Dogs at Work May Boost Engagement, But Don’t Forget the Downsides

Dogs at Work May Boost Engagement, But Don’t Forget the Downsides

Today marks the 20th annual observance of Take Your Dog to Work Day, an event launched by Pet Sitters International in 1999 to promote dog adoption by encouraging organizations to let their dog owner employees bring their canine companions to work for the day. Take Your Dog to Work Day highlights Americans’ increasing level of devotion to their pets, especially among Millennials, the largest generation of pet owners today. Rising rates of pet ownership are inspiring employers to offer benefits like pet insurance and even pet bereavement leave.

Indeed, many dog owners would love it if every day were Take Your Dog to Work Day, and some research purports to show that pet-friendly workplaces have many upsides, from increased employee engagement and loyalty to reduced stress levels and greater overall wellbeing. For instance, a new study from Nationwide and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute suggests that employers with pet-friendly workplaces enjoy greater engagement among all employees, not just dog owners, Nick Otto and Yasemin Sim Esmen report at Employee Benefit News:

According to the study, 91% of the workforce feels more fully engaged in the work compared to 65% of employees who work in a non-friendly workplace, which is defined in the study as one that allows pets in the workplace (regularly or occasionally) and/or offers a pet-friendly employee benefit, such as health insurance. One of the interesting things that the study noted was the camaraderie and positive relationships with both supervisors and coworkers (52% and 53%, respectively) at pet friendly companies versus non-pet-friendly workplaces (14% and 19%).

Still, just a fraction of US employers allow employees to bring their pets to work, but some high-profile organizations do: Amazon has allowed dogs in the office at its Seattle headquarters for about 20 years, Jennifer Calfas reports at Time, and over 1,000 dogs come to work there with their owners on a regular basis. What works for Amazon, however, may not work for all workplaces. As Calfas notes, some dogs aren’t suited to spending time in an office, while some employees will object to having them around:

Barking can ensue at the cubicle next door while you’re on an important call, and the occasional accident could damage company property. And some people simply just don’t like dogs or are allergic. “The only person that is almost guaranteed to benefit from bringing the dog to work is the owner of that dog,” said Anna Akbari, a sociologist and author who writes about well-being and happiness. …

As such, workplaces should consider nuanced protocols before implementing a dog-friendly environment, [Jennifer Fearing, the co-author of “Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces,”] said. If a dog shows aggression or bites a person or another dog, the animal won’t be allowed back to the office, for example, and each dog will need to be up-to-date on their shots. Other steps could include requiring a dog’s bedding to be washed once a week, as well as the implementation of HEPA filters to provide allergy relief. Additionally, sections or floors of a workplace should be determined as no-dog-zones, and employees taking their dogs to their desks should take the shortest route possible to get there, Fearing said.

Another reason to think twice about welcoming dogs into the office is that a work environment can be a stressful, boring, or dangerous place for the dogs themselves. Having to sit still for long periods of time in a highly stimulating environment and interact with large numbers of unfamiliar people who may not know how to handle dogs can be distressing for them. This is especially true when coming to the office is an occasional event that breaks up a dog’s routine, which is why Fearing tells Calfas that she thinks Take Your Dog to Work Day is a bad idea, describing it as “mayhem.”

But what probably stops most employers from letting their offices go to the dogs is the fear of liability complications, as TLNT‘s John Hollon learned from an employment attorney:

Attorney Karen Elliott of the law firm Eckert Seamans in Richmond, Virginia says it’s important for managers, HR pros and employees to understand the difference between the rules governing allowing dogs in the workplace under the ADA public access rules vs the ADA workplace accommodation rules. … When I asked her what companies need to consider before officially recognizing “take your dog to work day,” the list of issues she detailed was enough to make a CHRO’s head hurt. She listed these:

  • Lease requirements – Does your lease prohibit dogs/other animals?
  • Insurance policies – Yours may not cover dog bites, especially if not allowed by lease.
  • Why are you giving special consideration to dogs vs cats, snakes, ferrets, or other animals?
  • Will you allow all dog breeds? What about pit bulls or other more aggressive type of breeds? Will you limit dogs by size?
  • What about doggie breaks? If they are short, you must pay the employees, but those breaks may be more frequent than human breaks.
  • Make sure that in limiting the breeds, the limitation does not have a disparate impact against protected categories of individuals in the workplace.
  • What about legitimate fears and allergies?
  • What do you do if the dog destroys property?
  • How will you deal with disorderly dogs?
  • What about if a dog trips someone up in the workplace? How do you control all of the dogs and/or limit who gets to bring their dog?