Today is Take Your Dog to Work Day and it’s going to be celebrated internationally. It’s an ideal time because with restrictions easing and offices re-opening, you could take your fur baby to work with you – and who knows – if you try it out, you might be able to take your pet to work more often.
Pet Advocate, Anneke van der Broek, is urging employers to reconsider their pet policies right now because she feels it will make the office a more humane and friendly environment – and this is something we particularly need as we return to work after working from home for the past few months of lockdown.
Van der Broek is the founder and CEO of Australia’s most awarded pet care brand Rufus & Coco and she’s also the 2020 NSW Business Woman of the Year Award Winner.
She understands that pets have been one of the biggest winners out of COVID-19, with 1.5 million people logging on to animal adoption site PetRescue in March and April – and the RSPCA seeing large spikes in adoption rates across the country.
But this doesn’t mean that when many of us go back to work in the office over the next few weeks, these new pets won’t notice. Van der Broek says many pets are more likely to suffer separation anxiety as a result of their owners being present 24/7 over the past few months.
“We shouldn’t be prepping our pets for a return to isolation,” she says. “We should be prepping our workplaces instead and equipping our employers with the extensive research on why pets are valuable office additions.”
Pet owners have gone viral during lockdown restrictions, expressing the joy of being able to work with their beloved fur-friends by their side. Globally, we’ve proven we can work effectively from home with our pets, something many will be reluctant to give up so as Van der Broek says, it’s a good time to see if you can make your workplace more pet-friendly.
“I’m an advocate for people and their pets. It’s been proven there are significant mental health and health benefits to having a pet. A recent study found pet ownership saves $3.86 billion in health expenditure over one year in Australia,” she adds. (See study here)
“We found in our own recent survey at Rufus & Coco that 62 per cent of Australians are pet lovers so leaving your best friend at home is concerning – both for the pets and for their owners,” she adds.
“We’d like to see offices and work places become more pet-friendly. Having animals around is very normalising and grounding. There’s evidence that it’s helpful to have them around and you can see this by the fact they’ve had therapy dogs at airports in the US for years because they know catching a plane can be an anxious time for people. They’ve introduced this in Australia as well last year,” she continues.
Now is the time for employers to include pets at the workplace
Van der Broek feels it will help ease the transition from working from home to returning to office life if employers let their staff bring their pets to work: “I’m an employer myself and I can see when I bring my cat, Coco, in to work, it makes everyone more relaxed. She brings in so much joy and this improves the social connection between people in a world driven by computer screens.
Owners need to take responsibility and care of their pet
Not all pets are suitable to bring in to work though and Van der Broek says it suits some dogs and cats and not others: “The owners need to take responsibility and care for what’s best for the animal. If a dog isn’t well-trained or socialised, then it may not be the best thing for it to come in to the office.
“But it’s good to be aware, there is a perception that a dog’s going to wee everywhere but they don’t really do this. They’re just like people and they only need to go a few times a day. Often, when a pet comes in to the office, someone will volunteer to take it outside for a break at certain times. This all adds to the benefit of pets in the office because everyone joins in,” she adds.
“You also need to check if anyone in the office has an allergy to cats and if they do, then this has to be taken into account. Often a rotation system is best, where one pet comes in a couple of days per week and another comes in on other days,” she continues.
Van der Broek was quick to point out that any problems with bringing a pet in to work can be worked out and when you add in the morale boosting and the calming effects, these far outweigh any distractions the pet makes: “Pets provide unconditional love for most people.
At this time, everyone is a little more stressed so pets can help with this
“Right now, everyone’s a little bit more stressed and unsure of everything because we’ve all been in lockdown. Now things are getting back to normal and to get us through this next phase, animals can help to ground us and keep everything real,” says Van den Broek.
“When pets come in the office, they make the workplace a happier and friendlier place to go. Our recent survey at Rufus & Coco found 90 per cent of people say their pets are their best friend. From an employer’s perspective, at this time it would be good to show some leniency and let some of the pets come in for a few days per week,” she adds.
Guidelines for pets in the office will help
Van der Broek says it is best to write up some guidelines about how to act if an accident occurs with a pet: “If one of the pets has an accident then it’s easy to clean it up. The products needed will be available in an office usually anyway such as sanitising spray and paper towels.
“I think it’s also just respecting everyone in the office. Before an employer allows pets to come in, they could send out a survey to see how the other workers feel about it. If someone is not happy about it, then the employer can look at their location at the workplace and maybe with some moves, it could become more feasible,” she adds.
“Generally, pets are either sitting down or sleeping half the time, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem,” she adds.
But Van der Broek warns: “We do have a long way to go here in Australia.” She points out that in Australia, only five per cent of landlords allow pets but in the US, 60 per cent do. A recent Rufus & Coco survey found 42 per cent of Australians have chosen not to have a pet, because of concerns about being able to access pet-friendly accommodation.
The evidence shows pets improve our mental, physical & social health
As back up to what Van der Broek is saying, Dr Jacquie Rand – Emeritus Professor, School of Veterinary Science, The University of Queensland Executive Director & Chief Scientist, Australian Pet Welfare Foundation, says: “Pets improve our mental, physical and social health. A permanent shift to flexible working will be beneficial for both our pets and ourselves. With more time to devote to walking and being with our pets, we will benefit from increased exercise and companionship.”
Founder of HR Fundamentals, Lisa Donahoe, says: “I’ve drafted a pet policy before with people on both sides of the fence; I think a pet policy is a great idea, as it sets the standards of behaviour. What is really key is communications and consultation with people who office pets impact, to make sure their voices are heard.”
Pets are welcome at now at L&A Social
Founder of L&A Social, Gina Lednyak says: “We actually asked for the lease to be changed to allow dogs. We made a decision at the company that we are happy to be extra careful and steam clean our couches and carpets every six months to ensure the office remains fresh while we have our furry friends there. We think that’s a small price to pay for the mental benefits of having pets in the office.”
“It was something that we decided to do because a few of our team members had dogs that they really loved having with them and we really noticed the difference when they’re in the office. It just brings this joy to everyone and we noticed that it would change everyone’s mood for the positive,’ she continues.
“One of the things people always say is that if you’re having a bad day or if you have a difficult call or project, all it takes is 10 minutes of sitting on the couch with a puppy on your lap to feel better. It’s just impossible to be unhappy when you’re playing with a dog,” she adds.
“Our clients love it too. We always have people asking if they can come over to our office for a wine at the bar and a play with our office pups,” Lednyak laughs.
Rufus & Coco are now Australia’s most awarded pet care brand, receiving seven business awards for innovation. The company donated more than $30,000 to the Australian Pet Welfare Foundation in 2020 to support their efforts in reducing pet euthanasia. For more information visit https://rufusandcoco.com.au/