The pet question – are you a dog or a cat person?
Allowing your employees to bring their pets into work is a popular but contentious topic that has been discussed for years. For employees, it provides more flexibility and fun but employers worry about the distraction, the mess… the list goes on.
In recent years, there’s been a lot of media attention on businesses becoming more inclusive on the pet front. Dogs in offices, and the benefits this can provide, is becoming more widely discussed with reasons including exercise opportunities, improved moods, less stress and better overall engagement.
But all this pets in the office stuff centres on dogs. What about cats? Surely with a passionate nation split into dog or cat people, the debate about pets in the office should be a little less bias.
Dogs need outdoor space, they jump up and lick people, they’re very excitable, and get distracted by food and anyone entering a room. Cats just sit there giving everyone dirty looks – setting up camp for the day in the nearest abandoned box. That’s assuming there’s no cucumbers in the vicinity (if you don’t know what I’m talking about – google it). And then there’s also the problem with cats and their fascination for walking on keyboards…
Ok, so both cats and dogs have pros and cons in the workplace. But dogs seem to have better spokespeople with Nestle, Google and Amazon boldly promoting their dog-friendly policies. In fact, there’s even a Bring Your Dog to Work Day on 24th June, a whole day dedicated to canine friends, and statistics predict one in four businesses will allow dogs at work. With International Cat Day on the 8th August each year, our feline friends deserve a bit more attention to help them worm their way into the work world. There are examples of cats being allowed into the office, usually accompanied by some funny pictures with captions about giant kitty paperweights, seat warmers or typing assistants. However, the only famous example is Larry the Downing Street cat, aka Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office. And his track record in the job is a little shaky. Perhaps International Cat Day can become Cats in the Office Day to boost their PR presence…
Should pets become part of your engagement strategy?
On a more serious note, should organisations consider being more pet-friendly? There are numerous studies and research to suggest that having pets in the workplace can reduce stress, improve work-life balance and increase engagement. Nestle have found huge benefits as employees share turns taking their office dogs for walks, giving people a break from the office and some healthy fresh air. It’s even easier with outdoor or manual jobs, bringing dogs along to get plenty of exercise whilst you work and keeping people company during moments of lone working. These types of policies are making people more excited to come to work, either because they don’t have to worry about leaving their pet alone, or because those who cannot have their own so can share someone else’s. It also means workers can be more flexible in their hours as they don’t have to rush home to look after their pets – they’re right there!
Does it work?
Evidence of the effectiveness of cats at work can be seen in the growing popularity of cat or kitty cafes, where people pay good money to come and enjoy their lunch with some feline companions.
Universities are another pet success story for both dog and cat fans, as many introduce petting rooms during exam season to relieve stress. Rather than giving these animals free reign, universities designate set areas for students to go, relax and interact with a variety of different pets including dogs, cats and rabbits - some have even set up temporary petting zoos with more exotic creatures.
It's not for everyone
On the other hand, bringing animals into the workplace has its drawbacks. Some people have animal allergies or phobias. If pets suddenly entered their environment, they’ll be the first out the door, or will have to be separated from their co-workers in an animal-free zone. This will divide your workforce, leaving individuals feeling lonely and isolated from their colleagues, and even suffering judgement from the animal fans in your workplace. Team work will also suffer if departments are split between two segregated areas. Plus, even if you have a designated animal area, severe allergies could be affected by the hair attached to colleagues clothing, and those with phobias will feel nervous every time the door opens.
Is it worth it?
With such high stakes, it’s incredibly difficult for employers to decide whether animal policies should form part of their engagement strategy. With companies like Nestle, who own pet food brands, the marketing and PR benefits adds weight to the positives. But for software companies, manufacturers or retail brands, it’s easy to see why there’s more hesitation. Is it really worth the hassle and risk with no guarantee of increase employee engagement?
With the structures of workplaces continually changing, the entire debate may become moot. Remote working is becoming increasingly popular, particularly as younger generations enter the workplace. If your people can work from home, they won’t need to bring their pets with them, but will still benefit from the positive affects research has shown from animal companionship. In terms of engagement, being able to work from home may be far more important to a larger section of your workforce than any pet policy would ever be.
So what’s the answer – to bring or not to bring?
The only solution is to communicate openly with your people, asking them about their preferred engagement opportunities within the company. Any ideas your organisation comes up with will have more impact if you have received feedback and found out what your employees find important. If you’ve got an office full of dog lovers, it’ll probably work wonders to allow a pet-friendly policy to create a better work-life balance for your people.
If you’ve got a mix of cat and dog people, that’s going to get messy fast…