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Business Owners: Should You Allow Pets at Work?

Offering a “bring your pet to work” policy might be more than just a nice-sounding benefit: It could actually lower your employees’ stress and make other workers feel more satisfied with their jobs, according to a study by Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Allowing workers to bring their pets to work is a very simple way to engage positively with your employees,” says Mallary Tytel, president and founder of Healthy Workplaces, LLC, a South Dakota-based management-consulting firm. “We’re finding that more and more companies – both large and small – are allowing pets in their workplaces with really positive results.” Tytel says many firms report lower employee stress levels, less absenteeism, and higher staff morale when pets are present.

But is an open doggy-door policy right for your company? Here are some factors to consider:

Do your research. If you’re leasing your workspace, be sure your landlord allows pets. You should also talk to your business insurance agent or risk-management specialist about whether you’re insured if someone is injured by your pet, or if your pet damages property.  In other cases, you may need to have employees sign waivers accepting legal responsibility for their own pets’ behavior while in your office. Of course, if, as part of your business, you and your employees handle food or beverages, or offer personal care services (particularly day care or elder care), you need to carefully check any licensing bureau regulations about the presence of pets.

Start slowly. Instead of announcing to your employees that pets are welcome anytime, start by allowing the pets in your office or retail shop one day a week. Be sure to give employees plenty of warning before you begin allowing pets, and have open discussions about any concerns (allergies, accidents, disruptions, etc.) and how you can accommodate them.

Create a pet policy. Even though you hope employees will use common sense when bringing pets to work, it’s wise to put guidelines in writing. For instance, Tytel advocates a “three accidents and you’re out” rule. You might also require employees to prove that their pets (dogs especially) will respond to basic commands like “Sit,” “Stay,” and “Down.” Consider limiting the number of animals allowed in your office at one time, and asking employees to sign up in advance to bring in their furry pals. Also, require employees to prove that pets’ vaccinations are up to date. Keep copies of that information in the office, in case you’re questioned. “And it should go without saying – but say it clearly in your policy anyway – that you will have zero tolerance for aggressive pets. They need to leave immediately,” says Tytel.

Consider your image. Pets can be great icebreakers with new customers, and can give your business a reputation for being laid-back and friendly. That can work well if it fits in with your company’s goals and values, says Tytel. However, if you run a very “buttoned-up” type of business, pay attention to whether your clients are annoyed by the presence of pets. If animals make your business appear less professional to your key customers, they might not be a good fit.

Set clear boundaries. Remember that every employee will not be an animal lover. Be sure to respect workers’ wishes to keep pets away from their office spaces. You should also enforce “pet-free” zones and keep animals out of the office kitchen/cafeteria, restrooms and some meeting rooms.

Make pet-exercise part of company culture. Encourage dog owners, in particular, to take their pets out for regular walks throughout the day. Even though they’re away from their work, your employees are getting exercise that can lead to better health and higher productivity, reminds Tytel. If necessary, go along with your workers and their dogs – making these outings your “walk and talk” meetings. You never know what fresh business ideas might come from your canine commutes!

What do you think about having pets at work? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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