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6 things to consider before implementing a pet-friendly policy

With pet ownership on the rise — more than a third of Americans today have a four-legged friend — an increasing number of employees are looking for pet-friendly workplaces. And employers are increasingly taking note.

Companies like Amazon, Kimpton and Salesforce now allow employees to bring pets to work with them. Some provide walking trails, “pet desks,” or special dog-friendly rooms. The floor cleaning company Bissell Homecare has an indoor dog spa, and Procter & Gamble gives pets titles such as “Vice President of Canine Communications.”

Still, turning a workplace into a pet-friendly zone is a big decision, and it’s not for every company. With major increases in pet ownership and a cultural shift in pet parenting, HR leaders should review the following pros and cons and start building a clear pet policy.
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Pro: Workplace pets can help reduce stress and improve well-being.

As workplaces strive to create more informal, comfortable atmospheres, pets can add a special warmth. According to a 2012 study from Virginia Commonwealth University, employees who were around dogs in the workplace reported feeling less stressed than employees who have dogs but left them at home. Also, having a dog to walk a few times each day also supports wellness.
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Con: Pets can be disruptive.

Pets can be loud, and can damage or destroy property. Attending to their needs (such as feeding or walking pets) can interfere with employee productivity, and many employees will be distracted from work by the presence of animals scurrying around the office. It also is important to consider how many pets, especially dogs, should be running around the office at any given time. Many pet parents also have two or more dogs, and it can get crowded, especially as many pet parents prefer to leave pets unleashed in office.

Pro: A “pro-pet” policy attracts and retains workers.

Making room for pets at the workplace is a great way to attract job candidates — especially millennials. And it’s a retention-booster as well: Pet owners who work for pet-friendly employers are more likely to experience job satisfaction, increased morale and appreciation for their employer. In turn, employers will experience higher retention and lower turnover.

Con: Some employees could get sick and scared.

Not everyone loves animals, and some feel deeply uncomfortable and scared around them. In addition, many people have allergies. At least 25-30% of Americans suffer from pet allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Companies that invite pets into the office need to ensure they can accommodate the needs of such employees with clear policies on behavior, and should consider designating pet-free zones. Also, not all pets are the same, and some are more aggressive or out of control than others. Even in the case of bringing service animals to work, the law defines that these animals be well-trained, housebroken and even-tempered.

Pro: Having pets in office may improve coworker interactions and connection.

Pets also trigger workplace interactions that would not normally take place. Naturally, co-workers will ask about each other’s pets, learn their names, and connect on a level beyond work, projects and tasks. Bringing dogs to work can also bring some comic relief and reduce tensions.
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Con: Pets may bring on greater liability.

Employers that allow animals at the workplace have to prepare for the liability this might entail. Before creating such a policy, it is advisable to address possible worst-case scenarios, from damaged property, contamination, employees or customers getting hurt, or even pets getting hurt. Also, specific industries like medical, pharmaceutical, laboratories, and food businesses are all businesses where pets can be pose a specific contamination hazard, and are best kept out of the work environment.