Pet-Friendly Perks

According to new research, employers are unleashing a pack of new benefits for employees' four-legged friends.

By Julie Cook Ramirez

In the early days of the dot-com boom, Jeff Bezos and his team were hard at work, building the virtual marketplace that would come to be known worldwide as Amazon. While Bezos and others have become household names, another early team member is less well-known outside of Amazon, yet his impact may have been just as strong. Rufus was a Corgi who regularly reported to work with his mom and dad, who both worked for the start-up. Employees would lift Rufus into the air and use his paw to click the mouse when launching the very first pages of the website. Today, there is an entire office building named in Rufus' honor, and his picture can be found throughout its Seattle campus.

Amazon's affinity for workplace dogs didn't end with Rufus. The company created its Dogs at Work program and regularly hosts fun dog-themed events, like last year's doggie Halloween costume contest. In recent months, the Internet giant made headlines with the opening of a dog park adjacent to its Amazon Spheres campus, which is part of a $4 billion construction project the company is undertaking in Seattle. Open both to employees and the public, the park consists of a 1,000-square-foot off-leash area with rock features and platforms for dogs to climb and play on. In the center is a doggie drinking fountain for playful pups to quench their thirst.

"At Amazon, we are constantly looking for ways to engage our great neighbors because we love working in the heart of Seattle," says Lara Hirschfield, Amazon's "Woofpack" program manager. "This public dog park is just another way to do that, as dogs are truly in our company culture."

While policies permitting pets in the workplace continue to be viewed favorably by employees, other pet-related benefits, such as paid pet bereavement leave, general pet-related paid time off, and paid leave to care for a new pet are growing in popularity, according to the second annual Banfield Pet-Friendly Workplace PAWrometer survey, undertaken in February 2017 to better understand the prevalence, impact and perceptions of pet-friendly workplaces and other pet-related policies.  

More than half (51 percent) of employees said they would prefer such benefits, compared to 39 percent who prefer to have pets in the workplace. General pet-related PTO received the highest rating from both employees (47 percent) and HR decision makers (54 percent).

"Employers are increasingly recognizing the pet-human bond and how pets can positively impact workplaces and employee well-being," says Stephanie Neuvirth, senior vice president, people and organization for Vancouver, Wa.-based Banfield Pet Hospital, which operates nearly 1,000 veterinary hospitals across the United States and Puerto Rico. Not surprisingly, employees' dogs have been welcome at Banfield for more than 20 years.

In Scotland, Aberdeenshire-based craft beer maker BrewDog recently added Puppy Parental Leave to its benefit offerings, granting all 1,000 of its workers a full week of paid leave when a new dog joins their family. According to BrewDog Co-Founder James Watt, the "paw-ternity" program aligns with the company's goal of giving employees the best possible benefits, which already includes the option of bringing their dogs to work in all BrewDog offices and 50 breweries and bars worldwide, including its new 100,000 square-foot brewery in Columbus, Ohio. According to the company, BrewDog is the first brewery in the UK and the first company in the U.S. to give workers time off to get a new dog acclimated to his or her new life and home.

"It's not easy trying to juggle work and settle a new dog into your life, and many members of our crew have four-legged friends at home," says Watt. "So we wanted to take the stress out of the situation and let our teams take the time they need to welcome their new puppy or dog into their family."

Getting a recent canine addition settled in their new environment takes time, but so, too, does the process of grieving for a pet. With an increasing number of people now considering their pets to be members of the family, organizations have begun granting pet bereavement leave to give employees the time they need to mourn their loss before returning to work. San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants offers a three-day pet bereavement leave, while some units of McLean, Va.-based Mars Inc. offer one or more days of pet bereavement, along with flexible hours and the ability to work from home when a pet dies.

While designated paid time off to grieve a pet is not yet widely offered, Jon Decoteau, divisional director for the western region at the Society for Human Resource Management, suspects managers have been quietly allowing employees to use personal time off and vacation days for that purpose for a long time. While some people roll their eyes when first hearing of such a benefit, Decoteau expects pet-bereavement leave to gain momentum. He tells HR leaders they "don't want to be behind the curve on" this trend and must begin considering how best to craft a policy. 

"The devil is in the details. If someone's goldfish dies, do you allow that person a day or two off? That's dramatically different than the family dog or cat or horse," says Decoteau. "My perception is the more freedom with broad outlines that you can give to managers in how they work that manager-employee relationship, the more successful you'll be."

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May 8, 2017
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