Workplace may be going to the dogs — really

The importance of pets in people’s lives is increasing. Some companies are starting to let employees bring their pets to work with them.

The pet business in the United States is booming. This year, Americans are expected to spend $86 billion on products and services related to their pets. Food, veterinarian services and pet supplies are the top areas where consumers are spending on their non-human friends.

Eight percent of businesses allow pets in the workplace. That’s up from four percent in 2014. That number is expected to increase in efforts to attract and retain good employees.

Studies say having pets at work is especially popular with millennials. Pets in the workplace are said to relieve stress and make employees more relaxed. As a result, those who bring their pets to work are more productive.

A pet-friendly workplace tends to increase employee satisfaction, improve morale and promote an atmosphere of teamwork and communication. It saves employees money they would otherwise spend caring for their pets while at work.

Workers separated from their pets may be less productive due to worrying. Employees who have their pets with them at work had an 11-percent drop in their stress levels compared to a 70-percent increase in stress levels of employees whose pets were left at home.

It is a benefit that can recruit and retain employees, which is something that companies deal with continually, according to Corri Miller, assistant professor of management at Tiffin University. “Companies have seen employees work days last longer because they don’t need to get home to take care of the animal.”

Pets are claimed to improve creativity and communication amongst employees. About half of pet owners believe owning a pet is better for your social life than spending time on social networking sites.

Many of these same studies cite some potential problems with pets a work. While they might make employees more relaxed, they may be a distraction to the owner and other people in the office.

Pets can damage office equipment, carpets and furniture (think puppies chewing). Their presence in the office can raise legal and insurance issues if a dog bites or trips an employee or customer on company property.

Companies that allow pets need to create policies outlining the rules for which animals can be at the business and the guidelines covering their behavior while they are there. Co-workers in the office with allergies need to be considered.

Miller added that from a customer perspective, companies that allow pets may be seen as “softer, more forward-thinking, which could lead to a more positive perception by their customer base.” Allowing pets could promote a team work atmosphere through employees engaging with each other based on the common ground of an animal.

In addition to the workplace, therapy pets are showing up in airplanes, although airlines have started to limit pets on flights in consideration of other passengers. Therapy dogs are popular in some hospitals, but also present risks of spreading germs to the patients they visit. A student group at Northern Michigan University is provided therapy dogs and cats to help students deal with the stress of midterm exams this fall.

A Minneapolis-based marketing agency introduced a new benefit plan for its employees that includes “pawternity” that allows new pet owners to work from home for one week while their cats or dogs get adapted to their new homes. The firm added the benefit to attract and keep talent in a tight job market. The policy only applies to animals that need training or attention, so fish and birds are not included.

Perry Haan is professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at Tiffin University. He can be reached at (419) 618-2867.