People these days love their pets more than ever – or maybe they’ve just become more vocal about their affection for Fido in recent times. Either way, this trend has created a lot of buzz about pet-friendly workplaces.
According to a 2016 report from the Society for Human Resource Management, only about 7 percent of offices in the U.S. allow pets in the workplace. So, it’s still a pretty unusual employee perk.
Proponents often argue that permitting pets in the office may increase retention, promote relaxation and help recruit other pet owners. However, not everyone feels comfortable around animals, and not all pets are well-behaved enough to warrant hanging out under a desk all day.
Before you open your workplace to furry (or feathered or scaled) friends, consider these important points to help minimize distractions, maximize productivity and promote a peaceful coexistence for all.
1. Building practicalities
When deciding on whether you can create a pet-friendly office, it’s important to take practicalities into account.
First, think about your location. Pet poop happens. If your office is housed downtown on the 26th floor of a high rise that is four blocks from the nearest park, where will pets do their business? Yes, you could create an indoor poo yard, but is that practical? Who wants to sit next to that? There’s not enough aromatherapy or disinfectant in existence to make the corner cubicle next to the poo yard an appealing workspace (or a hygienic one, for that matter).
If you own the building where you operate, you probably have more latitude about whether employees can bring their pets to work. You can set the standards for what types of animals are suitable for the work environment. But where do you draw the line? Although dog-friendly offices seem more commonplace than all-encompassing pet policies, what about a pet boa constrictor? Cats? Goldfish? Ferrets? Parrots?
If you rent office space, your building management will need to be consulted. They may forbid pets altogether, require an extra deposit for potential damages, or restrict the types or sizes of pets allowed.
Regardless of whether you rent or own your workspace, it’s a good idea to contact your insurance agent about coverage for pet-related damages. That way, you know what you’re up against if someone gets bitten, or if property becomes defaced from scratching, chewing or the dreaded poop yard.
2. Impact to productivity
Pets in the office may create unique productivity issues for your workplace. Visiting with pets may prove a major distraction for employees who have trouble managing their time.
Depending on the type of pet and type of work, feeding and caring for pets throughout the day may take employees away from their duties at critical times. If Max gets a 15-minute break to walk his Dachshund, will other employees who didn’t bring a pet to work resent not getting a break?
While Jonas may believe that having his beloved German shepherd beside him all day reduces his stress, it may terrorize Holly, who was bitten as a child, and make her afraid to leave her desk.
Another consideration particular to dogs: Will clients understand if they hear barking or whimpering in the background during calls? And if your pet policy extends to other types of animals, birds squawking in the distance could be just as distracting. What about when clients come to your building? Some industries or office cultures may be too formal for such shenanigans.
3. Employee consensus
Before allowing pets into the office, it’s important to talk to your managers and employees to ensure everyone feels included in the decision-making process. Is anyone allergic or afraid? If so, what’s the severity?
Can you accommodate those with allergies by letting them work from home on the days pets are in the office? Is your office big enough, and is it feasible, to segregate pets and their owners into one area of the building? Even if these are viable options, you still may need to increase the frequency of your office cleanings to ensure proper hygiene and keep dander at bay for your allergy-prone employees.
Remember, not everyone loves dogs (or cats or snakes or rodents). You don’t want to inadvertently lose great workers or clients by creating an atmosphere that pits animal owners against those with allergies or fears of being bitten. It won’t help morale if your star accountant, who also happens to be severely allergic, feels ostracized because she vetoed dogs in the office.
If you’re undecided about allowing pets in the workplace, it may be useful to test the concept with a bring-your-pet-to-work day, then follow up with an anonymous survey afterwards.
4. Rules and restrictions
It’s a fact: Some animals are better suited than others to being around strangers in the office, warehouse or other work environment. You’ll need to build a policy that makes it clear that bringing pets to work is a privilege, not a right, and that rules must be followed.
Some companies require employees to fill out an application to bring their pet to work, with rules and restrictions clearly spelled out. This can serve as verification that the animal is current on all shots and flea/heartworm prevention – and is housebroken. Some forbid puppies, while others nix squeaky toys.
If you do open your office to pets, it’s best to decide on and communicate policies ahead of time. Be sure to address things like:
- Will you let animals roam or must they stay with their owner?
- Will you require all animals be on a leash or in a cage?
- How will misbehaving animals (and their owners) be handled?
- Are pets allowed in client meetings and conference rooms?
- What happens when the pet owner goes into a meeting and can’t be with their animal at all times?
- How will conflicts and complaints be handled?
As with any employee issue, it’s vital you set expectations ahead of time. Establish the ground rules for pet owners and hold them accountable.
5. Pet-friendly alternatives
After looking at the pros and cons of allowing dogs in the office, your company may decide that this isn’t something you can do. Still, there are several ways to show support for your animal-loving employees. Some ideas include:
- Offer a discount for pet insurance
- Host a happy hour at a dog park
- Offer paw-ternity, or paid time off for trips to the vet or adoption of a new pet
- Sponsor a cute pet photo contest with pet-friendly prizes
- Add an animal-focused charity to your corporate giving program
- Offer pet bereavement leave
By adding a few pet-friendly perks, you can create a supportive work culture without the liability and management issues that come with fully opening your halls to four-legged, feathered or other unconventional visitors.
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