Working from home has strengthened an already tight-knit bond between people and their pets, and employers would be wise to reconsider their workplace pet policies before bringing staff back into the office.
More than 23 million American households – nearly one in every five – adopted a pet during the pandemic, bringing the grand total to 90.5 million homes that shelter a furry friend, or roughly 70% of households in the country. As pet adoption skyrocketed many experts warned that the new housemates might be in for post-lockdown separation anxiety, having spent their entire lives in close proximity to their locked-down owners. More recently, however, it has become apparent that the anxiety goes both ways.
A survey of 400 dog owners by Veterinarians.org found that pet ownership was vital to maintaining mental health during the pandemic for a majority of puppy parents. According to the survey, 88% were more productive and 87% felt better able to cope with work-related stress, while 88% were able to alleviate some of the social distance and isolation-related anxiety thanks to the extra companionship.
Furthermore, 67% would consider looking for a different job if their employer didn’t provide remote work, yet 78% would stay with the company if it allowed them to bring their dog to work.
In another recent survey by the Banfield Pet Hospital, 80% of pet owners said the pandemic enhanced the bond between them and their four-legged friend, and 63% said that their time together has made them think more carefully about fitting their pets into their post-pandemic workday.
As the Great Resignation rages on, employers that want their staff to return to the office must reconsider their workplace pet policies, or risk exacerbating the problem. Fortunately many have already gotten the memo.
According to the Banfield study, half of C-suite executives plan to allow pets in the workplace, 59% of which are doing so in direct response to employee requests, and 42% believe it’s necessary to entice staff back into the office. In recent months, some of the country’s biggest employers – including Google, Amazon and Uber – have implemented such policies.
Creating a pet-friendly workplace offers a lot of benefits to inhabitants of all species, but can also pose a few potential problems, especially for those that aren’t accustomed to sharing the workspace with animals.
Pets are a great way to build social bonds between colleagues, offering an excuse to go on walks, spend some extra time by the water cooler (or bowl), and share tips and stories with fellow pet parents. A dog under your desk will also offer an irresistible icebreaker to passersby, and those puppy dog eyes can help ease tensions when they’re running high.
In fact, research has found that pets can facilitate lower levels of stress and greater employee satisfaction in the workplace – not just for owners, but for everyone in the room.
Welcoming pets into the workplace, however, can also come with a few new challenges. Animals can be messy, and needy, pulling time and attention away from work-related activities. You also can’t ignore the roughly 30% of the population that is allergic to dogs or cats.
That is why many organizations choose to put guardrails around their pet-friendly workplace policies. For example, experts suggest a trial period for pets to see how they react to the environment and require animals to be both trained and at least two (human) years old to share the workspace.
Some also recommend creating a separate area of the office for pet owners, far away from allergy sufferers or those who would prefer maintaining a pet-free work environment.
Employers should also consider budgeting a few hundred dollars a year for extra snacks, toys, and other pet accessories.
Employers who want to take their pet policy a step further can even consider offering pet-friendly perks, like veterinary care and paid time off for medical emergencies, pet bereavement leave, ‘pet-ernity’ leave for new pet owners, dog-walking services, or puppy daycare.
It might sound trivial, but the unconditional love and support offered by pets helped many through an incredibly trying period, and while the worst of the pandemic is (hopefully) over, the bonds that were created will last a lifetime.
In today’s highly competitive labour market in particular, many will find it easier to separate from their employer than from their furry friend.