Tech companies have long used office perks like flexible time, lavish catering, and on-site massage therapy to attract top talent. One of the latest new-age benefits? Office pets.
From Nestle Purina to Uber, more pups are showing up in offices. Amazon is particularly famous for its pet friendliness, boasting an on-campus dog park, complimentary poop bags and treats to maintain its 7,000 registered dogs. The Amazon “Woof Pack” is responsible for planning activities and events surrounding Amazon employees and their canine companions.
Sounds great, right? Here’s why some employers think it’s a plus for productivity:
The Case for Office Pets
The trend toward people bringing pets to work has its roots in a single phrase: employee experience. Employers who allow pets in the office claim they cut stress, which has all sorts of follow-on effects related to productivity.
Modern workplaces are stressful, with buzzing notifications from phones, desktop computers, and even smartwatches. According to Gallup, 55% of Americans feel stressed, angry, or worried during the workday. With more than half of American workers feeling the squeeze, employers are getting creative with stress-management solutions.
As it turns out, pets work wonderfully. Researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University tested the saliva of those who brought their dogs to work and those who didn’t. The study showed that people who brought their dog to work had lower levels of a stress hormone than those who did not.
Workers who spend less time stressing tend to be more productive. A National Institute for Occupational Safety study found dog-friendly workplaces enjoy higher morale and productivity but lower absenteeism.
The Arguments Against Office Pets
Workplace conditions can profoundly affect workers’ ability to focus, and there is no denying pets can impact that. So before you go putting treats out on your desk and making room for a cat castle near the window, it’s important to understand that pets in the workplace do have their drawbacks:
- Many animals have behavior or hygiene issues that can negatively affect others.
- Some people find pets roaming the halls distracting. Distractions are one of the most common barriers to productivity.
- An estimated 30 percent of Americans struggle with some form of animal allergy.
- Cynophobia, or fear of dogs, affects seven to nine percent of the population and is recognized by the DSM-5 as a mental disorder.
- Increased liability in terms of pet-related accidents, such as dog bites or fleas in the workspace.
Weigh the pros and cons: If nobody in your office is afraid of, allergic to, or distracted by dogs, then a pet-friendly office is probably in your best interests. But if people can’t seem to focus when there are animals roaming around, or if the pets in question aren’t well behaved, then you might want to think twice before putting a doggy door in the office.
How to Craft a Pet Policy for Optimal Productivity
Despite these caveats, we may all just need to acknowledge that permitting pets in the office is generally a nice perk, and if done correctly, can create positive outcomes.
The trick is implementing a nuanced, context-specific policy that enables benefits without creating chaos or hurting the bottom line. What does this mean?
Ask for Employee Input.
There is no quicker way to alienate people than implementing a new policy without giving those who might object a chance to voice their concerns. If workers are afraid to voice their opinions, put out an anonymous comment box or request feedback via email.
Set Ground Rules.
Don’t assume common sense is enough. Office pets’ vaccinations must be up to date. No aggressive, sick, loud or hyper animals should be allowed. Pets must be supervised and comfortable around other animals, as well as being potentially separated from their owner.
Establish No-Go Zones.
Dogs and cats do not need to be present for every office function. Perhaps it’s a good idea to ban pets from meetings. Designate some areas of the office as animal-free, and consider a rotating schedule to limit the number of pets in the office at any given time.
Check your insurance policy before developing a pet plan. Keep in mind that most general liability policies exclude animals — but most commercial property insurance does cover damage to office space that is caused by pets.
Plan for Problematic Pets.
Animals can be unpredictable in new environments. Although that’s to be expected, it can’t get in the way of business operations. Consider a three-strikes policy: Give animals three chances when it comes to accidents or unsuitable behavior.
We live in a pet-obsessed society, and it’s probably best to embrace this and use it to your company’s advantage. The positive effect on employee wellbeing and productivity is too great to pass up.
With that said, every workplace has its own needs and preferences. Think through yours, and design your pet policy to match.