Pet-friendly workplaces are on the rise, and many people love working alongside their furry friends. Pets make a job more fun and reduce stress, but are they a distraction that reduced productivity? Let’s look at the pros and cons of pets in the workplace. 

Benefits of Pets at Work

Today, about 7% of companies allow pets at the workplace, while 94% of people support the practice, and 60% of pet owners specifically look for pet-friendly jobs. Here are some of the benefits of having pets at the workplace: 

  • Reduced stress. Studies show that having dogs in the workplace provides the social support people need to help buffer stress. The social support from dogs also helps to reduce depression and anxiety, and being in the presence of our pets lowers heart rate and blood pressure. 
  • Improved performance. The calming effect of being in the presence of a dog has been shown to improve performance on certain tasks, reducing the effects of stress and anxiety on cognitive tasks. 
  • Increases social interactions. The presence of pets, especially dogs, increases the frequency of social interactions, and enhances the social atmosphere of a workplace. 
  • Improves mood. The frequency of smiles, nods, and positive interactions is greatly increased in the presence of a dog, and people report better mood and emotions at work in pet-friendly workplaces. In addition, a study of college students reviewing pictures of workplaces showed that they perceived pet-friendly workplaces to be happier and more appealing.
  • Benefits company culture and brand. Having a pet-friendly workplace communicates important messages about company culture and values, which can help attract compatible candidates. 

While correlation is not causation, pet-friendly workplaces experience much higher employee retention, improved loyalty, and reduced absenteeism over workplaces without pets. 

Drawbacks of Pets at Work

Despite these advantages, there are still some significant drawbacks to having pets at work. Here are some of the biggest challenges:

  • Risk of allergies. Approximately 15% of the population has an allergy to dogs or cats. While allergies vary widely in severity and impact, a pet-friendly workplace is likely to impact some current employees, and influence future potential candidates.  
  • Risk of illnesses. Although we don’t like to think of it, our household pets are often vectors for various bacteria that have the potential to cause illnesses. In addition, some pets can carry pets like fleas or ticks, which can also pose human health hazards. 
  • Slipping and tripping hazards. In 2006, falls associated with dogs and cats resulted in approximately 86,000 injuries in the United States. Slip-and-fall incidents are the number one cause of workplace injury, regardless of industry and type of work. Pets significantly increase the risk of slips and trips, either because of the unpredictable behavior of the pet, food or water spills, leash pulling, toys and treats, etc. 
  • Dog bites. While dog bite incidents are rare, they are arguably the biggest risk an employer faces when allowing pets in the workplace. The risk of a bite to co-workers, customers, and other people on a job location places the employer and the employees at increased legal risk and liability. 
  • Pet phobias. Studies show that approximately 10% of Americans are afraid of dogs, while 3.3 – 7% of the population is afraid of other animals. A fear of pets affects not just other employees on the job site, but may also affect customers and clients, vendors and site support personnel, and other people who interact with the business.  
  • Cultural awareness. Employers who are considering allowing pets in the workplace should note that perception of animals varies widely among regions and religions. People with different backgrounds may regard dogs as unclean, cats as outdoor animals, etc. 
  • Animal welfare concerns. Many people are rightly concerned about the welfare of animals in the workplace. Although it may reduce stress for humans, the job location may be a stressful site for pets and animals, who may need to exhibit a wide range of un-natural behavior while interacting with strange people and animals. 
  • Reduced productivity. While there are limited studies on the subject, approximately 20% of people in pet-friendly workplaces who do not have pets report that animals are a distraction that reduces their productivity. 

While pet-related risks and hazards in the workplace are statistically unlikely, some of the potential consequences are severe, and should be seriously considered by employers and employees. 

Best Practices for Pet-Friendly Workplaces

For employers who are considering whether to allow pets onsite, here are best practices to keep in mind: 

  • Have a pet policy. Despite the fact that more and more companies are allowing pets on site, the vast majority of companies do not have a specific pet policy at all. Create a formal company policy around pets and animals in the workplace, to clarify your position. 
  • Provide flexibility. Flexibility is arguably the most important feature of a pet-friendly workplace. Employees need to be free to step away from their tasks for a moment to walk a dog or tend to a cat, clean up a mess, or supervise an interaction. Pets may not be the right choice for a high-pressure environment where seconds count. 
  • Training and compliance. Employees who choose to bring their pet to work should be trained and expected to comply with animal behavior and welfare standards. Mitigating the risk of allergies and diseases can be helped by regular bathing and good pet hygiene, while tripping hazards can be reduced by using short leashes. All employees should be trained on animal protocols. 
  • Mitigate site risks. Employers can reduce pet-related risks by adding air filters, providing dog walking areas, adding warning signs for site guests and visitors, etc.  
  • Consider adding pet-free areas. To reduce distractions or accommodate employees with sensitivities, consider designating specific pet-free areas at the work site. 
  • Seek expert guidance. Before enacting a pet policy, a company should consider consulting an attorney and/or an insurance agent to discuss potential liability issues. A company may also consult with professional service animal or animal therapy organizations. For example, in many hospitals or nursing homes with medically sensitive people, dogs and service animals need to pass various behavior and health standards before being allowed on site, and service dog trainers can help to devise training and protocols. 

Having pets at work can make a job more relaxing and rewarding, while attracting new talent and retaining existing staff. Employers who are aware of the risks and develop a smart pet protocol can enjoy these advantages and make happier workplaces for all.