Spending time with pets reduces stress and increases well-being. As companies adopt fresh approaches to culture building, from mindfulness initiatives to office-wide coffee dates, workplaces that are dog-friendly are also on the rise. Interacting with a canine companion throughout the day promotes employee happiness and conversation, but before you let the dogs into your workspace think specifically about the needs of your colleagues and their four-legged friends.
According to a 2015 Society for Human Resource Management survey, roughly 8 percent of employers allow pets in the office, up from 5 percent in 2013. The uptick suggests that more and more companies are embracing the upside of having furry friends in the office, or even building their workplaces with them in mind.
"It brings so many benefits to both the employee and the employer," says Erika Kavanagh, People Operations Manager at DogVacay, which connects pet owners with qualified pet sitters. "I can focus on my job more fully because I don't have to worry about going home during lunch to walk my two dogs; they're already here running around with their friends and having fun."
In addition to feeling like a better pet parent, Kavanagh says that the dogs prompt her to take walks, decompress and soak up more sunshine in the middle of the workday.
"If you get stressed about something, it's really hard to be angry with a dog in your lap," she says. "And they break up the day. You never know what they're going to do, so there are so many cute, funny moments that happen in the office that are just a nice break for everyone to enjoy together."
Employee interaction is one of the biggest benefits to a dog-friendly workplace, which is echoed by team members at Nestlé's pet-friendly U.K. office. "People will stop you in the corridors to stroke your dog so you start talking to someone in a different part of the company who you'd never normally have spoken to, or have only encountered over email," employee Odette Forbes told The Guardian's Donna Ferguson in a 2016 interview.
In addition to fostering organic employee connections, open-door pet policies appear to support a whole slew of other health benefits. Experts at Harvard Medical School say that our four-legged companions help reduce stress and improve heart health. They're also thought to stave off depression by encouraging physical exercise and social interactions.
What's more, pet-friendly policies may play a very real role in employee performance and well-being. In 2016, Banfield Pet Hospital surveyed over 1,000 employees and 200 HR decision makers across the U.S. An overwhelming majority agreed that pet-friendly offices improve things like work-life balance, morale, productivity and professional relationships. Another key finding? Over half of the employees surveyed said they'd be more likely to stay with their company if they could bring their pets into the office—a significant takeaway for recruitment and retention.
"Having a dog-friendly office helps us live our mission; we want to make the world better for pets and those who love them. This, in turn, helps us recruit and retain passionate employees who share in this mission," says Kavanagh. "On a broader scale, a dog-friendly office is a great tool for any company looking to add an amazing benefit to their culture." But running a pet-friendly office doesn't come without challenges; allergies and sanitation issues immediately come to mind. Being a pet-servicing industry, DogVacay has an obvious leg up. (Kavanagh says that pretty much all their employees are dog lovers.) However, those of us who aren't pet people might not be too keen on sharing our workspace with playful pups.
"About 10 years ago, I worked for a small startup that had an open-door policy for dogs and I wasn't a fan," says Ryan Buynak, a creative strategist in South Florida. "I'm a dog lover at heart, but found it difficult to concentrate with the CEO's high-energy Yorkie zipping around the office and barking nonstop—not to mention the accidents he frequently left by desk!"
Buynak's concerns are valid, but it seems that more and more companies are taking steps to get ahead of potential problems. As The Guardian reports, Nestlé's U.K. office has strict no-dog zones to accommodate visitors who prefer to do business pet-free. They also have a comprehensive vetting system that requires every dog to pass a three-month trial period before becoming an official team member.
All of this begs an obvious question: What about employees with allergies? It's probably in the company's best interest to create a separate pet-free work area for exactly this reason. It's actually more of a legal safeguard than a courtesy. As Inc.'s Christine Lagorio-Chafkin reported in 2016, an animal allergy could potentially be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Failing to make reasonable accommodations could find employers in hot water, legally speaking. Property damage and personal injury represent other possible pitfalls.
Another thing to keep in mind is if your current office space allows pets. In 2015, a number of executives from dog-friendly companies told CNBC that finding this kind of commercial real estate is a real hurdle in some cities.
At the end of the day, the decision to go all in with pets in the workplace really comes down to the employer. June 23 is annual Take Your Dog to Work Day, which could be a great way to test the waters. If all goes well, you might have a wildly popular employee wellness add-on at your fingertips.
Photography by Nick Dunlap