Some people love being around animals in the workplace, whether that’s playing with a puppy, petting a kitten or feeding the office fish. That means workplace pets can help boost employee morale. Unfortunately, others find their presence disruptive and annoying and others still may deal with allergic reactions to pet dander.
Depending on your company culture, office pets might be a great perk or a recipe for disaster. If you’re considering allowing pets in your workplace, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of office pets as well as the feelings of your team of employees.
Whether you should allow pets in your workplace should start with a few simple considerations. First, if you lease your space, does the landlord allow animals on site? If it’s a violation of your lease, allowing pets in the office is simply not worth the risk. Second, do you work in an industry where consumer protection regulations might prevent pets from being on-site, such as food service? If so, it’s likely prohibited by law to have animals on-site where food is being prepared, so check with your compliance team.
After these considerations, it’s important to consider how your team feels about pets in the office. Consider issuing an anonymous employee survey to gather feedback about how your team feels about pets in the office.
“If your office currently does not permit pets at work but you are considering becoming pet-friendly, your first step should be surveying existing employees on the idea, listening to feedback,” said Teresa Marzolph, founder and people strategist at Culture Engineered. “Expressed concerns should lead to discussions. It’s important to understand the root of any objection.”
With the feedback of your team in hand, you can begin weighing the pros and cons of permitting office pets in your workplace.
Most pet owners prioritize the needs of their pets, and it can be a challenge to make sure they’re taken care of during long shifts. Dog owners especially need to be sure their canines are walked regularly, which can result in scheduling challenges and the need to hire a dog sitter. If you allow your employees to bring their pets to work, however, they can avoid this stressor and expense, likely boosting their morale and ensuring they aren’t rushing out the door to get home to their furry friends at the end of the day.
According to Emmi Buck, associate director of media relations for Zen Media, pets can reduce stress and anxiety, which leads to a better work environment.
“We’ve found that the majority of people love pets and are excited to have furry friends in the office,” she said. “Having your pet or a co-worker’s pet in the office is uplifting and brings a smile to your face.”
Community pets have a way of bringing people together by breaking tension and providing comfort. This might make your employees more willing to step out of their comfort zones and socialize with their team.
In a survey conducted by HABRI, 98 percent of respondents working in pet-friendly workplaces reported positive mental health, compared to 81 percent of respondents working in non-pet-friendly workplaces.
Additionally, pets require time and attention, which can promote healthy pauses from assignments and creative breaks. This can help prevent burnout by giving your employees a chance to unplug for a bit and return to work with a fresh mind.
“When you need a breather from a big project, pets are a great way to take a minute to scratch their belly and give yourself a quick mini-break,” said Buck. “Pets also generally need to go potty outdoors, so it’s a nice breath of fresh air … to take a step outside to walk your pet during work.”
Marzolph said that bringing a pet to work makes the office feel more like home for many, which promotes a healthy work-life balance. These employees likely won’t view the workplace as a stressful environment, but rather as a home away from home.
“Pets can foster a sense of connection and community,” said Russell Hartstein, certified professional dog trainer and CEO of Fun Paw Care. “Pets also act as [a] social lubricant and people tend to act more compassionate and kinder in their presence.”
Work-life balance is a great pro, but employees can easily take it too far. Be wary of too much time spent with the pets and not on work. Be sure to include expectations in your pet policy that make clear to employees that their productivity comes first.
“While quick walks or belly rubs can be a good balance to work and taking breaks, some pets might be [needier] than others and end up wasting the time of the office employees,” said Buck. “Additionally, if a pet is sick or injured, they might require more care or be loudly coughing, which would increase the distraction factor of the animal.”
That’s why it’s so important for office pets to be trained, said Hartstein. If they’re barking, jumping on people or destroying furniture, they might bring more trouble than ease, possibly even becoming a liability.
If any of your employees are allergic to an animal, it could not only be a morale killer but even a legal liability. An animal allergy may be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and you must make reasonable accommodations for that person if they request that animals not be allowed.
Allergies are especially commonly related to animals with dander, such as most dogs and cats. It’s estimated that about 30 percent of Americans have some form of pet allergy to dogs and cats, which are among the most common animals to visit a workplace. Consider whether any of your employees have allergies before implementing an office pet policy.
You don’t want your office to smell like a pet store or become unsanitary for your workers, which can sometimes happen with animals. Pets shed, get sick and have accidents, and cleaning up after them should be a top priority if you allow them in your workplace.
“Extra hair around the office … can be an annoyance for whoever does the cleaning and even some of the co-workers who prefer a tidy workspace,” said Buck. “Even if pets are completely potty-trained, there is always the potential of the pet getting into something they’re not supposed to and either making a mess or becoming sick and throwing up in the office.”
If you do choose to have pets in the workplace, be sure to keep the office clean and fresh and be receptive to any concerns from employees about messy office pets.
While well-trained pets typically don’t go around biting people for fun, they’re still animals that can get spooked and defensive at a moment’s notice.
“The unfortunate issue of an animal causing an injury is a big potential con of having a pet at work,” said Buck. “Even if animals are generally nice and well-tempered, almost any dog is going to react negatively if they’re provoked … An accidental bite or causing somebody in the office to trip would be extremely unfortunate and, again, a potential legal issue.”
This goes both ways, she added. Workers might accidentally step on or run into a pet, causing unintentional harm or emotional stress to the animal. Make sure any pets allowed in the office are insured. You might also want to speak with your lawyer about having pet owners sign an indemnification agreement that would require the owner to pay for any injuries to co-workers their animal causes.
Although many employees may love to have pets in the office, not everyone will feel the same. When you understand how much of your team wants office pets and how much does not as well as who may have allergies that need to be considered, you’ll have a better idea as to whether allowing pets in the workplace makes sense for your company. Even if your team welcomes pets with open arms, be sure to set clear expectations around what’s permitted in the workplace, so everyone understands that the work still comes first. If you meet that criterion, office pets may add a great perk to your workplace.
Tejas Vemparala contributed to the reporting and writing of this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.