Should Pet Policies be Revised at Work?

Office employee working from home with a corgi sitting at his laptop with him

A total of 3.2 million households in the UK acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic. Now, with many of their owners being asked to return to the office, employers face the dilemma of whether to acknowledge new doggy daycare issues, or even to allow dogs into the office. The question of whether or not to consider our canine companions may seem totally at odds with a traditional, capitalist structure, but with accepted ways of working being completely turned on its head since Covid, businesses must think out of the box when it comes to defining their business culture.

Some of the businesses we work with have decided to incorporate pet priorities into their new flexible working policies, and this is not necessarily onerous. Most companies that can are continuing to take a hybrid approach when it comes to where their team works, and this benefits not only those juggling childcare, it also benefits those with dog care costs. We also work with businesses that are being even more creative when it comes to flexible pet options. A number of our clients give their team the option of a half day work/ home split so dogs are not left alone for more than four hours. Some even give team members the option of popping back home for a dog walk (if possible!)

These approaches may seem pretty progressive but thinking about policies which support the culture you want to create for your staff is extremely important for companies that want to thrive. The pandemic has pushed business owners to shake up their ways of working and, if they are asking employees back into the office, the working environment. The positive side of this is that for businesses willing to show flexibility, it is another way to create a workplace which is more integrated with the reality of peoples’ lives. Work isn’t separate from life – to be most fulfilling and rewarding it needs to be part of it.

Pre-pandemic, the big brands which allowed dogs into offices were seen as unique. Google, Apple and Amazon were some of the organisations allowing this benefit to employees, with wellbeing cited as a key benefit. And wellbeing is an essential consideration for the modern business. There is evidence to show that having a dog in the office is beneficial for the mental health of employees. Dogs have been shown to help reduce stress1 and also release both dopamine and oxytocin, ‘happy hormones’ which provide a surge of positive emotion and generate feelings of trust, relaxation and overall psychological stability. In our research with our own team, we were surprised to find how central mental health was when it came to staff absences, so much so that we started a mental health sick day policy. If dogs can be allowed into the office in a strategic way, for example different dogs on different days, these canine members of the team could actually bring something to the table in terms of building a positive office culture and defusing stressful situations at work.

Before allowing dogs into the office however, it is important to set guidelines that will work for your particular set-up. We have been asked to recommend how to manage multiple requests for canine companions joining employees, and clearly this does raise the impossible issue of multiple dogs in one office space. One client even had to backtrack on allowing dogs into the office as 70 percent of their workforce now owned a dog they were keen to bring in. We’ve also heard stories of dogs ruining client meetings and making a nuisance of themselves in new business pitches. While in some instances this could endear the business to potential new customers (especially if you are pitching for the Royal Canin or Pets At Home accounts!) for most, it’s additional stress they could do without.

The watchword when it comes to businesses creating policies around pets is tailoring, and this is also true of tailoring to individual team members. Whatever you do when it comes to supporting your teams’ new pet pressures, it has to be tailored for both your organisation and for the individuals working within it. There is massive competition for recruiters to keep hold of the best talent at the moment, and businesses which are willing to think carefully, strategically and pragmatically about their culture – in relation to pets or other employee issues – will retain and attract staff.

Ben Gateley is CEO and Co-Founder of CharlieHR, a service which offers on-demand HR advice and HR software for thousands of UK SMEs.  

Rebecca Grewcock
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