Last reviewed 17 September 2019
There’s a growing trend towards allowing pets in the office. Laura King explores what to consider before becoming a pet-friendly business.
The British are a nation of pet lovers. According to the latest statistics, around 40% of the UK population owns a pet, with more than 15 million cats and dogs residing in households across the country. Our inclination towards sharing our homes with our furry (and sometimes, not so furry) friends is not entirely surprising. Science has shown that dogs can make us laugh and keep us active, while petting an animal can lower blood pressure, reduce stress and have a calming effect.
These benefits sound very familiar. They are the goal of most wellbeing strategies, and employers are starting to catch on. There is a growing trend towards allowing man’s best friend into the office. Such trends are bolstered by unofficial holidays such as the US-based “Bring Your Dog to Work Day” in June, with high-profile companies (Nestlé, Ben and Jerry’s, and Google to name a few) increasingly touting the benefits.
Anecdotal reports from such companies indicate that having dogs around during the working day reduces stress, improves employee trust and cohesion, and makes work altogether a better place. This is mirrored in research from animal charity, Blue Cross, which showed that 90% of businesses interviewed who allowed dogs to the workplace said that they had seen a positive change in the working environment. Moreover, a well-quoted survey from 2012 suggested that dog owners who are not able to bring their pooch into work are less productive and more stressed than those that were, with many dog owners resorting to pet cams, going home at lunch, or — at the very least — rushing off at the end of the day to provide a much needed walk and relief for Rufus at home.
With such benefits, it would seem that dog-friendly workplaces should be a lot more normal. However, dig a little deeper, and feelings are mixed. One study by Animal Friends Pet Insurance, indicated that although a third of businesses welcomed dogs, 20% of workers admitted that a dog in the office would increase their stress levels and more than half believed that it would be a major distraction.
Other concerns include employees with allergies or phobias, the need to clean more regularly, an impact on health and safety, how the dog will interact with others, as well as the potential for more damage to equipment and property.
However, although these concerns are perfectly valid, with the right approach many companies have shown that having dogs in the office does not need to be stressful, or a health and safety disaster. This article outlines how to make the workplace both dog and work friendly.
Five steps to implementing a dog-friendly office policy
1. Check formalities
There will be some situations where dogs are not appropriate. For example, in a kitchen, or a manufacturing site where there is a risk of contamination. However, in many cases there will be no legal reason why a dog cannot be in the workplace. That said, check whether or not there are any restrictions outlined in the organisation’s insurance policies and rental agreements. For example, having an animal in the car might invalidate some car insurance policies, and some rented workspaces might specifically state that dogs (with the exception of assistance dogs) are not permitted.
2. Pet-proof the workplace
There will be some logistical considerations if dogs are to be allowed in the office. For example, will the office need cleaning more regularly? Is the office ventilated sufficiently, or will additional air filtration be needed? There might be some no-go areas for dogs (office kitchens, for example) or alternatively, specific areas that are reserved for dogs and pet-loving employees.
Other considerations might be ensuring that bins have lids, and that desks are equipped with a means to secure a dog lead.
3. Include in the risk assessment
Any dogs on the premises will need to be considered as part of the employer’s duties under health and safety legislation. A risk assessment will need to be carried out and it is important that any hazards are identified, as well as any options for harm and risk mitigation. Dogs will also need to be incorporated into the fire safety risk assessment, for example to ensure that they are not blocking emergency exits, and to detail what to do in the event of a fire.
4. Create a code of conduct
A clear policy will help alleviate concerns over dogs in the office. Issues to consider include the following.
Making it clear that the dog’s owner is legally and financially responsible for any damage (to people or property), eg by ensuring that they have appropriate third-party insurance.
Having a probationary period for any pets to ensure that the dog is happy in the work environment, and that their presence and behaviour is not unduly distracting.
Setting ground rules about what constitutes acceptable behaviour, ie it is unlikely to be acceptable for a dog to rush around, bark, or be over-protective of their owner. Bear in mind, it might be necessary to have ground rules for other employees, too; eg whether it is OK to pet or feed the dog.
Requiring up-to-date vaccinations, regular treatment for ticks and mites, and not allowing dogs into the office if they are ill.
Outlining that the owner is responsible for the dog at all times, and what should happen if the dog needs to be left for any period of time.
Only having dogs in the office when appropriate, ie not if their owner is in an all-day meeting and cannot provide the necessary attention.
Considering whether there should be a rota, or other means of limiting the number of dogs in the workplace.
Setting rules on whereabouts the dog can be, including, for example, whether they are allowed in when staff with allergies or phobias are also present.
Setting out any requirements for welfare responsibilities, such as feeding, how frequently bedding is changed, and where food is kept.
Making it clear what happens if any rules are broken.
5. Make sure you have staff support
Finally, before allowing dogs to work, check that it is supported by other staff. As well as gauging general support levels for any change in policy, it is important to understand if any staff have a reason for not wanting a dog nearby, and to ensure that this is accommodated. It is also imperative to have a clear policy for dealing with staff concerns and complaints.
Having dogs in the office does not need to be a cause for concern if proper steps are followed and there is a clear policy in place. Although it might take time to set up, in the long-term it is likely to lead to happier pet-owners and an overall improvement to the workplace and staff morale.