Dogs in the Workplace: The Employee Benefit That Gets Tails Wagging

June 23, 2017

Today is Take Your Dog to Work Day. Here are some tips for how you can incorporate the love of dogs into your workplace for one day or every day!

If you are a dog owner, you may have encountered this scenario once or twice: as you walk out the door in the morning to head to your job, you take one last glance back, only to find your pooch begging you through sad eyes to take them with you. Fortunately for dog owners and the canines who love them, dog-friendly workplace programs continue to increase in popularity, allowing many of these dogs to be happily invited along when their best friend leaves for work each day.

There are good reasons for employers increasingly allowing their employees to bring their dogs to work. Studies show that dog-friendly workplaces can reduce stress, increase productivity, build collaboration, attract talent and even decrease absenteeism. Many also attribute dogs in the workplace to improved employee retention. Best of all, though, companies that allow employees to bring their dogs to work report that it gives them a competitive edge when it comes to recruiting.

If you are thinking of allowing dogs in the workplace, then, just like with any other new workplace program, planning and monitoring are imperative. Here are four things to think about before opening your workplace to canine companions.

1) Your business goals
What is your reason for wanting to allow dogs in the workplace? Is it to improve recruitment and retention? Are you interested in general wellness or a desire to shift office culture? Do you want to decrease absenteeism? Identify what you want to achieve and then pinpoint how allowing dogs in the workplace can positively contribute to that end result.

From there, think about the challenges dogs in the workplace can bring and how those challenges may harm your business goals. Then, weigh the benefits against the risks and decide if opening your workplace to dogs is worth it.

2) Logistics
Consider your industry, number of employees, office location and needs of your business to decide if having dogs at your company makes sense logistically. A few things to take into account include:

  • Industry: If you work in an industry, such as finance or professional services, where you need a more buttoned-up office environment or interact directly with customers at your workplace, allowing dogs in the office may not make sense. By the same token, a construction site, automotive shop or restaurant likely poses clear health and safety concerns that will have to be addressed. 
  • Location: Is your location dog-friendly? Consider if there are easily accessible outdoor areas where colleagues can take their dogs on a walk or to use the bathroom, etc. 
  • Work Space: Decide if there is enough space for both dogs and people. If your office is already crowded, having additional four-legged creatures moving about could prove unsafe and impede productivity. Make sure dogs can be reasonably safe and comfortable in your workplace.
  • Noise Level: An exceptionally loud office environment could pose risks for the dog, while the occasional barking and howling of canine office mates could be a problem in a business environment where quiet is necessary.

3) Employee input
If you’re considering inviting dogs into your business, conduct a survey to gauge employee interest in a dog-friendly workplace. Make sure to involve everyone. Use the survey to gauge both interest in a dog-friendly work environment and collect suggestions for best ways to implement your new program. This can be as simple as emailing the whole team and asking them to respond to a few questions:

  • Do you want a dog-friendly office policy?
  • How frequently would you like dogs to be invited into the office?
  • What concerns do you have about including dogs in the workplace? Do you have allergies, a fear of dogs or other issues of concern?
  • What are your suggestions for a dog-friendly workplace?

4) Potential HR issues
Before allowing dogs onsite, contact your workers’ compensation and general insurance carrier to discuss the potential of dog bites or dog-related injuries to employees. Work with your onsite HR person or HR services provider to implement policies and procedures to avoid any potential hazards. You may also want to consult a dog trainer or behaviorist for ways to adapt your environment and policies to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being.

Put a committee in place to oversee your program. Charge them with implementing and monitoring your policies and procedures in regard to having dogs in the workplace. Have this committee meet regularly to track success and address any issues. 

Other things to consider when creating your policy for a dog-friendly workplace:

  • A clear outline of owner responsibilities in handling and caring for their dog. Be clear where in the office dogs are allowed and rules for proper supervision of dogs. Consider also providing the necessities (i.e., cleaning agents, water bowls) needed for owners to properly clean up after and care for their dogs.
  • Mandatory health and behavior qualifications for dogs, including that they are up-to-date on licensing, vaccines, flea prevention medication and free from any communicable diseases. Consider also requiring all dogs onsite be spayed or neutered to cut down on both behavior issues and unwelcome instances of office “romance.”
  • How pet-related concerns will be addressed, how you will handle dogs and owners who repeatedly violate your health and behavior rules, and at what point they’ll no longer be allowed to participate in the program.
  • Designate dog-free zones such as conference rooms, break rooms and bathrooms. Likewise, identify both inside and outside dog-friendly zones for walking or playing. 
  • Create both inside and outside clean-up stations (including bags for collecting waste). 
  • Organize an offsite “play group” to acclimate new dogs to others before entering them into the workplace. This can also allow you to assess that all dogs meet your requirements for being friendly to people and other dogs. Make sure to only allow dogs who are people and dog-friendly and have proven to do well in a setting with multiple human and canine officemates.  

If you do decide to move forward with a dog-friendly policy, it may make sense to start with doing it on a trial basis--like for one week or one month--before making it a permanent part of your workplace culture.

Dog-friendly alternatives
If you decide not to allow dogs in your office full-time, there are many alternative methods for implementing dogs into your office culture that may better suit your business:

  • Allow only certain days of the year, month or week, such as Take Your Dog to Work Day, where employees can bring their dogs to the office.
  • Bring a therapy dog in to visit on a routine basis.
  • Host a volunteer day at a local animal shelter.
  • Organize a fundraiser and donate the proceeds to an animal charity. If you decide to move forward with a dog-friendly workplace, tell the world by listing your company on www.dogfriendly.com

This communication is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice; and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance.

This post may contain hyperlinks to websites operated by parties other than TriNet. Such hyperlinks are provided for reference only. TriNet does not control such websites and is not responsible for their content. Inclusion of such hyperlinks on TriNet.com does not necessarily imply any endorsement of the material on such websites or association with their operators.

By Virginia Capezio

Virginia Capezio is a senior human resources consultant with TriNet.

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