By: Marlene Y. Satter


Among benefits being considered as employers work to recruit and retain top staff, nontraditional voluntary benefits are gaining in popularity, both with employers and with employees who want a more custom-designed approach to benefits.

And included among those nontraditional benefits is pet insurance. Even the presence of pets in the workplace is becoming increasingly common — Take Your Dog to Work Day, anyone? — although employers do have to take certain steps to make sure that having a pet, or even several, in the office is a pleasure instead of a potential cat-astrophe.

“It’s no secret that pets have become more part of the family than ever, particularly among millennials,” Chris Middleton, president of Pets Best, says in a statement. Middleton adds, “There are several ways any company can quickly and easily improve their pet-friendly perks, helping to attract and retain key pet-loving talent.”

The offering of pet insurance, so that employees aren’t overwhelmed with vet bills if something bad happens to Fido or Fluffy, is a popular option and growing more so. But so is actually being able to have Fido or Fluffy — or both — in the office, where the soothing presence of animals can relax employees much like a therapy dog can relax stressed hospital patients.

In fact, an NPR report cites figures from the Society of Human Resource Management indicating 7 percent of employers are letting workers bring their pets to work — up from 5 percent in 2011. According to the report, it’s a “nonfinancial benefit that speaks to the growing demand among workers for work-life balance.” The report says, “Studies show pets lower stress hormones, and some show that workplaces that allow pets see higher morale and productivity.”

Randolph Barker, a professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University, is quoted in the report saying, “They tend to see that the dogs increase co-worker cooperation and interaction, particularly when people would go by and see the dog just to visit.” And Barker’s own research indicates that the presence of pets really is beneficial to the workplace.

Research he conducted in 2012, the report says, measured levels of cortisol in workers’ systems and found that people whose pets came to work saw a decrease in stress throughout the workday, whereas those who didn’t have a pet saw their hormones increase.

So not just better attitudes, but maybe health benefits as well for employees: a win-win.

To that end, Pets Best Insurance Services, LLC offers some recommendations for employers who’d like to transform the work environment into a pet-friendly haven for its animal-loving employees.

6. Introduce the idea over time

Obviously the pet lovers on the payroll will be thrilled, but some other employees may not be so happy about it — at least until they get used to the idea.

Pets Best recommends starting off with a weekly “bring your pets to work day” so that the petless can adapt to the presence of other species gradually.

5. Pet-proof your space

It’s not a whole lot different from bringing a toddler into the office. There are things pets shouldn’t have access to — both to prevent harm to the pet and destruction to the item. Such items as tempting trash cans and chewable electrical cords, not to mention any little personal treasures that may seem attractive to a curious animal, should be made safe or placed out of reach.

Making sure that’s done in advance will preserve the feeling of serenity that dogs and cats wandering the workplace will evoke in the absence of trouble.

4. Set rules and expectations

So that it doesn’t turn into a pet free-for-all, make sure pet parents know what’s expected in terms of behavior from both them and their pets — such as no running in the hallways or howling with the radio.

After all, some animals just don’t do well in offices — just as some people don’t — whether it’s confinement or the presence of many strangers (although that latter problem could be solved just by requiring a little time for everyone to be introduced to one another).

And be sure everyone understands what needs to happen if there’s a barking frenzy, an accident needing to be cleaned up or some other behavioral event that must be dealt with.

3. Hold pet interviews

Yes, you should meet the pets before they’re allowed to come in and spend the day. While it’s true that some Jack Russells are mellow, and may be extremely laid back at home, don’t assume that’s going to be the case in the office just on the owner’s say-so; otherwise you could end up with a dog running laps around a desk or barking hysterically in the middle of a conference call.

2. Stock the break room

Be realistic. Employees get hungry and thirsty and have other needs, and so do pets. If you keep a supply of treats and maybe some spare water dishes, that’s great — but you’ll also need to consider other essentials: cleaning supplies, paper towels, stain remover and waste bags.

The environment will be much more stress-free if everything is on hand ahead of time to deal with accidents or emergencies that will undoubtedly arise from time to time.

1. Offer pet insurance as a benefit

Lots of companies are cutting back, rather than expanding, health benefits for their human employees. But at the same time, Pets Best says, record numbers of dogs and cats are covered for veterinary expenses through employee benefits plans that include pet insurance.

And considering the cost of veterinary care as more and more animals are able to be treated by some of the latest and most cutting-edge care, owners can end up almost as badly in the hole for vet bills for a serious condition as they can for a human health problem.

“Providing pet insurance to every employee,” Pets Best says, “will set the tone and reassure employees that you support and care for them, and their entire family.”

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