The idea of bringing pets to work isn’t new, but with the post-COVID-19 return to the workplace that is being negotiated between staff and employers right now, more and more organizations might see themselves becoming pet-friendly.
While working from home during the pandemic's lockdowns and physical distancing phase, many people acquired pets. An animal in the house offered companionship to those who were cut off from their families and friends. Having a dog, in particular, gave people an opportunity and a reason to get out of the house and go for regular walks.
Pets also reduce stress. So, having an animal around helped many people cope with the added uncertainty and anxiety brought on by the coronavirus. Workplace stress is also a leading cause of staff absenteeism, low morale, and burnout, resulting in significant loss of productivity and resources for companies.
A recent study from the Virginia Commonwealth University led by Dr. Randolph T. Barker found that having pets at work can make a positive difference in the workplace by reducing stress levels and increasing job satisfaction for employees – even those who are not the pet’s actual owner.
Barker (yes, that is his real name) explains, “This study provides the first quantitative study of the effects of employees' pet dogs in the workplace setting on employee stress, job satisfaction, support, and commitment. Dogs in the workplace can make a positive difference. The differences in perceived stress between days the dog was present and absent were significant. The employees as a whole had higher job satisfaction than industry norms."
This study was conducted at a dinnerware company that saw an average of 20 to 30 dogs a day on site. As the workday went on, the research found that the average stress level scores fell about 11 percent among workers who had brought their dogs to work, with a spill-over effect on other workers as well.
"They tend to see that the dogs increase co-worker cooperation and interaction, particularly when people would go by and see the dog just to visit," says Barker.
So, with reduced employee stress and increased communication and collaboration among staff, it looks like a clear win for bringing Fido to work. As more people adopted pets during the pandemic, many are now looking for pet-friendly workplaces to bring them to.
Another recent survey, this one from LiveCareer, found that 52 percent of respondents think that pet-friendly benefits and policies are important when considering an employer. Almost as many, 49 percent, said that a pet-friendly work environment could actually convince them to take a job offer.
That could make creating a pet-friendly environment an employee-attraction benefit for companies struggling to attract staff in a tight labour market. Not all workers are on board with the idea, however.
The LiveCareer study also found that some workers thought having pets around the office would be a negative experience. Among their top concerns were allergic reactions (35 percent), increased distraction (31 percent), unsanitary conditions (20 percent), smell (eight percent), and danger (six percent).
Many people are allergic to dogs and cats, and some genuinely fear certain kinds of animals. These are considerations that employers would have to take into account before opening the door to employees bringing their pets into the office regularly.
However, given the labour shortage following the pandemic and the increase in pet ownership, it is clear that introducing a pet-friendly policy could help employers attract and retain workers during this period known as the Great Resignation.
However, to avoid losing workers who are not so enthusiastic about the idea of pets at work, companies should create a detailed set of guidelines, including requirements for pet vaccinations and an action plan for pet-related incidents. The team at LiveCareer recommends the following.
Suggested pet-friendly workplace policies:
- Decide on requirements for pet gates to separate pet-friendly from animal-free workplace areas. This allows those staff with allergies or discomfort around animals to easily avoid them.
- Pet-zoned areas should be clear of potentially dangerous items such as wires/cables, human food, or furniture or equipment that could be knocked over, chewed on, or otherwise damaged.
- Accessible outdoor areas should be available for pet breaks.
- Set up pet clean-up stations with resources such as stain and odor eliminator sprays and sanitizing, deodorizing wipes for "accidents" that occur around the workplace.
Organizations should also have a written agreement about pet owners being responsible for any damage their animals do to company property before allowing them to bring pets into the office.
Barker summarizes, "Pet presence may serve as a low-cost, wellness intervention readily available to many organizations and may enhance organizational satisfaction and perceptions of support. Of course, it is important to have policies in place to ensure only friendly, clean, and well-behaved pets are present in the workplace."
Research has shown that bringing companion animals to work can brighten up the workplace environment, reduce stress, and increase team cohesion. However, before opening the gates to a stampede of pets coming into the office, organizations should make sure that they have covered all their bases.