Should you let staff bring their dogs into the office?


As we’ve navigated our way through a global pandemic, the divide between our personal and work lives have blurred. Parents juggling childcare, home schooling and work. Employees who felt the need to be available all hours of the day and night. And Zoom meetings that let colleagues into our homes (albeit virtually, and against a background of our choice). Even as we tentatively make a return towards ‘normality’, this work-life blur continues. For example, staff expecting to bring their dogs into the office. Large corporations such as Google, Amazon, Etsy and Ben & Jerry’s have all allowed pets in their offices for some time. But are you ready for pets in the workplace to be part of your new normal?

In this article we look at why there is a growing demand for dog-friendly workplaces; the considerations employers need to take into account; the pros and cons of having dogs in the office; and a few ground rules to put in place if you do decide to take the plunge, including having the right level of commercial insurance.

More dogs at home, more dogs at work

According to data from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, a total of 3.2 million UK households acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic. That takes the number of pet dogs in the UK to 12 million. But while increased pet ownership has helped people’s mental health during the pandemic, it has also raised concerns about pet welfare. Having a dog at home during lockdown makes sense. But having a dog when employees need to return to the office five days a week raises a few challenges.

Not least for employers having to weigh up the pros and cons of dogs in the workplace. There is evidence that the number of office dogs was increasing long before Covid-19 took hold. Since 2014, 25th June has been National Bring Your Dog To Work Day, in recognition that dog owners don’t always like to be apart from their beloved pooches. But with pet ownership rising during the pandemic, dog ownership is high. And a rise in dogs at home has meant rising demand for dogs in the workplace.

According to research carried out by Mars Petcare, 71% of Gen Z and 48% of millennials have already asked or are planning to ask their employers to introduce a pet-friendly policy for the office. The research also reveals that up to 50% of C-suite executives plan to allow pets in the office. Are you ready to be one of them?

Are you ready for the office to be pet-friendly?

If you’re a business owner, you may receive requests from employees about bringing their dogs into the office. It might not be a consideration you’ve had to make before, but it’s one that takes some thought. On one hand, you want to be seen as a reasonable boss. Staff who have bought dogs during lockdown will have developed strong bonds with them. Their new pet has offered them companionship, improved their mental health, and given them a reason to exercise every day.

During various lockdowns, they’ll have spent almost every waking hour with their four-legged friend, so the thought of leaving them for extended periods is tough. Separation anxiety is as real for dog owners as it is for their canine companions.
Being seen as a pet-friendly environment could work wonders for staff morale and productivity – especially if you have received a number of requests. If you decide to go down this route, you’ll have to put in place clear guidelines and be transparent about expectations and limitations. But there’s a flipside to consider, too. Not everyone wants dogs in the office. Just because you’ve heard that other offices are welcoming dogs through the door, that doesn’t mean it’s right for your company. Although bringing your dog into the office has become more common, research suggests that only 7% of employers allow pets in the office.

If you have reservations about turning the office into an animal menagerie, you are well within your rights to say no. Aside from the potential barking and noise interruptions, there’s also the question of whether your commercial insurance policy covers incidents relating to dogs. The only thing to bear in mind is that if you decide against it, you’ll need to be very clear about your reasons and rationale behind that decision.

Benefits of having an office dog (or dogs)

With more offices opening their doors to canines, there must be some benefits to having an office dog. Here are a few of the reasons why dogs in the office make perfect sense.

1 Reduces stress and anxiety

Having dogs in the office can help reduce workplace stress – not just for the pet owners, but for other colleagues as well. Contact with nature – be that a walk in a forest or a dog under a desk – is proven to improve our mental health.

2 Boosts morale and teamwork

All animals have a great way of lightening the mood and putting a smile on people's faces. But dogs act as more than just an ice-breaker. They can also help encourage interaction and teamwork between colleagues and boost employee engagement.

3 Encourages staff to take regular breaks

We all know we should be taking more breaks from our desks, but some of us need a bit of encouragement to do so. Dogs need walks and feeding, meaning regular breaks for the pet parent and possibly other colleagues. A brisk walk round the park at lunchtime will do wonders for staff. It clears the head, gets the endorphins flowing, and even boosts brain power.

4 Increases productivity

Another benefit of taking regular breaks and exercise is a boost in productivity. Spending too long tied to our desks can reduce productivity levels. By acting as temporary distractions, dogs can help staff feel refreshed, less stressed and ready to tackle whatever challenges come their way. According to the Mars Petcare findings, 42% of employers said productivity had increased having pets in the office.

