Why are so many workplaces becoming pet-friendly?

Americans love their pets. According to the American Pet Products Association, overall household pet ownership increased from 54% in 2009 to 68% in 2016, and spending on pets has risen sharply along with it. Most people consider their pets part of the family, and are increasingly willing to pamper and provide them every imaginable comfort, from spas to hotels to doggy daycare.

It thus comes as no surprise that, in  an attempt to attract and retain talent, employers are beginning to offer pet-related benefits to their staff. Approximately 5,000 US companies now extend pet insurance to their employees, and that number continues to rise. One of the primary drivers of this trend is millennials’ influence on the workplace. Job seekers and employees in this age group are delaying parenthood, with many opting to have “fur babies” instead. Caring for a pet can be quite time-consuming and expensive, so workplace benefits that provide support to pet owners are undeniably attractive.

One of the most popular ways to do this is to allow pets in the workplace. Some of the world’s biggest brands, including Amazon, Google, Salesforce, and Proctor and Gamble, boast pet-friendly environments with all kinds of amenities for animals. Smaller organizations are also opening their doors to four-legged friends — and the advantages that come with them.

How welcoming pets can improve your organization.

There’s a growing body of research that demonstrates letting employees bring their pets to work can have several benefits, such as:

  • Better employee mental and physical health. The presence of pets has been shown to reduce blood pressure, anxiety, and stress. Not only are they cute and fun to play with, but cuddling pets also stimulates the release of feel-good hormones like oxytocin and endorphins. This is why people tend to feel more relaxed and comfortable, especially around furry animals. And as we all know, dogs in particular are excellent motivators for getting more exercise and fresh air.
  • Increased morale, teamwork, attentiveness, and cooperation. Pets provide a neutral and casual opportunity for employees to connect and bond. They also encourage people from different departments to interact with each other more than they might otherwise.
  • Boosted productivity. When employees don’t have to rush home to feed their rabbit or let their dog out, they can be more attentive and focused at work. Being able to bring pets into the workplace also alleviates the stress of figuring out daycare, dog walkers, and other logistics that can impede productivity. Moreover, the heightened teamwork and morale mentioned previously can also serve to spark productivity.
  • Improved corporate image. According to a recent Skout study, 51% of employees and 58% of respondents under 30 years old believe dogs in the workplace make an organization “a cool place to work.” These figures are three times higher than those who said the same of foosball or ping pong tables. A pet-friendly workplace indicates that leadership has a forward-thinking and humane mindset, and that corporate culture is driven by employee experience and work-life balance.
  • Decreased turnover. It’s hard for employees to leave an organization that helps them feel healthier and more engaged. Pets do exactly that, so organizations that welcome animals can benefit from being better able to retain their staff.

Beware of possible hazards.

Of course, not all organizations are suited to having pets present. Here are some issues to consider:

  • Allergies and phobias. Employees with these reservations should not be forced into situations that could make them sick or uncomfortable.
  • Cost. If you decide to provide food, toys, bedding, etc for pets, these expenses can add up.
  • Potential property damage. Chewing, shedding, barking, and “accidents” could wreak havoc on the workplace environment.
  • Safety. Pets should not be allowed in spaces such as kitchens, laboratories, factories, or any other facility where the safety of employees and/or animals could be compromised. It’s also important to note that if an employee or customer gets bitten, you might be held liable.

Best practices for a pet-friendly workplace.

To avoid these pitfalls, it’s best to create a transparent pet policy with your staff so everyone is on the same page. Start with a dialogue to figure out what both people with and without pets need. Then work gradually to implement a plan that respects these perspectives. Here are some rules you might look into:

  • Introducing each pet to the workplace through a trial period.
  • Capping the maximum number of pets allowed in the workplace at a time.
  • Limiting the spaces where pets are allowed to roam, and/or requiring leashes or cages.
  • Outlining consequences for misbehavior.
  • Requiring that each pet be housebroken, non-shedding, pass an obedience course, and/or have a clean bill of health, etc.
  • Finding a secure place for garbage, plants, food, etc.

While it’s easy to get caught up in the human side of these arrangements, don’t neglect the pets’ experience. Pet safety is equally important, and your work environment should never cause an animal stress or harm. Each pet is an individual and should be treated as such, with situations dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Lastly, it’s critical to remember that you can’t prevent employees from being accompanied by service or assistive therapy animals. Click here for more information on accommodating service animals in the workplace, and if you’re curious about other ways you can improve employee engagement at your organization, book a free LifeSpeak demo today.


Also published on Medium.