Jon Rajzman and his wife Jordan both grew up with dogs, so when the couple vacated downtown Toronto for the suburbs in late 2020, it was only a few months before they adopted a Cavapoo – a cross between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a Mini Poodle – named Teddy.
In those first few months, Teddy typically stayed home with Jordan, who was working remotely for a public relations agency, and occasionally accompanied Jon, a commercial lawyer who works in a small, pet friendly office at work.
“The days I have him at the office are better days,” Mr. Rajzman says. “He just makes the day better, regardless of what’s going on.”
The arrangement allowed the couple to save on dog walkers and puppy sitting, avoid having to rush home from work to feed Teddy, and of course, spend lots of time with their new puppy; but it might not last. When Jordan’s workplace reopens, she may not be allowed to bring Teddy to the office, and Jon’s firm is considering moving to another building – one which may or may not allow pets.
“If we didn’t have a choice and they say we can’t bring the dog to the office, we’d have to figure it out,” Mr. Rajzman says. “It’s probably going to be a main point of consideration for us in any future job.”
In a highly competitive labour market, and with the number of new pet owners skyrocketing across the country, employers that return to the workplace without instituting a pet-friendly policy could risk losing staff.
A November 2020 study conducted by Narrative Research found that 55 per cent of Canadians are pet owners, and nearly one in five obtained a new furry friend during the pandemic. A study from Rover – a virtual platform that connects pet owners to services like dog sitters and walkers – found that 72 per cent of Canadian dog owners place more value on working for a dog-friendly company than they did pre-pandemic.
In fact, 41 per cent would be willing to take a pay cut in order to get access to pet friendly perks, like pet insurance and walking services, and more than half would consider leaving their current employer if such benefits were removed.
“The bond has been strengthened, and as you think about the return to the office, the need for that connection, that bond, will persist,” says Jovana Teodorovic, Rover’s head of people and culture. “Both on the dog side, especially if they’re a pandemic puppy, and for the pet owner, who is used to having those interactions throughout the day.”
With more pet owners comes greater incentive for employers to offer pet-friendly workplace policies and perks, Ms. Teodorovic says. However, she warns not all pets are ready for the office, and not all offices are ready to welcome them.
Dogs at Rover must be four months old, fully potty trained and fully vaccinated to come into the office. The company also won’t allow new hires to bring their furry friends to work in their first few weeks. Once a new hire completes their orientation, their pet is put through an assessment of its own.
”We put dogs through a bit of a testing period in the beginning to see how they do in the office,” she says. “It’s about the behaviour of the dog, how they interact with co-workers – both four-legged and two-legged – and if they have the behaviour that the environment requires.”
Not everyone, however, is keen to work in an office shared by four-legged friends.
“I have asthma and allergies, and some people are scared of dogs, which is why you need a good pet policy,” explains Kristi Searle, a human resources business strategist for Peoplebiz Consulting, and proud puppy parent to an emotional support Whoodle – a hypoallergenic cross between a Wheaten Terrier and Poodle – named Kona. “Dogs are not traditionally part of the workplace, they’re not adding to the company’s bottom line, and you don’t want employees to feel uncomfortable and unsafe.”
Ms. Searle believes that pet-friendly workplace policies need to be developed in consultation with staff members, considering everyone’s needs and concerns. In some instances, she says, employers might elect to have a pet-friendly corner of the office, far away from allergy sufferers and those with a fear of dogs, or ban dogs under a certain age.
“It’s about making sure everyone feels safe and feels heard,” she says.
Dogs are often ideal workplace companions, Ms. Searle says, but other pets should be considered on an individual basis, especially if dogs or other species are present.
Like pet ownership itself, welcoming animals to the office comes with a lot of new responsibilities, as well as potential benefits. According to the Rover study, 63 per cent of dog owners say working alongside their pet improves their mental health and wellness at work.
“Mental health problems are on the rise, with the pandemic especially, and dogs in particular lower that anxiety and stress,” Ms. Searle says. “If you have a good group of people and dogs it can be fantastic; but it’s not for every company.”