Boost Morale (and Set Ground Rules) With Pets In The Workplace Erin Posey There’s no shortage of research showing the benefits of having a pet. Pets calm us, lower our stress level and blood pressure, and help us to be more focused and productive. Pets even make us a little nicer to one another. That’s why about 20 percent of companies in the U.S. allow their workers to bring pets to the office. According to research from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, the most common pets hanging around the cubicle are dogs (at 76 percent), then cats and, after that, small pets like guinea pigs, hamsters and fish. Benefits of a Pet-Friendly Office If you don’t allow Fido in the office you’ve got good reason to reconsider. A recent study from Virginia Commonwealth University found that employees who brought their dogs to work had lower stress during the day, higher job satisfaction and overall, a more positive view of their employer. A study a few years ago by Central Michigan University found that when dogs were present in a group of employees, they were more likely to trust each other and collaborate more effectively. Those are big benefits to an employee’s well-being and comes at a relatively low cost to business owners. He also made it clear that ground rules need to be put in place to make sure that pets are a positive addition for everyone, not just pet-loving employees. One of the participants in the VCU study told researchers that his job required complicated problem solving and that it was “amazing what a four-block walk with a dog will do.” When you have a team member wrestling with complex problems, customer service difficulties or maybe just having a crummy day, grabbing a leash and heading outside with a dog is a mental and physical break they may not have taken otherwise. Yet despite all the benefits to workplace culture and employee health that can come from allowing pets in the office, there also has to be a clear policy around what’s acceptable and what’s not. You may have to adjust expectations if you have an employee with dangerous sensitivity or allergies to pets, or someone that is legitimately afraid of dogs or other animals. Here are some things to consider when setting up a pets-in-the-office policy at your business: Find out what your employees want. Before you put in a pet policy, survey employees and allow them, anonymously, to really say what they think. Do they want pets in the office? What animals would they be comfortable working around? If someone wants to bring their pet snake to the office and swears it will stay put on their neck, that could be a real problem for others nearby. Ask about allergies and fears. For some people, a fear of dogs or other animals can be debilitating, and they won’t be able to work in an environment where dogs run free (or snakes). Even if it’s just one person, in a small company especially, that’s may be a deal killer. Consider the fact that the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says somewhere between 15-30 percent of the general population has a pet allergy. For some, those attacks can be life threatening. To leash or not to leash. Let’s face it, a lot of dogs are really cute. And having one roaming among the cubicles, in and out of offices, in the kitchen looking for a handout, can make people smile, laugh and just feel better. On the other hand, this is an animal, and you can’t hold a pet accountable for snapping at someone when that pet feels threatened. The last thing a well-intentioned business owner wants is to be sued after an employee gets bitten. And depending on the kind of business you run, it may not make sense to have pets present, like a laboratory or food production business. It’s a good idea to have a policy that requires dogs be leashed in the office, with reasonable exceptions. For example, if a pet owner has an office with a door that can be closed, a leash isn’t necessary. Some businesses that have the room for it establish pet-free zones for employees who have allergies or just don’t feel comfortable around animals. Get your office pet-ready. Just because someone’s pooch is in the office, contentedly watching everyone peck away at their computer keyboards, doesn’t mean that same dog isn’t going to need a bathroom break, food, water, a little exercise and some stimulation. Provide the basic necessities like pet water and food bowls (or a pet water fountain), treats, chew toys and self-cleaning litter boxes. Allow employees the flexibility to take a limited break for walking or playing with pets. Establish clear rules for animal behavior and health. Put in place a written policy about acceptable and unacceptable behavior for both pets and their owners during the workday. The policy would include rules for where can pets go and where they can’t. They should also be clean, flea-free, trained, well-disciplined and have no history of biting or other aggressive behavior. Despite legitimate cautions, If the overwhelming majority of your employees miss their pets during the day–and there are no serious health concerns or debilitating fears–allowing pets in could bring a lot of joy (and fun) into the daily lives of your hard-working team.