HR corner: Rover at work – Pet friendly workplaces?

July 11, 2017
| United States

Sara Ritter, M.A., SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Senior HR Consultant

Pet owners know that their fur babies are a part of the family. They are an integral part of our lives and we cannot imagine life without them. As a “mom” to a dog and two cats, I know this firsthand. According to the American Pet Products 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey, 68% of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, have a pet.

Not only are they good for the soul, they are good for our health, too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pets can decrease our cholesterol/triglyceride levels, blood pressure and feelings of loneliness, and increase our exercise habits and opportunities for socialization (who doesn’t want to stop and pet a cute little puppy?).

So what does all this have to do with the workplace? Many employers are starting to realize the potential benefits that pet-friendly policies can reap for attraction and retention and are taking Rover into consideration when developing workplace policies and benefits.

In light of this, according to the 2016 SHRM Employee Benefits Survey, employers are beginning to see the value in benefits such as pet insurance (9%), allowing pets in the office full-time (7%) and take your pet to work days (2%). These numbers may seem small, but represent a growing number of employers embracing their employees’ personal needs at work.

What are the benefits of a pet-friendly workplace?

In today’s millennial heavy workplace, organizations that are pet-friendly are seeing that it can be an effective recruitment and retention tool. With millennials delaying getting married and having children, they often turn to pets for companionship. A recent study by Banfield Pet Hospital found that more than 80% of respondents thought that pets in the workplace are a positive tool to boost morale, reduce the guilt of leaving pets at home, reduce stress for employees, offer a greater work-life balance, and improve loyalty to the company. A majority of respondents stated that they were more likely to stay with an employer offering pet-friendly policies.

Not only are pets a morale booster, they are a natural conversation starter — which helps to boost collaboration within the office. Pet-friendly employers also provide employees with better work-life balance — they no longer have to worry about rushing home after work or during lunch to walk their dog or pay for a dog walker to do it for them, which can lead to higher productivity.

How can my organization become a pet-friendly workplace?

According to SHRM, it is critical to get employees’ input prior to implementing a pet-friendly program — because not all cultures are ready for such a shift. By getting employee opinions, organizations can determine if the idea is feasible – or not.

It is also important to have a formal policy outlining what is, and what is not, permitted. However, half of all pet-friendly workplaces do not have a formal policy. Most organizations would prefer that the pet be housebroken, well-mannered, gets along with others, is spayed/ neutered and up to date on vaccinations. Some even go as far as putting a weight limit on the pets that can be brought to work. It is important to remember that bringing a pet to work is a privilege, not a right, and policies should clearly state who is responsible for a pet in the office. No one wants an ill-mannered Great Dane running around, knocking over garbage cans and otherwise causing chaos. Manager approval is a must. This should be a privilege that can be revoked at any time if it is not working out.

Other items to consider are employee length of service requirements, nearby co-worker approval and co-worker allergies. Perhaps consider segmenting a “pet-free” zone for employees who have allergies or are not “pet people” in general. Organizations also need to consider any modifications required for the office to be pet friendly (dog gates, “potty” areas, electrical modifications, etc.). Additionally, if you do not own your office space, you would need to get your management company’s permission to implement such a policy.

If a “bring your pet to work” policy is not feasible for your organization, you still have some options. Consider offering pet insurance and/ or sponsoring local animal shelters either monetarily or with paid time off to volunteer. Another possibility would be to add pets to your sick and bereavement policies, or offer “new pet bonding time” — remembering that to many employees, pets are a member of the family.

Last, but definitely not least: A note on service animals

Any requests to bring service animals into the workplace should not be immediately dismissed. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently took the position that emotional support animals may be a reasonable accommodation under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), filing suit against an organization who denied employment to an applicant with a service animal.

Even in non-pet friendly workplaces, requests of this type should be evaluated the same as you would evaluate any other accommodation request, working in conjunction with legal counsel to ensure that you are going through the appropriate interactive process to determine any accommodations or undue hardships.

With all this being said, pets are an integral part of many employee’s lives. What are you doing to embrace this fact?