Never work with children or animals, warns the old show-biz adage. So what happens if you acquired a pet during the pandemic — as millions of households did — and need to tend to your newish pooch or pussycat either at home while on videoconferencing calls or in the company workplace?
When things go wrong, it can be highly amusing for everyone apart from the embarrassed owner and possibly their boss, especially if there is a mess to clean up. For instance, New York-based HR professional Harriet – a pseudonym WorkLife agreed to – recently suffered a “disgusting” experience while on a virtual call with her team.
“In the background of the shot, I noticed my dog, Rooster, starting to poo,” she said. “I immediately pushed my camera up, so he was out of sight, put myself on mute, and used my best poker face. Within seconds he had defecated all over the room – something to do with eating a discarded takeaway-food wrapper the day before.”
Jeff Sweat, the founder of Sweat + Co, a Los Angeles-headquartered PR consultancy for advertising agencies, recalls an equally awkward incident at a client’s office shortly after acquiring retired greyhound Roxy. “I felt fortunate that I had an office where my dog could hang out, but in reality Roxy was nervous, whined all day and once peed on the floor of the reception area — in front of the facilities person who had just lectured everybody about their pets,” he said. “While it can be great to take dogs to the office, I don’t think all dogs are meant for the office.”
Demand for dog-friendly offices
Entertaining as the above examples are, with many organizations decreeing a return to the office for employees, if only for a few days a week, pet policy is a serious business.
Indeed, Flexa Careers, a flexible work platform in the U.K. that matches 400,000 users with around 150 companies, dug up some paw-dropping statistics. The number of people searching for organizations with “dog-friendly offices” on the platform increased by 350% in March 2022 compared to March 2021. And in the same period, there was a 75% leap in searches for “pawternity leave.”
Employers are reacting. Flexa data indicates that the number of job posts advertising “dog-friendly offices” on the platform more than doubled from January to March 2022, compared to January to March last year.
“Millions of people got dogs through lockdown, and, thankfully, they are seeking to spend more time with them by bringing them into work,” said Molly Johnson-Jones, CEO and co-founder at Flexa, and owner of Gruff, a Hungarian rescue dog.
“Flexible working is so much more than just working from home; it’s all about making it easier to manage our work lives and our home lives,” she added. “Our furry friends are a huge part of our lives, so seeing so many more companies embracing dog-friendly offices is fantastic.”
There are advantages to having pets around, whether at home or in the office, argues Anthony Chadwick, founder and chief veterinary officer of Alpha Vet International. Having cats and dogs in the office is beneficial to the owner and potentially the entire workforce.
“A lunchtime walk becomes a necessity rather than something that seems to fall perpetually to the bottom of the priority list — great for the owner’s health who gets to move from their desk,” said Chawdick. “Additionally, stroking an animal is proven to be great for lowering anxiety levels and so pets can lower the overall tone of stress in an office.”
Much as animals have long been associated with relieving stress, there are clear downsides to having pets in the office. For instance, some people are allergic to pet fur, while others may genuinely be scared of dogs and cats. “These call for a more nuanced approach, perhaps taking a closer look at the hybrid working rota, so that pet lovers are in the office on certain days when the others are working from home,” said Chadwick.
Ben Gateley, CEO and co-founder of CharlieHR, which provides advice and software for U.K. businesses, takes a more ambivalent view. “When brands like Amazon, Google and Apple announced they were dog friendly, it had novelty factor but was less complex due to the [low] numbers of employees who owned dogs,” he said. “The situation is very different now, and we have had some clients who have said there have been issues with offering this option to staff.”
One CharlieHR client, who Gateley declined to name, had to backtrack on allowing dogs into the office as 70% of its workforce now owns a dog who they hoped they could take to the office. “We’ve also heard stories of dogs ruining client meetings and making a nuisance of themselves in new business pitches. While in some instances this could endear the business to potential new customers, for most it’s additional stress they could do without,” added Gateley.
Go Up, a global digital marketing agency, has established a “three pets in the office at any one time” approach, according to its CEO and co-founder Edward Coram James. Staff can book in their pets in advance using office management software. It’s essential, he stressed, to support pet owners and also the animals.
“Pets are for life, not just for Covid,” said Coram James. “Telling an employee that they can’t bring their dog into work is likely to result in them having to either quit the company or give away their dog.”
Over 200,000 animals are killed in U.K. shelters each year. Therefore, a “no dogs in the office” policy may contribute to the “unnecessary and heartbreaking euthanizing” of thousands of animals every year. “Maybe consider that while weighing whether or not you can tell a team member that they can’t bring their best friend to work with them,” Coram James added.
It’s clear organizations must move with the times and, post-pandemic, update their office pet policies, for various reasons. Ultimately, it may be messy at times, but the pros of working with animals in the workplace seem to just about outweigh the cons.