The Pet-Friendly Office Trend: Motivation or Distraction?
Pet-friendly offices have become a popular perk at big-name companies like Google, Airbnb, Uber, Etsy, and Ben & Jerry’s. Amazon even employees a Wolfpack Manager who coordinates events and policies for the 6,000 dogs registered to “work” at Amazon. And now, smaller companies are following suit on the trend.
While having a pet in the office is associated with a “cool” office culture and stress reduction, a business might also face interpersonal or even legal issues by allowing employees to bring in their pets. As a company looking to maximize productivity for employees, will pets keep your staff motivated or just distracted?
According to the Society of Human Resource Management, in 2016 8% of employers allow pets to come to work with their owners, up from 5% in 2013. The office pet trend is largely due to millennials transforming work-life balance expectations, and millennials being more likely to own pets than have children. A 2016 survey found that about three-fourths of Americans under 30 years old have dogs, and about half have pets, compared to the national average of 50% with dogs and 35% with cats.
Could it really be true that the presence of pets could make staff less stressed, or—even better—reach higher productivity at work?
Certainly, some offices prioritize giving employees the best in ergonomic office equipment, such as standing desks or ergonomic office chairs which have scientific evidence for improving posture and health outcomes for employees spending hours in front of screens. But for offices looking to take an extra step to keep staff happy, is a pet-friendly policy a proven tool?
A 2017 academic review in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health sought to evaluate the validity of stress reduction with pets, therapy dogs, or emotional support animals, and found substantial evidence that pets not only reduce stress (measured by lower blood pressure, heart rate, or cortisol levels), but can also lead to improved performance in mental tasks like arithmetic or speech exercises.
In 2018 Nationwide Pet Insurance and the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) conducted a study which found that employees at pet-friendly workplaces were three times more likely to report a positive working relationship with their boss and coworkers—significantly more than those in non-pet-friendly environments. The study also shows that pet-friendly companies are more successful at attracting and retaining employees, especially millennials.
Of course, for some offices there is no choice on this topic. A company whose building lease prohibits animals, or a business related to food handling, may face unbreakable regulations that prohibit participation from the trend.
When recruiting, available talent—especially millennials—might not only consider lists like Fortune’s famous “Best Place to Work,” but also lists such as “Best Dog Friendly Companies.” Consider whether a pet-friendly policy is right for your office with these pros and cons.
Pro: Mental Health
Pets can reduce stress and anxiety, which leads to a better work environment. Studies show pets lower stress hormones, and some show that workplaces that allow pets see higher morale and productivity. They can also improve workplace morale and increase employee satisfaction.
Con: Disruptions in the Office
Dogs barking, cats whining, or rabbits snoring in the middle of the office can be annoying and disruptive. Pets also can draw small crowds of employees seeking entertainment, when those employees should be at their desks working. While quick walks or belly rubs can be a sweet break from work, a needy or sick pet may end up being a bigger distraction than stress-reliver.
A good pet-friendly policy will need to clarify the behavior expectations of pets and consequences for not following them. Staff should only bring pets old, mature, or well-trained enough to handle the office environment.
Of course, even if everyone in the office gets along with a pet, there’s no guarantee that the pets will get along with each other. If two pets end up with a rivalry, the otherwise well-behaved animals could cause tension between their owners or even cause discomfort for the surrounding employees.
That’s not always a dealbreaker, though. National Public Radio (NPR) reported a story from Buchanan Public Relations near Philadelphia which had two dogs who could not get along. Rather than canceling their pet policy, the company hired a dog trainer to resolve the issues and restore peace.
Pro: Community Building
Pets are a natural way of bringing people together with a shared, positive experience which can provide comfort.
A furry friend can be a common interest across employees to promote teamwork and communication so that staff are more willing to socialize with their teammates. Pets also have the potential to foster conversation and connections across staff who might not normally interact, giving your IT manager a chance to bond with a Sales teammate, for example.
Con: Normal Caretaking Becomes a Distraction
Even a well-trained dog cannot simply sit in one spot all day; it will need regular walks and feeding time. Cats will need a litter box cleaning once per day to avoid odors in the office. These basic functions of pet ownership—even before accounting for unexpected disruptions or too-long snuggle sessions—come at the expense of valuable working time.
