Nearly one in five households in America adopted a pet between the start of the pandemic and May 2021, according to the ASPCA. Now, with companies like Microsoft and Wells Fargo urging employees to return to the office, some remote workers may be feeling anxious about the idea of leaving their pets behind. A CertaPet survey of US dog owners last year found that 69% of respondents would “prefer to permanently work from home for the sake of their dog.”
According to a 2020 study from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, less than 1% of responding employers offered paid pet “pawternity” leave—time off to care for a new pet— and slightly more than 4% allowed pets at work. There appears to be a gap between what employers are providing and what pet owners want, as many Gen Z and millennial workers have said that they would rather quit their job than leave their pets at home full-time. Further, 77% of respondents to a LiveCareer study noted they would like “pawternity” leave as an option.
Why are pet-related perks on the rise? A survey last year by Banfield Pet Hospitals indicated that nearly one in two C-suite executives are planning to allow pets in the office when employees return. This, in part, may be due to the rising rate of pet ownership and pet-related spending that has made pet-related benefits appealing to employees. According to a 2021 study from the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health (NCBI), “…[C]ompanies that have policies in place that support a work–life balance are more attractive to the young workforce. Therefore, pet-friendly policies become more important for this new generation of workers.”
Monster, the online job website, is one company offering pet insurance as a perk in its benefits package. “It is one of the more frequently asked about perks when employees are discussing their benefits package,” said Claire Barnes, chief human capital officer at Monster. “With more people adopting pets during the pandemic, we can expect to see a growing demand for this type of benefit.”
Are dogs right for your office? The NCBI study notes that although there are risks associated with welcoming dogs into the office, including distractions, allergies, and potential legal implications, the overall results support the theory that dogs can have a positive impact in an office environment. And the CDC notes that pet ownership can provide positive effects on mental health, anxiety, and even blood pressure.
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While companies like Amazon, WeWork, and TripAdvisor allow pets in the office, the policy may not be for everyone, according to some experts.
Maggie Fitzgerald, a benefits manager at Gusto, an online payroll and benefits platform, suggests alternative ways to provide pet-inclusive benefits that don’t involve bringing them to the office. Gusto doesn’t allow pets at its Denver office, but Fitzgerald pointed out that she doesn’t think it’s a deterrent for would-be talent because nearly 50% of its employees have chosen to permanently work from home and incoming employees have the choice to work remotely full time.
“Pet perks are part of our overall a-la-carte perks strategy,” Fitzgerald told HR Brew. At Gusto, pet benefits fall under wellness, so employees may use their employee perks account to purchase pet insurance, cover adoption fees, or buy a Furbo (a webcam with a remote treat dispenser) to keep an eye on their fur babies. Gusto even works with a pet telehealth vendor so pet owners can skip the vet for minor ailments.
Return To Kennel? Gamal Aly, head of talent and people at Fi, a smart-collar company that welcomes several dogs into its offices every day, admits there are some downsides to a dog-friendly office. Tussles and accidents do occur from time-to-time, so Aly says HR leaders should establish ground rules. “You can’t have 500 dogs, then it turns into a kennel, but a lot of it comes from common sense,” Aly told HR Brew.—KP
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