cleaning supplies for the inevitable pet accident. Even if all your office dogs are well-behaved and housebroken, pets can have a negative impact on the air quality of your office and tasks like vacuuming, dusting, and washing the carpets will need to happen more regularly.
  5. Distraction: Pets require a lot of attention. Throughout the day, an office pet will need to be walked, fed, watered, and usually given the opportunity to play. Coworkers who don’t have pets might also wander from their desk to take a dog-break. While the statistics surrounding pets and productivity are promising, some may view the time spent engaging with pets at work as better spent elsewhere.

Finding Pet-Friendly Office Space

Before you consider a pet-friendly policy at your office, you should check your lease and seek input from your landlord. While your team might be ready for an office pet, you may find that bringing pets to work violates the lease or requires some form of pet deposit or extra fee.

Even if your landlord doesn’t allow pets, the good news is that interest in pet-friendly offices is on the rise. Your landlord may be open to negotiating the lease, or if your company is on the hunt for new office space, you can prioritize a pet-friendly space among your criteria.

Sara Groton, Eventbrite’s former Vendor Management Coordinator and Workplace Specialist, described how important a dog-friendly space was to the company’s search for a new office to Culture Amp:

“When we were looking for our new HQ, we had a handful of requirements that were non-negotiable: one of which was being able to bring dogs to the office, because the barklings (office dogs) are such a huge part of our culture here at Eventbrite. We almost had to pass on this space because we are in the UOP Dental School building, and they weren’t going to allow us to be dog-friendly. I will never forget when Julia Hartz (co-founder and president) told us about her two and a half hour-long meeting with the board of UOP solely to negotiate this policy. She is very persuasive! They compromised, and now we are allowed to have 5 dogs per day in the Briteland.”

While dogs can be great additions to many offices, there are certain kinds of workplaces that are simply not well-suited to pets. For instance, if your offices deal in any capacity with or are in close proximity to medicine, chemicals, or food, any benefits of having pets in the office will be negated by the contamination hazard that they pose.

However, if you’re confident pets will not pose a threat to your workplace, and your landlord says you can move forward, you’re ready to start ironing out your pet-friendly policy.

How to Implement a Pet-Friendly Policy

As shocking as it might seem, most pet-friendly workplaces do not have a formal pet policy. It’s essential to develop a clear pet-friendly policy, so all employees know exactly what to expect. For starters, it’s a good idea to follow a few ADA requirements, such as:

  1. Potential office dogs must be housebroken
  2. The owner takes full responsibility for the dog
  3. All vaccines and flea medications must be up-to-date

Other stipulations to consider in your pet policy include hygiene and health standards, obedience requirements such as proof of working with a professional trainer, and a rotating schedule instead of a free-for-all. Whatever guidelines you decide on, apply them consistently and fairly to each office pet.

On a dog’s first day at the office, have the employee come in early to introduce the dog to the space slowly. Send an announcement to the team leading up to the dog’s arrival to share information like dietary needs and behavioral patterns, along with a picture so that the dog is recognized.

Another important consideration is to make sure to carve out time for a mid-day walk. According to Nancy Scanlan, Executive Director of the AHVM Foundation, this helps prevent accidents in the office and the onset of cystitis, which can occur in dogs that are forced to wait too long to urinate.

Final Thoughts

Gathering input from your employees can also help shape your pet-friendly policy. Send out an optional and anonymous survey, and give your employees a deadline to share what they think. You may find out most of your employees don’t want pets around, or someone has a previously undisclosed allergy, or there are majority opinions about how many dogs should be allowed in the office per day.

Jeff Murphy, the Director of Communications at SnackNation, describes the company’s office pet policy as being “completely organic and employee-led. We really didn’t know what to expect at first, but we quickly found that it made our environment more fun and our business better.”

Murphy also says he was witness to another benefit of having a pet-friendly office: employees without pets are encouraged to rescue dogs and other pets of their own. If your day needs a little furry pick-me-up, check out the hashtag #adoptdontshop on Instagram to see the millions of lives saved by pet adoption.

 

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