Pet-friendly policies are an office morale booster

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While animal-loving employees appreciate policies that permit pets in the workplace, they actually prefer pet-related paid time off and bereavement leave, notes a survey 1,000 employees and 200 HR decision-makers conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital.

The Pet-Friendly Workplace PAWrometer findings also noted improvements reported in five key areas as a result of implementing pet-friendly policies. They included higher morale (93%), lower stress (93%), better work-life balance (91%), increased company loyalty (91%) and reduced guilt among pet owners about leaving their pets at home (91%).

The past two years of this annual research suggest that “employers are becoming more receptive to the idea of implementing pet-friendly policies at work due to the increasing interest from employees and the positive impacts associated with these policies,” says Stephanie Neuvirth, SVP of people and organization at Banfield Pet Hospital, the world’s largest general-veterinary practice, which was bought earlier in the year by Mars, Inc. “We believe pet-related benefits will continue to rise in popularity among desired workplace benefits.”

She says HR professionals and their advisers should be aware that pet-friendly policies positively impact everything from recruiting and hiring to well-being, productivity and retention —particularly among millennials.

For example, Neuvirth says the data suggest they’re more likely to influence a millennial’s job search (42%) than older adults (23%). In addition, she notes that millennials are far more likely to continue employment at a company that implements pet-friendly policies (60%) than their elders (39%).

Potential downsides

A pet-friendly workplace helps build a sense of connectedness with teammates, but there are potential downsides to consider, explains Paul White, a licensed psychologist, consultant and author of “The Vibrant Workplace.”

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Since many people want co-workers to know about other parts of their life, including hobbies, he believes “it makes sense that they would like others to know about the pets they have. And I think it’s reasonable to have openness to bringing your pet in to introduce to your colleagues.”

However, White says employees who don’t have pets might feel pet owners have an unfair advantage. Another issue he raises is that allowing pets at work presents “logistical hassles” day in and day out that create a “diminishing return” on any investment made in fostering this environment.

Still, researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Human-Animal Interaction noted the benefits of having such a policy. Employees of a manufacturing services company who were permitted to bring their dogs to work were less stressed, while many pet-free co-workers noticed a positive impact on their productivity as well.

White sees value in other pet-related benefits. “My office administrator had gotten a young dog that she loved, and it had a major medical issue,” he explains. “We worked with her to be able to take time off to be with her pet during the procedure and see the dog either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and people would cover for her. That was meaningful because it was an important part of her life and she was deeply appreciative of it.”

One way that employers can promote this flexibility, he suggests, is if they consider as an alternative use of family and medical leave that extends paid or unpaid leaves of absence to caring for or being with a pet in lieu of a person.

“We value choice and the opportunity to choose,” White explains, “and we resent it when we are essentially commanded to do something and don’t have a choice.”

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Practice management Workforce management Employee engagement Employee productivity