Working from home has improved employees’ connections to their pets
Richa Namballa, a data scientist and project manager with software company SAP, has been working from home since mid-March due to the coronavirus. She and her 14-year-old dachshund-mix Miles, are living with her parents as they wait out the pandemic. Miles has an enlarged heart and congestive heart failure, so he requires a lot of attention, but working from home allows Namballa to provide him with the care he needs. But Miles isn’t the only one who is benefiting from this arrangement. Having her beloved dog at her side while she works has been a boon to her productivity and mental health.
“Miles has definitely made working from home a lot more enjoyable,” Namballa says. “He's a good distraction once in a while, when you're kind of starting to burn out a little bit. It's definitely nice to be able to talk to him, pet him and take care of him.”
Being at home with Miles also helps to alleviate the worrying she typically does while at the office, as Miles’ vast healthcare needs can be distracting.
“I've had him since he was eight weeks old, so he's been here for a really long time,” Namballa says. “Being at home has also been good because I'm not as worried about him as I was when I was at work.”
Pets have played a huge role in improving a person’s physical and mental health, both pre-pandemic and throughout the coronavirus crisis. Owning a pet can reduce depression and improve a person’s mood, as well as lower cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure, according to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute.
For employees now working from home, those who are doing so with a pet have said they feel a greater bond with their pet and have felt more positive since the start of the pandemic, according to a survey by Banfield Pet Hospital.
Being able to work alongside a pet has “really helped create a sense of well being [during] this pandemic,” says Melissa Marshall, vice president of people and organization at Banfield Pet Hospital. “Pets actually being by our side creates a decompressive environment and it's been very positive.”
That bond has grown as employees spend more time at home. Twenty percent of the surveyed employees say they prefer working alongside their pets over their human co-workers.
And the pets are benefiting too: One-third of owners believe their pets appear to be happier (38%) and more playful (35%) during this time. Pets are also receiving extra love, with 65% percent of owners saying they are showing them increased affection.
However, employees are already preparing to transition back to the office as coronavirus restrictions lift, and are grappling with increased anxiety over how to manage without their pets at their side. Seventy three percent of people are concerned about going back to the office and spending time away from their pets, with 59% worried their dog or cat may suffer from separation anxiety once their new work schedule begins, according to the Banfield study.
For pet-owners anxious about what the future has in store, Marshall has several strategies employees can utilize to make the return to work as easy on their pets as possible.
For instance, employees should ease their pets into a new routine, so there isn’t such a shock for the animal when the owner isn’t there on a 24-hour basis anymore. Another tactic would be to give the pet their favorite distraction leading up to the moment of departure to pivot their attention on to something else.
“There's an element of fear. You've been spending all this time with your pet, and you have to go back to your [pre-pandemic] normal, so it shifts that human-pet bond that's been created,” Marshall says.
Employers are now tasked with figuring out how to incorporate the needs of their pet-owning employees into their return-to-work plans. Pet benefits are currently offered by 15% of organizations, and employers like SAP, Wolverine Worldwide, and Microsoft all offer employees a pet benefit such as dog friendly work environments, dog daycare or pet insurance.
Employers like SAP have recognized the role pets play in employees’ lives during COVID and beyond, and as such have enhanced their pet benefits. Recently, SAP teamed up with retailer Petco to offer a discounted wellness benefit and additional pet insurance coverage for accidents and illnesses, preventive care, and discounts on supplies and services at Petco.
“We recognize that pets are often important members of the family and can help our employees feel safe and secure — especially during times of stress,” Jason Russell, head of North America total rewards for SAP, says. “Offering pet insurance and pet bereavement leave aligns with our overall goal of supporting SAP employees and their families at work and in their everyday lives.”
Pet-friendly benefits like SAP’s pet insurance have helped Namballa afford the extensive medical bills for her dog Miles.
“I don't have to worry about if there's a huge medical expense, like an emergency room visit, because that's going to be covered. It also covers some preventive care,” she says. “I would have never thought about signing up for pet insurance before it was offered as an employee benefit.”
The benefits have also helped Namballa feel appreciated and seen by her employer, especially during times of high stress and anxiety.
“I struggled with mental health problems pretty much my whole life, and having a pet is one of the best therapies that I can think of. Pets are members of your family and they do give you unconditional love,” Namballa says. “I really appreciate it when employers acknowledge how important pets are to their employees. Pet insurance and pet bereavement leave are some of the most important benefits to people like me, and it's just it feels really reassuring when your employer recognizes that.”