Pet owners and the return to the office: how UK employers can manage the issues and enjoy the benefits

Article 26 August 2021 Experience: Employment

During the pandemic, it is reported that around 3.2million households acquired a pet, which means that there are a lot more working adults now considering how to balance their working life with their new furry or feathered companion.

Pets can provide an enormous boost to an employee’s health and wellbeing, ranging from increasing an individual’s physical activity (through dog walks or runs), reducing anxiety, lowering blood pressure, boosting self-confidence and providing companionship. These benefits can also flow through to the employee’s working life, paying dividends for both you and your employee provided the right balance can be struck.

So, what might you need to know to accommodate employees who now have pet care needs as they return to office based working, even on a flexible or not quite full time basis? We have set out below some of the legal and practical considerations, as well as some of the benefits of a pet friendly office.

Flexible working

Since 2014 any employee with over six months’ service has been able to request flexible working. This right is mostly utilised by working parents, but with the increase in pet ownership, and a shift in attitudes to home working, this may change. For example, in the winter, employees may want a later start in the day or a longer break in the day to take a dog out while it is light outside, making up the time in the evening. For those using doggy daycare facilities, they may want to be back home in time to meet their pet, or to ensure they are not alone for too long, but may be able to continue working from home afterwards.

If there is an increase in formal or informal requests for flexible working, you may need to consider how to balance the needs of all employees if there is a requirement for employees to be in the office at certain times or other concerns regarding home based working.

Returning to the office

Many pets (whether acquired during lockdown or not) have got used to having their humans around for most of the time. It may therefore take time for employees to settle their pets into a different routine that may include daycare or dog walkers, or just being left on their own for short periods of time. Other employees may find it difficult to secure pet day care due to an enormous spike in demand and may be on a waiting list for some time. Initial flexibility over working days and hours may assist in managing the transition to the intended long term working pattern.

Dogs in the office

Allowing employees to bring their dogs to work in the office (either on occasion or regularly) may also encourage employees back to the office. For the dog owner this may mean more time with their pet, and a saving on dog walking fees.

Other employees without their own pets may also welcome the opportunity to spend some time with a new furry friend and get out for a walk at lunchtime. Even before the pandemic this was recognised with employers able to book ‘puppy days’ where a provider would bring puppies into a workplace to socialise with humans for their mutual benefit.

However, not all dogs are suitable to be taken into an office, and not all offices are suitable for dogs, indeed some buildings will not allow dogs that are not service dogs. If you are considering allowing dogs in the office, have a clear policy covering details such as when they can be in the office and any areas they are not allowed into. Some employees may be allergic or fearful of dogs and their needs should also be addressed.

Pet related benefits

With more focus on work life balance and lifestyle and anecdotal accounts of employees resigning if their needs aren’t met, pet related benefits could also play a part in helping to recruit and retain employees. Whilst pet insurance is a relatively common (and popular) employee benefit option in the US, it is still rare in the UK, although this may change. Other benefits such as ‘pawternity’ leave for those getting a pet, or bereavement leave for those saying a final farewell, are becoming more common and are worth considering if you want to explore embracing a pet friendly workplace.

If you are considering introducing any of these elements into your workplace, or would like further information, please do get in contact.

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