(This article originally appeared in The Guardian)
We’re in the midst of a severe labor shortage and a reluctance among many people to return to the office. So how can small businesses attract workers? Maybe we should be considering dogs and cats?t’s no secret that pet ownership soared during the pandemic. According to the American Pet Products Association, 11.38m US households took on a new pet during the pandemic, with 75% of all pet owners saying that spending time with a dog or cat helped to reduce their stress and increased their sense of wellbeing during Covid-19.
This means that there are a lot more people with pets than ever before. And make no mistake: we love our pets. But owning a pet is expensive (some estimates are about $1,500 a year for just one dog). And leaving our pets after working from home for so many months is difficult.
So difficult that, according to a recent study by pet products company Bark, more than 70% of dog owners still working from home expect to miss their pet when they return to the workplace — compared with only 42% who will miss their spouse and 39% who will miss their children. So difficult that some pet insurers are now covering claims for the behavioral therapy and treatment of dogs that are distressed to see their owners leave them during the day.
Missing a pet more than one’s own children? Behavior therapy for a dog? As employers, we must not judge but we must respond — which is what many business owners across the country are doing. And they’re doing two things.
Companies both big and small are increasingly offering pet insurance. A 2018 study from Nationwide Insurance, who claims to insure more than 700,000 pets, says that pet health insurance is “quickly becoming one of the most requested voluntary benefits as its popularity continues to skyrocket among US employers looking to attract, engage and retain pet-owning employees”. And this was well before the pandemic-related rise in pet ownership.
If the president can bring his dog to work, why not the rest of us? Photograph: White House/News Pictures/REX/Shutterstock
Typical pet insurance policies — which employers can either fully pay or make available to their employees at discounted rates negotiated with the insurance company — cover wellness exams, shots, chronic conditions and acute illnesses and injuries. According to Nationwide, offering pet insurance is a great way for employers to demonstrate that they care about employees.
Besides pet insurance, a growing number of businesses are allowing their employees to bring their animals to work. The most famous of these is Amazon which, once again, ranked as the country’s No 1 dog-friendly business this year, according to data provided by the pet-sitting and dog walking service Rover.
“Amazon has been dog-friendly since Day 1,” Jennifer Skipper, Amazon’s “Woof Pack” manager (how about that for a dream job?) said in Rover’s announcement. “Our dogs are a special part of Amazon’s peculiar culture, and a mechanism for connection. We’ve found that dogs in the office actually contribute to our collaborative company culture.”
Allowing people to bring dogs to the office can be complicated, especially for a small business, and the companies that do allow this practice have pretty strict policies.
These include making employees verify that their pet is adequately trained and providing evidence that the pet is insured, cleaned, free of parasites and vaccinated. Designated pet areas are typically set aside, certain breeds may be disallowed or given limited access (sorry pit bulls, you are oftentimes unfairly accused) and owners must supervise their animals at all times. In addition to establishing a formal complaint process, dog-friendly companies usually require employees to make a written statement that their pet will not cause medical problems for fellow workers and sign waivers that they are completely responsible for their dog’s behavior, which frankly is something that I could never guarantee.
I know, it sounds like a hassle just for a dog. But people love their dogs and allowing employees to bring their pet to work could be a powerful way to entice those wary workers out of their homes and back to the office. Offering pet insurance is another important benefit to consider. A whopping 69% of companies surveyed by the HR firm Willis Towers Watson said they plan to offer pet insurance, a 22% increase from last year.
Health insurance. Retirement plans. Work from home. Paid time off. Pet benefits. These are the hot perks this year. If your small business isn’t already offering them, you could be missing out on a great employee to a competitor. Not to mention a good boy or girl that could brighten your day.