Dog days: will pet-friendly offices be the new normal?

With a drastic increase in the number of pet owners during lockdown, many employers are re-evaluating their pet policies in order to tempt younger workers back to the office

During the pandemic many people turned to their furry-friends to provide comfort and companionship whilst they were stuck indoors. Now, as people are being asked to return to the office, this poses a significant problem for employees who are reluctant to leave their faithful pets home alone.

According to the BBC, 3.2 million pets were obtained during the lockdown period in the UK. This increase was mainly driven by younger demographics, with half of these pets being owned by those between 16-34.

The increase in pet ownership is a unique sticking-point for companies trying to entice their workers back to the office. For many employees, the prospect of leaving their dogs at home is a significant concern. So much so that it is having an impact on the way some employees perceive their future work prospects.

From lockdown to lick down

This is especially true for younger demographics in the workforce. According to Banfield Pet Hospital one in two Gen Z’s and one in three Millennials say they would consider moving jobs if their company refused to consider pet-friendly options.

‘Four in ten office workers would recommend a pet-friendly employer…’

At a time where talent attraction and retention is at the top of many business agendas, re-evaluating pet-policies could be a powerful strategic move to bring employees back to the office. Research from the US-based careers expert LiveCareer found that around half the workers it surveyed said that pet-friendly benefits are important when considering an employer.

More than four in 10 workers said that pets in the office would contribute to their sense of satisfaction and that they would be more likely to recommend their employer if pets were allowed in the workplace.

Covering the costs

As employees continue to pay close attention to their company’s expectations for returning to the office, many will be on the lookout for new pet-friendly policies. While some employers such as Google have been flying the flag for dog-friendly offices since the early 2000s, many organisations are new to puppy policies.

For example, EY surveyed its employees on their motivations for not returning to the office and found that childcare, pet care and the cost of the commute were the three major concerns for reluctant office workers.

Instituting policies that allow employees to claim compensation for these costs, including the costs of dog-walking services, kennelling and doggy day care has been a significant step for EY. In total the firm has shelled out US $600,000 associated with pet care services and has seen the huge benefits associated with taking employees’ pet-related concerns seriously.

These benefits have also been a core part of attracting new talent. With an increase in 20–30 year-old pet owners, it is younger employees who are most likely to be attracted by new pet-friendly policies. This has allowed EY to demonstrate its commitment to being a compassionate employer which takes its employees’ needs seriously.

Other employers in the US are offering pet insurance policies as part of their employment packages. According to Willis Towers Watson, 69 per cent of companies surveyed plan to offer pet insurance in 2022, an increase of 22 per cent from the previous year.

‘Pawternity’ leave

It appears that many employers are considering following in Google and EY’s footsteps, with dog-friendly offices becoming increasingly common across the globe. This is forcing many organisations to reconsider their approach to pets to attract young talent to their workforce.

For Amazon, thinking about where employees’ dogs would spend their time was an important consideration in the design of their offices in Seattle, a space which now features dog-friendly amenities such as dog-height water fountains and dog poo bag stations.

Scottish brewery and pub chain Brewdog is hot on Amazon’s heels in the race to be pet friendly and currently offer new pet owners one week paid ‘pawternity leave’ to help them get their new pet settled at home.

‘Nestle has built a dog park for their employees’ pampered pooches…’

However, Nestle appears to be the leader in dog-friendly planning and has built a dog park for their employees’ pampered pooches and even had metal rings installed into the floor space of their offices to provide a safe and visible place to secure dog leads. Nestle has also set up the Pets at Work Alliance in order to help other organisations develop pet-friendly strategies that work for them.

Pets will likely continue to be a significant factor in people’s decision making about their professional futures, but taking steps to listen to employees concerns about their pets welfare and developing a competitive pet policy as an organisation is a stepping stone towards attracting and retaining young talent.

For a full discussion of the psychological benefits of bringing pets into the office explore our Innovation Zone content here.

Echo Callaghan is an interdisciplinary researcher and writer with WORKTECH Academy. She holds degrees from the University of York and Trinity College Dublin.
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