Should You Open Your Office to Pets?

A new study shows that pet-friendly workplaces can improve employee morale. But a successful program requires its own care and feeding.

This Friday marks Take Your Dog to Work Day, an opportunity for workers to show off their furry friends, and perhaps help promote the benefits of bringing pets to the workplace.

Studies show that workers who can bring their dog or rabbit (or ferret, or gerbil …) to the office tend to be more engaged and productive. One recent study, conducted by financial services company Nationwide with the nonprofit Human Animal Bond Research Institute, found that 91 percent of employees in pet-friendly workplaces (i.e., ones that allow pet visits or offer benefits like pet insurance) say they feel “fully engaged with their work,” compared to just 65 percent of those not in a pet-friendly workplace.

91 percent of employees in pet-friendly workplaces feel fully engaged with their work.

The study also found that employees in pet-friendly workplaces are more likely to recommend their employer to others, decline job offers from another company, report positive relationships with supervisors and coworkers, and say their employer supports their well-being.

So, time to open the office doors to Spot and Thumper? Not so fast.

The Humane Society of the United States maintains a successful Pets in the Workplace program at its two offices in the Washington, DC, area. According to Sarah Barnett, HSUS public affairs advisor and special assistant to the chief operating officer, the program currently includes more than 160 pets, mostly dogs.

Maintaining that success, though, requires ground rules, management, and respect for coworkers and visitors who may have reasons to avoid workplace animals. HSUS has a Pets in the Workplace committee, made up of nine staffers. Three of those seats are reserved for particular roles within HSUS: a staffer in the organization’s companion animal department; a nonparticipant, Barnett said, “who can give that voice to people who maybe aren’t as keen on having dogs in the workplace”; and a facilities and maintenance staffer who can “address issues such as where the poop stations are, and owners not being careful about where their dogs go to the bathroom,” she said.

HSUS asks all employees who participate in the program to register their pets. It has a system for complaints, though Barnett said the system is largely self-regulating. “If your dog is barking all the time … , we’ll let you know,” she said.

That said, any dog that bites a person or another animal is immediately removed from the program, though the owner is given an opportunity to apply to readmit the pet after six months. HSUS also encourages participants to put up signs in their work area with red, yellow, or green colors, to signal how open to interaction a pet is; a dog like Barnett’s, for instance, is blind, and a yellow sign encourages visitors to be slower and gentler with him.

Allergies are one of the biggest workplace-pet concerns, so HSUS maintains dog-free conference room, and alerts visitors to dogs’ presence. “We have a sign outside our front door that says this is a dog-friendly building, and if you have questions or concerns about that, please let the receptionist know so that they don’t have you walking past 10 dogs,” she said.

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Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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