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Pets at Work – Myths Debunked

Pets at Work - Myths debunked

Friday 26 June is ‘International Take Your Dog to Work Day’ ® so let’s discuss Pets at Work – Myths Debunked.

A furry tradition established by Pet Sitters International in 1996, they believed too many pets were being left at home while their owners were at work. They wanted to highlight the human-animal bond, while also bringing awareness to their efforts saving animals from local shelters and humane shelters and helping them find good homes.

Locally we have the Australian Pet Welfare Foundation who are on a similar mission to bring unnecessary pet euthanasia to zero in Australia. As passionate pet people, Rufus & Coco donate a percentage of sales to this organisation, tallying $30,000 so far this year.

As we navigate our way through COVID-19, uprooting our lives and ‘business-as-usual’ – there have been many positives and negatives, with pets arguably being considered the biggest winners. 1.5 million people logged on to animal adoption site PetRescue in Mar-Apr, and the RSPCA have seen huge spikes in adoption rates across the country.

People now have the time and attention to devote to training and spending time with their pets. ‘Pet Leave’ has become popular in recent years as more people recognise the effort that needs to go into training and spending time with a puppy or kitten.

The flip side of all these new adoptions and purchased pets is that many have been taken in when their owners are around 24/7 – this is normal for them, they know nothing different. And, as offices begin to reopen around the country and people begin leaving these pets behind, many are suffering from separation anxiety and struggling to adjust to new routines. I believe it’s time we welcomed pets into our offices as well as our homes and made Australia more pet-friendly for the increasing number of pawrents!

In fact, Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world. More than 62% of Australian households own a pet. I imagine that number will have increased significantly over the past few months. Despite this, Australia is far behind other countries when it comes to welcoming pets in our spaces – from theatres to public transport. Progress is being made, albeit slowly. Uber Pets has just been introduced so there is at least now an option for those who don’t drive to transport their pets to work with them, however many office landlords still refuse pets!

International Take Your Dog to Work Day ® gives offices the opportunity to trial being pet-friendly and see where any challenges might be in making this a more permanent opportunity.

Here are 4 Pets at Work – Myths Debunked:

1. Pets are huge distractions

Disruptions or encouragers of work-life balance?

I spoke with my good friend Gina Lednyak, Founder of L&A Social who said: “We actually asked for the lease to be changed to allow dogs.”

When asked about the potential disruptions’ pets can cause with people taking more breaks she said “We’re not robots and we need to take breaks, especially for people to do their best creative work and just their best work. Everyone should be taking a little bit of a mental break every hour, if not every couple of hours and office dogs force us to do that and take a moment to be extra present.”

“Whether it’s having to walk the dog or pet it, I think if anything pets at work are good for productivity. If someone could do their work in six hours and have two hours of time where maybe they’re enjoying themselves a little bit more doing something that leads to better work in that other six hours, that’s a great result.”

2. Pets make offices smell bad and deteriorate quicker

This very much depends on the pet(s), their hygiene and behaviour and is why any office welcoming pets into their space should develop a clear pet policy first.

Founder of HR Fundamentals Lisa Donahoe shares “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 the communication and consultation with those people who office pets will impact, to make sure their voices are heard.”

“Where we’ve seen issues in the past is with dogs that aren’t well trained and the issue becomes ‘who cleans up?’ ‘how well is it cleaned up?’ and so on. With our clients who do successfully have pets in the office, they typically have only a few older dogs in the office who sleep a lot and cause minimal disruptions.”

When I asked Gina about how her office manages this, she said “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.”

Rufus & Coco’s office cat, aptly named Coco brings far more joy than bad smells to our office!

3. Everyone loves an office dog

The novelty of pets at work is a huge drawcard for many, but not all. Some people are highly allergic to pets, some afraid and others simply dislike pets in their space.

When considering office pet policies, everyone working in the space needs to be considered. One way I’ve heard of this being done, is to create a feedback box and get everyone to put a note with their thoughts about welcoming pets in the office into the box. This way it is anonymous and everyone’s voice is heard. No one wants to be the naysayer at a meeting preventing pet-lovers from having their pets at work!

One possible way around this would be having pet-friendly days coincide with flexible work days, so that those who don’t like pets can work from home on the days pets come in.

4. Pets make a huge mess

Not all pets will make a mess! Fish might be a good starting point if this is a concern. Another way to combat this might be having a pet-friendly area sectioned off. We admit, this is challenging with Coco, our Chief Fur-nantial Officer, who is often knocking things over, but has never done anything too cat-astrophic.

Pet owners should always be responsible for their pets at work and any mess they make, which can be built into your policy. 

Of course, not all offices are going to be able to be pet friendly for a multitude of reasons!

Dr Jacquie Rand from the Australian Pet Welfare Foundation, says that more likely than a huge increase in pet-friendly offices is a transition to flexible working, with more days spent at home with our pets.

“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.”

We wholeheartedly agree that whether our furry companions join us in the office or we are permitted to work sometimes in their space – sorry our homes – we will all benefit from more time spent with our pets!

Author: Anneke van den Broek, founder and CEO of Rufus & Coco

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