Pro: Work-Life Balance Perk
The ability to bring a beloved pet to the office can make it feel more like home for your pet-owning staff, promoting a healthier work-life balance with the comfortable atmosphere. A “home away from home” can keep teammates motivated with enthusiasm for the company and its values.
In addition to the emotional wellness benefits of pets, they can have a positive impact on health and physical activity. Dog owners will need to go/;’[p- outside regularly to take their dogs on walks, and often times these walks turn into team outings which get everyone moving together in an organic, unforced way.
Con: Regular Cleaning
No one wants the office to smell like a litterbox or become unsanitary. Even if pets are totally housebroken, there’s always the potential of a sick pet or knocking over fragile items. Accidents do happen.
A pet-friendly office should have a clear agreement with the building’s Facilities team about using pet-friendly cleaning products and insecticides to make sure the office is a safe place for animals and a clean place for staff.
The pet policy can also make clear rules about no animals on furniture or on carpeted areas, as possible, to minimize any damage from accidents or chewing. And of course, keep lint rollers handy!
Pro: Employee Retention & Recruitment
Like generous vacation days or maternity benefits, a pet-friendly office can be especially enticing to potential hires and recruits. For some talent, the ability to bring their pet to work is a must-have perk, and once they’ve found a company encouraging it, that is a tough perk to give up.
But it is not just about attracting talent—pets can be a pivotal retention tool. A pet-friendly policy may reduce stress for your employees who may otherwise be distracted from their work while dealing with dog walkers, home camera alerts, and stress if the pet is sick or lonely. If staff do not need to run home midday to walk a dog or drop a sick pet off at pet care, the business may have fewer employee absences and staff who can work longer hours.
Con: Staff Who Are Allergic or “Not a Pet Person”
Some people simply do not like pets, or simply do not want so much time around them. More justifiably, some staff may have severe pet allergies or trauma-induced phobias around pets, especially large dogs.
Since not everyone likes animals, you may lose out on some great candidates due to pet-friendly policies. While it may seem like a perk to most people, it’s not a perk to everyone.
If the building space allows for it, creating pet-free areas might solve some of these problems. An animal allergy may be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), so business must make reasonable accommodations for any staff who request space from the animals.
Pro: Financial Savings for Staff
Pet daycare and dog-walking services are not cheap, and can add up to a hefty sum for employees. A pet-friendly office may become your team’s favorite perk simply because it comes with big financial savings, which costing the business a relatively low expense in cleaning, or even no extra expense at all.
Con: Potential Insurance or Legal Liability
One dog bite could lead to a costly lawsuit. A pet-friendly office should consult with the Leeval team about potential problems and legal protections.
Some common requirements are that office pets must be up to date on their shots, and of course, be housebroken. It’s also worth highlighting whether or not they should be kept on a leash when in the office, and point out any areas of the workplace that are off-limits.
A supportive pet-friendly policy should also include a process for receiving and addressing complaints. If a cat is having too many in-office accidents, for instance, you might consider putting them on probation, and not let them come to the office for a certain period of time. If they’re a repeat offender, how many strikes do you give before they’re banned entirely?
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employers should also be aware of the "one-bite rule" for strict dog management, among other considerations.
Pro: The “Cool” Factor
Let’s face it, a “pet-friendly office” has become a shorthand for “fun, relaxed culture.” It signals to your employees and potential recruits that your company values a comfortable and flexible atmosphere which may be the difference between loyalty to your business or poaching to a competitor.
Studies have also shown that businesses with office pets come across as more progressive and forward-thinking. Alternatively—particularly for startup, technology, and Silicon Valley companies—the offices without a pet friendly culture can come across as stuffy or old-fashioned.
Beyond motivating your employees, a pet-friendly office might also improve your customer’s perception of the business, if they can experience the fun and stress-relief of playing with a pet while building trust with your business.
Overall, a pet-friendly office can not only be an effective mental and physical wellness tool, but an underappreciated financial and convenience perk for staff which may lead to higher recruitment and retention for your company. This comes with higher productivity for your staff, and increased revenue for the bottom line.
Businesses considering implementing a pet-friendly office policy should put real effort into developing a comprehensive policy which will address the pros and (especially) cons in this list. If you are considering advocating for a pet-friendly office policy for your company, start with a survey or other feedback channel with employees to better understand whether this is a good fit for your office.
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WRITTEN BYMolly Stoneman
Freelancer passionate about design, travel, and innovation.
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