We live in a pet-friendly world these days. While bookstores have always featured the occasional cat lounging in the window, Millennial-heavy workplaces and tech culture in general have taken the concept to a whole new level. Many offices, both large and small (including Avvo), are now going “pet-friendly.”
Although the CEO’s corgi does provide an adorable office mascot, it’s a good idea for a company to first implement an appropriate, respectful pet policy before foisting any creatures on the employees. Here’s some background on what works and doesn’t work.
Look for success stories
Start by researching companies with successful pet policies. These companies claim many benefits to allowing employees to bring their pets to work. The Humane Society of the United States, a pet-friendly workplace, points to a study showing that people who bring their dogs with them to work experience lower stress levels. Informal reporting by companies with pet policies back up those findings—employees experienced reduced stress, greater productivity, and higher satisfaction.
Petplan, a pet health insurance provider that works with companies to provide pet coverage for employees, has always been pet-friendly. “We’ve found that sharing our office with pets serves to reaffirm our team’s commitment to our core value ‘pets come first,'” says Natasha Ashton, co-founder and co-CEO of Petplan. “Over the past ten years, we’ve seen firsthand how pets make for a happier environment, help break down barriers between teams, and provide some welcome stress relief through the day.”
Pet-focused companies aren’t the only organizations enjoying the benefits of pets at work. Replacements, Ltd., the china and housewares company, has been dog-friendly for 20 years. URBN, the parent company of retailers Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, has a dog park on its Philadelphia campus.
Many internet start-ups have a pet policy as part of their company culture, with Google famously codifying its dog policy in its Code of Conduct.
Communication and buy-in are key
Any major policy change at a company needs to have buy-in from senior leadership. Adding or modifying a pet policy is no different and should be carefully considered and then broadly communicated.
According to the Humane Society, finding out how employees feel about having pets at work is the first step in developing a policy. Even if the idea comes from the top, the employees need a chance to give their input.
Knowing how many people would support such a policy is helpful, but it’s also important to listen to employees who might not be as excited about the idea. Take note of their concerns and make sure they are addressed in the policy. Managers and supervisors also need to know how to handle any conflicts that might arise between employees because of the pet policy.
It’s also important for a company to make sure its building maintenance and facilities team is on board with the new policy. The people who clean the building need to prepare for pet-related accidents and have supplies on hand for employees to clean up any accidents. Also, if the company doesn’t own the facility, it’s important to review the lease and consult the landlord.
Develop a policy
There’s no need to draft a policy from scratch. The Humane Society provides tips, as does Purina, the pet food company. Purina’s Better With Pets program provides numerous resources for living with pets, including an informative Pets At Work section to help companies develop pet-friendly policies.
Note that any formal pet-friendly policy must be, at its base, ADA compliant in regards to service animals. It should also address these important core areas:
- Decide which types of pets are allowed. Just dogs? What about cats, birds, and fish? Are more outré animals like rats, snakes, and ferrets also OK?
- Designate pet-free areas in the workplace. Many areas of a company (bathrooms, factory floors, and anywhere food is prepared) must stay pet-free for safety and sanitary reasons. A company may also want to designate some pet-free areas—whole floors or sections of a floor—for the comfort of employees who may be allergic to pets, or simply not comfortable around them. Such designations might require modification or reassignment of employee workstations.
- Develop an authorization form. It’s a good idea from an insurance and legal standpoint to require pet owners who wish to bring their pets to work to sign an authorization form that covers vaccination requirements and behavioral guidelines. Purina provides a good boilerplate to use as a reference or guideline. The company’s legal counsel should review the authorization form before employees sign it.
Keep pet safety in mind
Finally, before opening the doors to pets make sure the workplace is safe for them.
- Employees need to be mindful of tails and paws, which can easily be injured by a rolling desk chair.
- Trash cans can also hold hidden dangers for pets. To help avoid a messy clean up or, worse, a trip to the vet, it’s critical that pet-friendly companies provide employees with lidded containers, or keep any trash containers out of a pet’s reach.
- Leashes and appropriate cages/containers are important for keeping pets close at hand, but also for keeping pets safe and not underfoot. Purina went so far as to install leash ties in their offices, particularly on the perimeter of pet-free areas like break rooms and cafeterias, so owners can quickly pop in and out.
With some careful consideration, good internal communication, and a solid policy in place, companies can implement pet-friendly workplaces that benefit employees—and their pets!