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Business management

Working dogs: should you allow pets in the workplace?

Dogs are an increasingly common sight at work, but their presence can have implications for both employers and staff.

Just like free snacks and flexible working hours, workplace dogs are now seen by many companies as an important staff perk, and key to a happy, productive team.

For many employees, permission to bring a pet to work can even mean the difference between them staying in a job or going walkies because of the high cost of canine daycare.

“There was an explosion in dog ownership during the Covid-19 lockdowns of the past two years, and it’s created new priorities for many workers,” says Natalie Nelson, Technical Advice Lead at NatWest Mentor. “Some owners don’t want to be separated from their pets, and many dogs aren’t used to being left home alone, so being able to bring your dog to work can be a real incentive to return to the office.”

Two sides to the tail: the pros and cons of dogs at work

The advantages of allowing dogs in the workplace are clear to pet lovers: they’re great for morale, create a more casual atmosphere, and they encourage bonding between co-workers. But, like most shaggy dog stories, there’s a twist in this tail.

“We can’t assume that everyone’s a dog lover, and we can’t forget that not all dogs are created equal,” says Natalie. “Some are friendlier and quieter than others, and a badly behaved dog in a workplace can be counterproductive. So employees must accept that if their dog is being a nuisance at work, it has to go.”

Advantages

  • good for employee morale
  • encourages workplace bonding
  • helps to attract and retain staff 
  • stimulates collaboration

Disadvantages

  • can be disruptive
  • may cause damage
  • carries health and safety concerns
  • not a good fit for every company
Paws for thought: five things employers need to consider with a pet policy

1. Worker performance

  • encourages team building
  • can be intimidating
  • may be distracting

Dogs can encourage bonding and collaboration at work, but they can also become a distraction from the job at hand. Productivity may decrease if the time spent interacting with an animal outweighs the time spent on completing tasks – and this ultimately affects a company’s bottom line. Also, having an animal around might be intimidating for some workers, while others may object on religious grounds. An anonymous questionnaire can help gauge employees’ feelings about pets at work.

2. Company culture

  • can create a relaxed culture
  • not appropriate in some businesses
  • customer expectations may differ

An organisation that allows employees to bring their dogs to work may be considered attractive because it creates a relaxed, familiar atmosphere. But not every company’s culture lends itself to having dogs in the workplace. While it might be appropriate at an internet start-up or a microbrewery, it may not be at a financial services company or a legal practice. It’s important to recognise that while having canine company at work might be appealing to you and your staff, there is a risk that your customers won’t agree.

3. Tenancy agreements

  • Some landlords won’t allow dogs
  • always discuss the issue first
  • get any pet agreements in writing

Many commercial tenancy agreements include clauses that prohibit animals on the premises so it’s important that you check the terms of your agreement if you intend to allow dogs at work. You should also discuss your plans with your landlord or building manager, and make sure you get any waivers or changes to your tenancy agreement in writing before allowing dogs access.

4. Health and safety

  • dogs can be unpredictable
  • injuries in the workplace are the business’s responsibility
  • you will need the right insurance is in place

Business owners could be held responsible if an animal injures an employee or visitor to the office. Animals can get nervous in new environments and around new people, which could cause even the most well-behaved dog to act out of character. And an unsanitary dog can create a serious health and safety issue. It’s advisable to make sure that no one in the workplace has any allergies triggered by dogs, and that your business insurance covers injuries caused by animals on your premises.

5. Property damage

  • protect IT equipment
  • set up animal-free zones
  • ask dog owners to sign a waiver

Pets can cause damage to furniture at home, and it’s no different in the workplace. But at work there might be expensive computer equipment, not to mention carpets, office furniture and other workers’ property for a dog to destroy. It might be necessary to ask owners to sign a waiver saying they will be financially liable for any damage caused by their dog. Also consider setting up no-dog zones at work, where animals aren’t allowed.

How to take the lead

It's important to take all the pros and cons into account before you implement any policy. When it comes to pets, Natalie says: “Consider trialling the concept with ‘bring your dog to work’ days.

"If you’re looking to introduce this as an ongoing employee perk, make sure you have a clear policy in place on how to request this benefit, expectations, and how to raise concerns.”

If you feel you could benefit from free business tools, resources and guidance, sign up to NatWest MentorDigital and get access to employment law, HR, and health and safety support. You don’t need to bank with NatWest. NatWest Mentor also provides advice for more complex workforce matters, through a subscription service. Mentor’s subscription services incur a cost. 

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This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of the NatWest Group Economics Department, as of this date and are subject to change without notice.

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