Dolly goes to work every day, greets her coworkers in the break room, exhibits enviable people skills and offers much-needed support to anyone having a rough day.
But Dolly is no ordinary employee. She’s a lovable mix of Yorkie Terrier and Maltese and has been going to work with her pet parent, Bryan Levy, CFO of ACI Specialty Benefits, almost every day for the past year.
Pet ownership is growing
Dolly is just one of eight dogs who routinely spend their days at ACI headquarters. I’m the founder and CEO of ACI. What started as one employee bringing their dog to work on a regular basis quickly grew into an “every day at ACI is bring your dog to work day,” in a little over a year. Now, ACI is part of the 9% of American companies with dog-friendly policies, according to the SHRM 2018 Employee Benefits Report.
Pet-friendly workplaces are on the rise because dog ownership in America is at an all-time high. 68% of American households own pets, with dog ownership – at 60.2% — up from 56.7% just four years ago, leading to a booming pet industry that is now an $86 billion business.
“If I had to choose between two companies where one is pet-friendly and one is not, I would definitely choose the pet-friendly company,” says Sasha Abrahms, concierge supervisor at ACI. “Companies are realizing how many of their employees are pet owners and how important their employees’ pets are to them. Pet-related benefits are going to be the new ‘It Perk.’”
The new workforce is increasingly comprised of pet parents who don’t want to leave their furry companions home all day. On any given day, 6,000 dogs can be found helping their pet parents find balance at the Amazon headquarters in Seattle. Salesforce is known for its “Puppyforce,” Atlantic Health offers “Soothing Paws” pet therapy for its workforce, Genentech has a dog lovers club aptly named gDogs, and Kimpton even has a “Director of Pet Relations.”
Top companies that are leading the charge with nontraditional benefits and popular perks to compete for talent are looking at pet-friendly policies and benefits as a way to stand out.
Happy dogs, happy employees
The most obvious benefit of a pet-friendly workplace can be summed up in a single word: stress.
A 2012 study from the Virginia Commonwealth University found stress declined throughout the day for workers who had dogs by their side and rose for those who did not. And workers who are less stressed are more likely to have higher company loyalty and productivity.
“Having Louie at the office every day hasn’t affected my work load or work efficiency,” says Kathryn Mullis, senior account manager at ACI Specialty Benefits. Louie is a popular Chihuahua who helps Mullis de-stress. “It honestly just brings a really positive energy.”
Bringing pets to work also helps relieve some of the financial burden of pet care expenses. Without having to pay extra for dog walking, dog sitting, and doggy daycare, pet parents experience significant savings and peace of mind by bringing their pets to work.
Dogs bring people together
The Virginia Commonwealth study also found that people who brought their dogs to work experienced increased job satisfaction, a more positive view of their employer, and stronger interpersonal connections with their coworkers.
Abrahms has personally experienced the result of that camaraderie. “Having my puppy Henley at work causes me to interact with more people than I normally would,” she says. “My coworkers will even walk over if they are having a stressful day for some ‘puppy therapy’ time.”
Clinician Emily DuVal celebrated her one-year work anniversary with a special Slack message for her coworkers from her beloved dog, Suki: “Hi Folks, Suki here. A year ago today my mom started her first day at ACI. We moved from the SF Bay and have made our home in San Diego. Thanks for welcoming me in the office, too!”
Are pets right for your organization?
What if Fido isn’t playing well with others? Who’s going to pick up that accident in the corner?
There are quite a few considerations that come with having pets at work, such as size limits, behavior concerns, and logistics. For organizations considering having pets in the workplace, a clear pet policy with outlined responsibilities and restrictions will ensure the experience is positive for everyone.
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For offices that aren’t quite ready for four-legged employees, there are a host of alternatives that can keep pet parents from worrying about their fur babies during work hours.
“Offering employees EAP or concierge services allow people to receive pet referrals like help finding a reliable dog trainer, the best pet insurance, or a reputable cat sitter,” says Abrahms. “This perk benefits employees who are saving time and stress by not having to do research on their own. It also benefits the employer by decreasing the amount of time employees waste at work doing this research.”
Organizations can also consider a wide range of support for pet parents including “pawternity leave,” pet insurance, pet bereavement leave, and discounts for pet care services. Some employers have dedicated “Bring Your Pet to Work Day,” organize animal therapy days, or even arrange volunteer days with local humane societies.
Abrahms notes, “If we did not have this perk at ACI, I probably would not have adopted a puppy at this point in my life.” Part of the rising Gen Z workforce, Abrahms is one of the 57 million pet owners under age 40 who account for 41% of all pet owning adults in the United States.
The new workforce expects employers to prioritize employee experience with a whole-person approach to benefits, perks, workplace culture and values. Workplaces that allow a furry best friend to tag along with their pet parents? Now that’s something to bark about!