You’ve heard it over and over again: office life today is much different than a generation or two ago. Jeans? Once forbidden, they are now perfectly acceptable to wear to a board meeting. Working from home? No longer frowned upon, but openly encouraged. And now added to the list of newly accepted practices—bringing your dog or cat to the office. But how do you know if your company should institute a Fido-friendly policy or be a pet-free workplace? We’ve detailed the pros and the cons of having furry friends curled up in the cubicles.
Pets = Productivity?
Many large and extremely successful companies allow pets at work–Google, Amazon, Ben & Jerry’s to name a few—and they have research to support their pro-pet choice. Studies have shown that if Molly the beagle or Cindy the calico accompany workers to the office, they are more productive, efficient, and happier. Trupanion, a pet insurance company based in Seattle, Washington, has been pet-friendly since its beginnings in 1999 and currently, with 250 employees, has a one-to-three pet to employee ratio, one of the highest in the country. “We recognize the benefits every day of allowing pets in the workplace,” says Trupanion’s founder and CEO Darryl Rawlings. “When we need to take a minute to process our thoughts, our furry friends are right by our side for petting,” he explains. “When we're meeting a new co-worker, our pets help break the ice. And if we need to work late, we don't have to worry about rushing home to a lonely pet.”
Granted, for a pet insurance company, having an open doggie-door policy may seem an obvious choice. However, other small businesses not tied to the pet industry also encourage their employees to bring pets to the office for similar reasons. “A simple touch, a look of contentment, a break for a little playtime...all work toward a more laid-back atmosphere where creativity can flourish,” says Dick Grove, CEO of INK inc., a public relations firm based in Kansas City, Missouri.
Not For Everyone
Just because you don’t allow pets in your office doesn’t mean you are anti-pooch. Many small business owners love their pets but have found four-legged friends and their workspace just didn’t mix. “Having your dog hang around you all day while you're unavailable to give him/her the attention they deserve isn't really fair,” notes Gregory Ciotti, marketing director at Help Scout, a Boston-based email support software company. “It’s also unfair to assume that all of your co-workers are comfortable having your pet around all day, let alone the distractions they might cause.”
Although many companies cite an uptick in creativity and productivity when pets are around, Shreyans Parekh, director of business development and marketing for Koyal Wholesale, the world's largest wedding and event-supplies company, discovered the opposite. “We ran an experiment allowing dogs at work to lower stress levels and increase productivity,” says Parekh. “After four months, we eliminated it. Productivity, quarterly numbers, and error rates did not improve with the pets being present—in fact, [they] dropped during some weeks.”
Often, health concerns take priority over pet-friendly policies, especially when space is an issue. Self-proclaimed dog lover Kim Laudati owns two luxury beauty clinics, both of which are located in prime real estate areas of Manhattan. “At both locations, the subject of pet allergies is of great concern,” says Laudati. “I really wish that I had the square footage to have a dog sitting space so owners could bring their pets, but square footage is a premium in any big city, and much more so here in New York City.”
No matter what you decide, guidelines regarding your pets in the workplace policy should be in place on the first day you start your business. If you keep your company animal-free, one or two lines stating that in the company handbook is fairly simple. However, allowing furry friends in the office requires detailed policy guidance to create an environment that is healthy and happy for both the pets and employees. Dr. Mallary Tytel, president and founder of Healthy Workplaces, LLC, works with small businesses to develop and sustain positive, productive, and successful work cultures. She says welcoming pets in the workplace is not for every business, but those that do need rules to ensure comfort and safety of both the employees and pets. “Most of the rules will be common sense, but paying serious attention to proper office etiquette is critical,” says Tytel.
What to outline in that pet policy? Everything from detailing the criteria on how animals are deemed acceptable to bring to the office to requiring up-to-date files on vaccinations and certificates for every pet that comes through your doors. “Communicate and enforce standards of behavior,” says Tytel, “One example is three accidents and you're out. [Also, be sure to] uphold a zero tolerance policy for any aggressive pets.” Tytel also suggests designating areas where pets do not go. “Identify and implement pet-free zones. These can include meeting areas, conference rooms, employee break rooms, cafeterias, and rest rooms,” she says.
Trupanion’s Rawlings agrees that implementing a finely tuned office policy is vital to reap the benefits of having pets at work. “We developed and tweaked our office pet rules to create a safe and productive environment for both employees and pets,” he says. “We have a designated Pet Team of employees, including those with veterinary clinic and pet care facility experience, who provide guidance and review incidents. Employees at Trupanion have a clear understanding of our office pet rules which apply equally to everyone from interns to executives.”
Though not as vital as that health insurance plan, definitive guidelines about pets in the workplace are key to the success of your company. And, remember, if furry friends are a no-go, yet you yearn for a pet in the workplace, there’s always Plan B: Bubbles, the beta fish.