I used to be friends with a woman who was fired for bringing her apricot poodle to work. The dogwalker was ill, so my friend thought she would take her chances and bring her pooch to the bank.
The good news is that today more people than ever are taking their dogs to work. Partly due to the pandemic, there was a 16 percent increase in Gen Z pet ownership, a 13 percent in Millennials’ pet ownership, and a 9 percent increase overall in new pet owners. After a good fifteen months when most work went remote, numerous companies are beginning to realize that allowing dogs and other pets at the office can build morale, de-stress situations, and facilitate communication.
Having dogs and other pets around can be a great icebreaker. Some colleagues will even make an effort to get to know each other’s pets. Allowing pets at the workplace ushers in a more casual, relaxed atmosphere. Therapy dogs have long been an accepted part of children’s hospital wards, elder care facilities, and even prisons. Dogs and other pets may now even have a therapeutic role to play at the workplace.
But with pet lovers about to return to work and reluctant to sequester Fido to an empty house for an entire day, the demands for an “open pet policy” at businesses multiply, as do the ramifications for allowing pets on the premises. Several pros must be weighed against potential cons.
Here are some ideas for a workable office-pet policy.
Survey Staff to Suss out Objections
Just as not every adult is enamored with children, not every coworker is necessarily a pet person. Some may be frightened, allergic, or distracted by your pet in the workplace. Make sure everyone is on board with bringing pets to the business or office space. An anonymous voting box will let workers weigh in candidly without fear of being stigmatized for showing their objections. If there isn’t consensus, consider allowing “pet day” to also be paired with an optional work from home day.
Impose a Limit
How many office pets is too many? Given that some 67 percent of Americans own a pet, this could potentially translate to two-thirds of staff members wanting to bring their pet with them to work. Think of the mayhem of dogs tussling and barking, cats treading across keyboards, and having to hunt down hamsters on the loose. When owners are unleashed to bring in their pets, the result can easily become a menagerie that even Dr. Doolittle would find overwhelming. Consider a “pet sign-up sheet” that allows only a few pet visitors at a time. Think, too, if pets should be at the office when the firm is having clients over for critical presentations. Remember Murphy’s Law that whatever can go wrong often will. (If you do want to have pets around when clients are there, be sure to let the clients know in advance.)
Devise a Pet Code of Conduct
Even when everyone on staff is amenable to permitting pets in the office, the practicalities of such a policy need to be addressed. Some pet owners are more permissive than others. Some owners allow their pets on furniture or let them eat table scraps. Other owners impose boundaries that maintain some people-pet segregation. If the only available conference room chair is occupied by the office cat, of course the staff member should be allowed to shoo the cat away. But what of the clinging cat hair on a freshly dry-cleaned suit? Or what about the client who trips over a sleeping dog? Make sure to think through eventualities and ensure that owners will take responsibility for any damage caused by their pet.
Take into Account the Pet’s Personality
While a house pet may be perfectly calm and content at home, how will it behave in a crowded, confined, and unfamiliar space? What if a shy cat lashes out at someone offering a friendly stroke, or a lap dog yaps at every passing stranger? Will the owner have to spend a lot of time attending to the pet’s unease and will workers in the vicinity have to steer clear? Conversely, will the attention-loving pet assert any neediness onto busy coworkers? Pet owners may love their pets, but not every pet will thrive at the office.
Certainly Rosie the lethargic Persian and Bruno the attentive boxer can add enormously to the office environment. Not only is there the entertainment factor, but they will offer unconditional love on those days when all goes haywire. Just make certain all involved — from personnel to pets to patrons — can thrive in the workplace relationship.