5 Increases retention

Finally, allowing staff to bring their dogs into work will help them feel more valued as an employee and more loyal to the company. Having a pet-friendly office policy in place can help create a more welcoming environment, and make the business somewhere people are less likely to want to leave.

Drawbacks of having an office dog

Of course, as with most things in life, where there's a benefit, there's also a drawback. Here are a few reasons why having an office dog might not be such a great idea after all.

1 Allergies or phobias

While we’re generally seen as a nation of animal lovers, that’s not true for everyone. Research suggests that up to three in 10 people are allergic to animal fur. And you need to remember that some staff members may not feel comfortable or at ease around dogs. If a member of staff has a phobia about dogs, having an office dog could cause major anxiety.

2 Disruptions and distractions

Yes, it’s true. Doggy distractions in the office can be both a good and a bad thing. While a dog lying quietly in the corner can be a nice distraction, a dog barking or whining in the middle of an office can be annoying at best, and downright disruptive at worst. Plus, if there is more than one pooch in the office, they might not get on with one another, causing all sorts of problems.

3 Legal compliance

When was the last time you read the small print in your insurance documents? Lots of commercial insurance policies won’t mention dogs, let alone offer cover for an office hound. A playful dog could cause a lot of damage within the four walls of an office – IT equipment, furniture, employees’ belongings, and more. Worse still, just one dog bite could lead to all sorts of legal complications. Consider every aspect (and take a look at your commercial insurance small print) before you make a decision.

4 Where to draw the line?

Having one dog in the office might feel very manageable. But if you let one employee bring their dog into the office, you’ll need to let all dog-owning employees do the same. And what about when an employee wants to bring their lonely parrot into the office? Or their depressed hamster? You’ll have to draw the line somewhere. Just be clear about where that line is before you give the green light. 

Setting out doggy ground rules

When it comes to allowing dogs into the office, there are always going to be some key considerations. Is the office conducive to dogs? What are the regulations about pets in the building? And would an office dog help boost morale and productivity or prove too much of a distraction?

Start with a trial day

Before committing to becoming a pet-friendly workplace, start by having a trial run. If it’s too long to wait until June’s official Bring Your Dog To Work Day, create your own. It will provide a great opportunity to see how things would work on a day-to-day basis and gauge how relaxed or boisterous a dog really is.

Ask for feedback

Don’t just assume that all employees will be happy to have a dog running free around the office. Speak to staff members and gather their thoughts and opinions on the matter (anonymously if you think that will get more truthful answers). It’s important to find out whether people have allergies or are afraid of dogs. Try to work together to find a solution.

Set out ‘hiring’ criteria

If a dog-in-the-office scheme is going to work, you’ll need to be sure those pooches have a few basic skills. There are certain criteria you could consider for the approval process. For example, the dog must:

  • Be up to date on vaccinations, worming etc
  • Be over a certain age (i.e. no puppies)
  • Be fully toilet trained
  • Be able to obey essential commands
  • Not be too noisy or too much of a distraction

Have a clear code of conduct in place

If you’re going to let a dog in the office, you’re going to need clear guidelines. Creating a code of conduct ensures everyone is on the same page. This document should include expectations around pet care and behaviour and be clear about the dog owner’s responsibilities. You may want to limit the number of dogs in the office on any given day, so make sure this information is included in the policy. Plus, you are well within your rights to have a three strikes clause. Use the policy to detail the consequences of non-compliance (either by the dog or its owner) and make it clear there is zero tolerance for workplace aggression.

Remember basic health and safety

Having a dog in an office might not sound like the biggest health hazard around, but it can cause certain problems if not properly managed. You don’t want staff tripping over a dog lead, dog bed or dog toys, so make sure corridors are kept clear and assign a ‘doggy area’.

Insurance Choice Commercial: Competitive cover for your business

Having a dog in the office can bring real benefits and positivity to a workplace, as long as you weigh up all the pros and cons and remain compliant.
Making sure you understand the legalities of having a dog in the office is key. Animals in the workplace may invalidate your company’s liability or commercial insurance or compromise your fire safety certificate. It’s your job to keep staff happy and safe, so be clear about what you are and aren’t covered for. At Insurance Choice Commercial, we’re here to make life a little bit easier for business owners and managers. That’s why we do the hard work for you – searching the market and arranging tailored commercial insurance policies to meet your requirements. Whether you want cover for accidental damage, fire, theft, vandalism, or public liability we’ll find a policy that ticks all your boxes. We also offer flexible payment options.

Want to find out more? Get a quote today.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.