Could Lenny the Labrador really be the path to improved employee morale, reduced stress, better work-life balance and greater company loyalty? Research shows that employees and employers can reap big benefits from dogs in the office. According to a survey by Banfield Pet Hospital, 7 in 10 employees and HR decision makers agree that allowing pets in the workplace has a positive impact on employees.
“Dogs in the workplace can encourage employees to take breaks and relieve or even prevent tense situations,” says Emily Neff, a Director in CBRE’s Workplace practice. Today, about 9% of workplaces in the U.S. allow pet owners to take their dogs to the office, according to the Society of Human Resource Management—up from 4% in 2014. For example, a Seattle-based e-commerce company has more than 6,000 dogs joining their owners for work every day.
In celebration of National Dog Day (August 26), we’re digging into some of the perks of having pups at work.
A low-cost, high-value perk
When Jennifer Fearing, an animal protection lobbyist and coauthor of “Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces” was offered a new job, taking her dog to the office played a central role in her accepting the offer. “I had been bringing my dog for a number of years while working for a small nonprofit. I was moving to a very large entity with close to 400 employees onsite and they had never allowed dogs in the workplace," Fearing says. "A condition of my taking the job was a request to the CEO that if I brought forward a plan on how dogs could work in a setting like that, that he would entertain it,” Fearing says. “He didn't have to promise me he would do it, but he had to promise me an open line of communication.”
Her plan paid off. She took the job at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and 10 years later, 75 to 100 dogs come to work at the organization every day. While she has moved on to another job, the HSUS has since created a unique workspace that incorporates dogs into the office layout. Taking dogs to work can be an incentive for employees and keep them at their jobs longer. In fact, the Banfield Pet Hospital survey also revealed that 60% of millennials are more likely to stay at a job if it’s pet friendly.
According to a study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University, pets lower stress hormones, which can apply to the office as well as home life. “A lot of workplaces are stressful and tense, so being able to reach down and pet your dog or walk across the hallway and pet someone else’s dog offers an immediate physiological effect that reduces your stress chemicals in your body,” says Fearing. “In a stressful environment, dogs can really be a boon because they bring a relaxing kind of calm—they produce a lot of smiles.”
When done well, a dog-friendly program can increase employee retention. “I jokingly call dogs at work furry handcuffs, but in all seriousness, taking dogs to the office can lead to longer tenures for employees. People are less likely to leave if they can't find a workplace where they can continue to bring their dog,” Fearing notes.
Since dogs’ level of training varies, companies should consider implementing specific policies when allowing pets at work. It’s important to create rules that are respectful to everyone in the office, as some employees may be allergic to dogs, while others might have a fear of them. “It’s important that employees understand the operational policy regarding dogs in the workplace,” Neff says of one of CBRE’s client’s policies. “For example, employees know that they need to provide proof that their dogs are up to date on vaccinations. They also know that they have a three-strike policy that includes office accidents, barking or altercations with other dogs or humans, and meeting organizers needed to confirm with attendees beforehand if it was a dog-friendly meeting or not.”
Neff also outlines how companies can include pets on an occasional basis. “Not all companies have the latitude to make building decisions like dog policies. So, some partner with local shelters to bring puppies to the office in a contained area where employees can come in, pet and play with them, and maybe even adopt one. It provides that same stress relief and positive energy, but just in a single period of time,” she explains.
For occupiers considering dog-friendly policies, Fearing adds that it’s relatively easy and affordable to put into action. “As far as infrastructure costs on the part of the business, it may be simply upgrading the HVAC filter or replacing the janitors’ vacuums. There's not a lot of expenses. It's really a low-cost, high-value perk.”