Can pets become a part of office life?

 —  Article by Natasha Stokes
woman and dog in office
Image credit: Shutterstock

At the Mars Petcare offices outside Nashville, hundreds of dogs may roam the grounds or lay by their owners’ desks on any given day.

Video game developer Zynga’s headquarters features a rooftop dog park for employees’ canine companions, while Google has made dog-friendliness part of its company code of conduct.

“More companies, especially in the technology sector, are allowing employees to bring their pets into the office,” says Susan Sutherland, Head of APAC Corporate Research at JLL. “It’s not going to be the right fit – or even a viable option – for all companies but well implemented pet-friendly policies can bring something extra to the workplace experience for employees.”

Dogs tend to be the most popular pet wandering corporate floors, but some companies are opening their doors to other animals – staff at Zynga can also bring in their cats, lizards, ferrets or rabbits.

Let the dogs in

A growing number of companies are open to pets joining their owners in the workplace. Around 8 percent of UK employees can bring their furry friends into the office every day. In the U.S., the proportion of companies allowing pets in the office has increased from 5 percent in 2013 to 8 percent, according to a 2015 Society for Human Resource Management survey.

Other companies are opting for mobile petting zoos such as Washington D.C.’s Squeals on Wheels or Austin’s Tiny Tails to You, which bring their well-trained assortment of animals into offices for a few hours under the watchful eye of supervisors. In India, JLL recently held its first Paws at Work session in its Guragon office where staff spent four hours with three specially trained dogs from FurBallStory.

“Having pets in the office can promote the wellbeing of employees and reduce stress levels in the workplace,” says Bernice Boucher, Managing Director, JLL Consulting in the U.S. Dog owners who bring their pets into the office are less likely to spend hours sitting immobile at their desks – and taking regular short breaks has been shown to improve productivity. One study published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management found that other employees, regardless of whether they were pet owners, also reported improved job satisfaction when pets were in the office.

“A pet can provide a talking point for colleagues from different departments to connect,” Boucher notes. “This helps promote a warmer, friendlier company culture.”

Being known as a pet-friendly company can benefit the public corporate image too. Millennials, who will soon be the largest pet-owning demographic, tend to see their pets like “starter children” – and by 2020, they will make up nearly half the workforce. A pets-in-the-office policy can help attract and retain this expanding talent sector, Sutherland suggests.

Creating pet friendly spaces

Yet allowing staff to bring in pets often involves a rethink of office spaces. “One of the biggest challenges is to ensure that coworkers with allergies or who are not comfortable around pets can work without disruption,” Sutherland says. “It’s crucial for companies to set a clear policy about where pets can be, and how they must behave.”

At Google, dogs aren’t allowed on the sand volleyball court, in meetings or in break areas, and owners must receive approval from managers and neighbors before their dogs can come to work. A one-strike policy bans dogs who cause a mess or are aggressive. For pet-owning employees of Salesforce, the Puppyforce area is soundproofed to minimize distractions for other workers, with rubber flooring that’s easier to clean.

“Good planning is necessary to avoid conflict between pet-owners and other employees,” Boucher says. “Even so, many commercial landlords prefer not to have pets in their buildings at all, because pets may damage the space, or create hygiene or noise issues for other tenants.”

That could change as more companies publicize their positive experiences with pets in their offices. Nestle, which owns petcare brand Purina, requires that pets pass a health check and 12 exercises designed to gauge suitability for an office environment. After that comes a three-month probation period – and if passed, pets receive their “Passpawt” to become official members of the office.

For now, pets are only part of a small minority of offices but Sutherland believes more companies could open the door to employees’ four legged family members. “Some companies might only allow pets in once a week or once a month rather than every day,” she concludes. “But for people with well-behaved pets, it could be a welcome employee perk – and save on some dog day care fees.”

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