If you are like the majority of people in the United States, you own a pet. And most likely that pet is a cat or a dog. Your life probably looks something like this: You get up in the morning, go through your routine, and leave for work. Your pet stays at home and waits for your return. That is the life of most pets and their owners. But what if you were to bring your pet to work?
Some employees and employers have taken notice of the importance of pets and how they spend their days alone at home. In an effort to increase satisfaction and engagement, many companies are creating a new norm, making pets an important part of the workplace.
Employees who bring their pets to work often lead more productive and engaged work lives. They are often happier and less worried throughout the day. Between 75 and 95% of workers who took part in a survey about pets at work felt that the practice improved morale, work-life balance, relationships, and work hours.
So, how do the 8% of American workplaces that are pet-friendly really benefit?
The perks of pets
1. They reduce stress
Research shows that owning a pet can lower blood pressure, reduce stress/anxiety, and improve mood and depressive symptoms. This applies to work as well. Researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University found that employees that displayed the lowest stress levels had their pets at work, while employees without pets had the highest stress levels.
Austin Wagner, an employee at SpareFoot, stated that he loves returning home to his pet each day, so it is even better having his “best friend at the office all day.”
2. They help improve relationships
Not everyone is going to get along in an office. Not everyone will enjoy working with everyone else. Pets can be a good source of common ground and form a connection between two people who do not know each other well or who have had some kind of conflict. Having a pet in the office can help break the ice or create a bond that was not thought possible. Also, pet owners tend to talk to each other, even if they don’t know each other’s names. It’s like moms in a school playground.
An article from the Journal of Applied Developmental Science states that adults who are strongly bonded with their pets are more likely to be strongly bonded to their community and their relationships.
3. They can boost attendance
Some people have a very strong bond with their pets and get concerned when they have to leave them at home alone for long periods. This can be especially true if the pet is sick, new, or has a lot of anxiety. Employees may want to take a day off to be with the pet, leave in the middle of the day to check on the pet, or end the day earlier than usual.
When employees can bring pets to the office, they will not have to worry as much and they will be less likely to miss work due to a pet-related issue. Less worry will also make them more focused and productive.
4. They promote creativity
We know how much walking can improve creativity from research on walking meetings. Pets are another great reason to get up and moving. Pets will likely need to go outside during the day. They will need food or water. Having a pet at work can be a great way to force employees to stay active during the day. Research at Stanford University showed that walking increases creative thinking by about 60%.
When given the choice, most people (around 61%) have lunch at their desks. They barely get up and move at all. But with a pet, they might not have a choice. Taking a pet for a walk during breaks is a good way to increase creativity.
5. They create happiness
Having a pet or pets at work can create a friendly greeting for any new clients, customers, or visitors. Most people enjoy animals and will respond in a friendlier and more relaxed manner. A pet-friendly workplace can also show others that the company values a relaxed and employee-centric atmosphere.
6. They provide exercise
There are many studies that show how damaging a sedentary lifestyle can be. Pets can be a great way to increase activity in the office. Pets rely on their owners to take them outside and to provide them with basic needs. All these things require employees to stay active during the day, cutting down the harmful effect of sitting all day.
Katherine Osborne, of King+Company PR, states that she likes to have a pet at her current job because she gets at least one 10 minute break a day to go outside and walk around. At a previous job she barely got 5 minutes to walk around during the day.
7. They contribute to flexibility
Allowing pets at work can allow people to be more flexible with their schedules. They no longer have to rush home to take care of a pet if the pet is with them. Employees who need to spend a little extra time at work would be able to do that if they were able to take their pets to work.
8. They can attract potential employees
Companies can use the perk of a pet-friendly workplace to attract employees. Many recruiters have the same list of perks and benefits, but having a pet-friendly office can make a company stand out in the eyes of potential employees.
Here’s a visual overview of some of these benefits, by Petco:
While there are many benefits to allowing pets in the workplace, the bottom line is that they make employees happier and more productive. Research shows that pets make people happier, less stressed, and more productive.
If you are not convinced by the research, there are many people who can attest to the benefits.
The people who love their pets
Kim Headen takes her dog, Charlie, to work multiple days a week. She says he is well-behaved and likes to greet people who walk by her desk. Kim says that, for this reason, Charlie has helped her connect with coworkers.
She also likes the flexibility, as she can run errands after work without having to worry about Charlie and she can take him to work just if she wants extra company during the day.
Joanne Kim works in an advertising company that allows pets. Having her dog at work helps her focus as she is not worrying about him at home. She finds that when her job gets too stressful, having her dog there can help find balance again and be more present on the here-and-now. Pets can help to add a bit of mindfulness to every day.
While pets seem like the perfect way to engage employees and make them happier, pets are not for everyone. We can all probably think of one person who is scared of certain kinds of pets, who has allergies, or someone who simply doesn’t like animals.
As an employer, you should be familiar with these challenges and factor them into workplace decisions as well:
Some people are allergic to certain types of pets. Employment attorneys have stated that employees who have allergies can claim them as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This would require the company to change its pet policy or face the possibility of a lawsuit.
Even the best-behaved dog can have an off day or react in unexpected ways. Neither pets nor people are entirely predictable. With pets in the office, there is always the possibility of an injury, through a bite, scratch, or another type of reaction.
While company management may like pets, they may not be so forgiving if the pet damages company property. Employees could be liable if expensive equipment is permanently damaged or if repairs are needed.
Even though the most accommodating companies may love pets and want employees to bring them, not all companies own their office space. Companies may have to check with their landlords to make sure that pets are allowed in the building.
After reviewing the benefits and challenges of having a pet-friendly workplace, if you are ready to allow pets to join their owners at work, here are a few tips to get started.
Every company has its own culture and atmosphere. These suggestions may seem restrictive, or may take the fun out of having an animal at the office, but they help companies avoid potential problems.
- If people are allergic, try to keep pets in certain areas of the building. Be prepared to change company policy if employees are seriously allergic.
- Document everything. Have releases from all employees about allergies. Require that employees provide documentation stating that pets are licensed, vaccinated, and trained.
- Create policies about what happens when a pet injures someone or destroys property.
- Make sure health and safety regulations allow pets in the office.
- Double check the building lease to see if pets are allowed.
- Create separate clauses in employee contracts that state that if an employee brings a pet to work they must have extra insurance to cover any accidents or injuries and must be willing to pay any damages related lawsuits or repairs.
- Make all visitors and new employees that pets are allowed in the office.
- Set aside space for pets who need a break from busy office life.
There are some challenges to creating a pet-friendly workplace, but with employee feedback, education, and planning pets can be a great addition to the team. Most employees and companies agree that the benefits outweigh the challenges. Looks like it might be time to grab a leash and stock up on pet treats.