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Why More Companies Have Embraced the Dog-Friendly Office


Every morning, millions of dog-owning Americans experience grief and guilt as they leave for their morning commute.

Every morning, millions of dogs give their owners those sad puppy-dog eyes, begging them not to leave for work.

For some puppy parents, this is starting to change. Organizations from Glassdoor and Etsy to SalesForce and Google are letting their employees bring their pet dogs to work with them. About 9% of American organizations have dog-friendly policies, but that number should go up as more high-profile corporations embrace dogs at the office. With benefits like stress reduction, stronger communication between colleagues, improved health and lower healthcare costs, and even higher productivity, dog-friendly offices can transform workplace cultures.

Benefits

1. Stress Reduction

While dogs can’t negotiate with clients or use Excel formulas, they can help employees by reducing stress and even by keeping them from making some rash decisions. In fact, a 2012 study found that people who brought their pups to work had lower hormonal stress levels than people who didn’t.

Let’s say you’re smarting from a harsh email your manager just sent you. You might be holding back some tears. Maybe you’re even thinking about responding with some devastating comebacks or writing a strongly worded Glassdoor review.

Then, out of nowhere, a fluffy, tan doggo puts his head on your knee and looks up at you with his big brown eyes, hoping for some head scratches. He’s so pleased when you’ve honored his request that he curls up next to your chair for a nap.

Feeling any better?

Etsy employees certainly appreciate the tension-busting benefits of office mutts. One Etsy manager who brings her Golden Retriever to the office a few times a week said, “Overall, I think he lifts up people’s spirits, mine included. He is also really goofy and cute, which is a good reminder that nothing is such a big deal, even if a work thing is stressful at the moment. He offers levity to situations, and he gives good hugs.”

2. Fewer Expenses for Employees

Doggie daycare can be pretty expensive. Dog walkers aren’t cheap either, and gas to drive to and from the house during lunch break to let the dog out certainly isn’t free.

When you let employees bring their pups to work, you’re helping them save quite a bit of cash. All the money they spent on dog sitters or kennels can now go to loan payments or savings accounts. You’re giving bonuses without spending extra money.

3. Stronger Communication and Connection between Colleagues

On the first day of my freshman work-study program in college, I felt nervous. When I glanced at the other students sitting in old plastic chairs, I knew they felt nervous too. Finally, our new supervisor arrived and had us introduce ourselves.

“Now, I want everyone to tell me your best pet story,” he said.

Soon, all the timid workers were bursting with family stories about the time the dog stole the entire Thanksgiving turkey when the cook’s back was turned or when the cat decided to nap in the back seat of a neighbor’s car and ended up in New Mexico. After that, we all knew each other a little better.

Amazon has also noticed how animals can help colleagues build bonds. The Amazon “Wolf Pack” manager Lara Hirschfield said, “Dogs in the workplace is an unexpected mechanism for connection. I see Amazonians meeting each other in our lobbies or elevators every day because of their dogs.”

“Dogs in the workplace is an unexpected mechanism for connection.”

Those connections help Amazon’s bottom line. When colleagues who wouldn’t otherwise interact meet in lobbies and elevators, they can reach out to each other with questions on projects and find solutions they would have never considered otherwise.

4. Better Health and Lower Healthcare Costs

As any dog owner can tell you, when dogs have to, you know, go, they have to go now. No rainstorm, snowstorm, deadline, or email can change that. So employees who would normally glue themselves to their desks every day have no choice but to take a walk outside if their pups are with them.

Those little walks to the fire hydrant can make a big difference in employee health.

A 2015 study from the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) discovered that American pet parents save the US healthcare system $11.37 billion in doctor visits a year. Altogether, dog owners who walk their dogs five times a week or more save $419 million in healthcare costs annually and have lower rates of obesity. Encouraging pet ownership with a pet-friendly office policy can help employees and employers save money.

5. Increased Productivity

When employees don’t have to rush home to take their dogs for a walk, they have more time to complete their work projects. They’ll never have to choose between missing a deadline and coming home to an…accident. Plus, it’s easier for employees to keep their focus on work when they know their furry friend is safe and sound next to them and not at home, possibly destroying the living room couch or biting through an electrical cord.

Considerations

1. Workplace Safety

The biggest concern people have when they hear about dog-friendly offices: dog bites. But in the 20 years that Softchoice Corp., a Canadian IT firm, has allowed dogs in the workplace, they’ve had only two instances of biting. “Biting is cause for an immediate expulsion for us,” said Robbie Eddison, the Toronto office’s service desk manager and dog-committee member.

TINYpulse, an employee-engagement firm that allows doggos in the office, has the same policy.

“If a dog even bites someone once, they are not welcome back in the office,” TINYpulse HR director Eliza Polly said. Softchoice and TINYpulse show why having a thorough and researched policy before dogs come to work is so important. The policy should cover what kind of records (vaccination, etc.) employees must show before they can bring dogs, what to do if a dog misbehaves, and so on.

2. Distraction

TINYpulse learned the hard way about the dangers of adorable disruption. “We had a big Irish setter puppy coming in that liked to knock over garbage cans and get into everything,” Polly said. “It was the sweetest dog, but he wanted to play and get attention. Not every dog is workplace ready.”

Policies must cover what to do if a dog becomes disruptive. Make sure they specify what areas, such as break rooms or meeting rooms, must remain dog-free. Consider making obedience school a requirement for all office dogs.

3. Office Damage

If you go the dog-friendly route, add extra wear-and-tear costs to the janitorial budget. Make sure your policy covers what to do if a dog chews on office furniture or isn’t as housebroken as his owner had claimed. TINYpulse, for example, has a three-strikes policy for situations like these.

4. Allergies

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that up to 30% of the US population has some kind of pet allergy.

As wonderful as dogs are, they can’t be at the office at the expense of allergic workers. The Softchoice pet policy makes sure the workplace is safe and comfortable for everyone by requiring employees to get permission from their managers and their neighboring co-workers before bringing a dog to work. People who would rather not work around dogs in general can work in a dog-free area with separate entrances, exits, and HVAC systems.

Alternatives

If a dog-friendly office isn’t an option for your organization, here are some other ways to help your pet-loving employees:

  • Employer-sponsored pet insurance
  • Paid time off for new pets or pet bereavement
  • Flex time or telecommuting options
  • Discounts on pet supplies

Puppers and doggos just make life better. They also tend to make life a little messy, literally and otherwise. To have a successful dog-friendly office, you need to consider workplace safety, additional costs, and employees with allergies. But with a little planning and communication, you can have a Fido-friendly workplace that’s productive and professional.

If you have experience with dogs in the office, tell us about it in the comments section!

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