People Management poll: three-quarters would work in a dog-friendly office – what do HR experts say?

Canine office companions can boost morale and productivity, but there are downsides, including allergies, phobias and potential discrimination

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A LinkedIn poll carried out by People Management has found nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of respondents would be happy to work in a dog-friendly office.

The remaining 27 per cent of the 2,800 respondents said they would not want their workplace to be dog-friendly.

It comes after a recent Kennel Club survey found that half (52 per cent) of British people would like to bring their dog to the office, with benefits including enhancing morale and reducing stress. 

Sherine Bryan, senior people partner for Unmind, a mental health tech company that has a dog-friendly office, told People Management that welcoming dogs to the workplace is “a big factor in supporting our wellbeing and bringing that extra energy to the office”.

She added that her office has enough co-working space for people who prefer to work away from the dogs. 

Bryan said companies considering bringing dogs into the workplace should “have the right office set-up for those who choose not to be around dogs, or may be allergic”.

She also suggests conducting a trial first, along with creating a team calendar where employees can record in advance which dogs they will be bringing in.

Emma Godfrey, HR and training manager for Stagestruck Ltd, told People Management that “the benefits of having dogs in the workplace far outweigh any negatives”. She said the dogs act as a “healthy distraction” and bring some “amusement” to the working day.

“Our teams get out on walks at lunch and there is a community spirit with others ‘pup sitting’ when there are meetings”, she said. 

Godfrey said that the concept works at her company, which has been dog-friendly for years, because they have “a large secure field, where our dogs can be off-lead”. In addition, owners are “respectful and mindful of others”.

Ensuring there is “a space where dogs and owners can go to walk, run or play away from the office”, as well as “gaining feedback from the wider team and understanding their feeling and any concerns” are necessary to make a dog-friendly workplace a success, said Godfrey. 

However, she highlighted that the experience of bringing your dog to work can be stressful and distracting for the owner.

Steve Herbert, wellbeing and benefits director at Partners&, told People Management: “It has long been recognised that a pet can contribute to improved happiness and the right dog in the right workplace environment is likely to boost the mental health of at least some employees.”

Despite also acknowledging the positive impact that a dog-friendly workplace could have on the physical health of employees, Herbert said allowing dogs in the office has far more potential downsides than benefits for most workforces. 

He said that “some employees may be genuinely scared of dogs, others might be allergic to pet hair, and many would just want to avoid getting pet hair on their workplace clothing”. 

Furthermore, he pointed out that dogs pose a potential distraction during meetings and other workplace activities, as well as adding to safety concerns through presenting a trip hazard, or potentially getting caught in machinery.

Trusted Housesitters’ recent Remote Workers survey found that nine in 10 (91 per cent) surveyed said pets improved their mental health and reduced work-related stress.

A further 64 per cent said pets get them to go outdoors at least once during the working day, while 65 per cent said they would not consider a role that did not offer hybrid or remote working due to pet care responsibilities.

Herbert attributes the growing popularity of dog-friendly workplaces to the spike in dog ownership during the pandemic, when “workers were able to balance both their work and ownership responsibilities relatively easily”. Now these workers are returning to the office, they are looking for ways to continue caring for their pets, he said.

Petra Velzeboer, CEO and founder of mental health consultancy PVL, told People Management: “Not all dogs are created equal.”

She said she has experience of working in a dog-friendly office where, although there were some dogs “on the endorphin-boosting list”, one colleague brought in a dog that was “temperamental and potentially vicious, but to be inclusive was now also allowed in the office”. 

She said: “It goes without saying, but this arrangement did the opposite of boosting wellbeing. It certainly made me – not a dog person – tense whenever I passed her desk.” 

Potential conflicts may arise if two dogs are aggressive towards each other, said Herbert.

He said that while a potential solution would be to decide which dog is allowed into the office, this could cause further problems: “There could well be a discrimination issue if one employee’s pet were allowed whilst another was denied access to the workplace. Few HR policies will cater for such an eventuality, and this could potentially create an entirely new grievance area that few employers would want to encourage.”