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Everybody’s heard the phrase that dogs are a man’s best friend, but can they also be man’s best coworker? The number of American offices going to the dogs is increasing. According to a survey from the American Pet Products Manufacturer’s Association nearly 20% of companies are now pet friendly.

So, why are furrier companions making their way into the workplace and what do you need to know about having a pet-friendly office?

Potential Benefits

First, let’s go over the multiple benefits of allowing pets into the workplace. We’ll use the term pets because as the survey shows, dogs are not the only furry companion allowed. In addition to dogs, companies are making friends with their workers’ cats, hamsters, fish, and even the occasional rabbit.

Better Work-Life Balance

Many employees view their pets as part of the family and when they are at work, it means their pet is sitting at home alone all day. Allowing pets into the office means employees are not worrying about their elderly pet or puppy suffering from isolation and being in pain alone. Employees are also willing to work longer hours or stay later since they don’t feel the need to rush home to their animal. After all, nobody wants to get stuck at work only to know they’ll arrive home to a large mess in the middle of the floor.

Improved Employee Relations

Animals are known to attract people and stopping to pet the cute dog or scratch behind the ears of a tabby cat leads to more conversations between coworkers. People are better collaborators and report having a higher trust level.

Increased Creativity

No matter the job, everyone gets a little bored and stifled once in a while. A quick mental break helps workers recuperate and actually increases productivity. Pets in the workplace provide a perfect opportunity for a brief getaway and creativity boost.

Lowered Stress Levels

Spending time with an animal has actually been shown to lower the stress hormone cortisol and increase oxytocin levels. In turn, this leads to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels which actually leads to healthier workers.

Increased Connection With Customers

Many pet-friendly offices report that animals in the office have actually led to better relationships with their customers and vendors. Consumers remember the office that had the friendly dog and define pet-friendly workplaces as more approachable and trustworthy.

Potential Risks

On the surface, the benefits of a pet friendly office are pretty convincing, but what other things should you consider?

First, are you leasing your workspace? If so, review your lease requirements and check with the landlord before considering a pet friendly policy. A number of commercial real estate leases ban animals from the building. Disregarding this rule can lead to large fines and even eviction.

Increased noise, pet odors, and mess are another concern. We all like to believe our pets are well behaved, but even the most disciplined animals have accidents. If an employee gets caught up on a phone call and a pet needs to go out, you could end up with a foul odor in the office and carpet stains. What’s a client going to think if in the middle of your phone call, a dog starts barking?

Setting ground rules for animals and properly preparing your office to be animal friendly can help offset some of this. Many offices suggest providing litter boxes, pet water fountains, and designated walk times.

What about allergies and liabilities? Not everyone is a pet lover and worse some are allergic to dog and cat dander. Making one coworker’s life easier by allowing a pet can make another coworker’s miserable. Consult with everyone in the office before deciding on a policy. Some workers may agree to a pet-free zone while others may require a pet-free workplace to remain healthy. Furthermore, if an animal bites or scratches someone in the workplace, as the employer you may be held liable.