Return to work? Many pet owners won’t without support for their animals in place

Jul 8, 2021

As more workplaces across the country reopen and workers return, one large and vocal group of employees is saying “not so fast,” to leaving remote work behind: pet owners.

Surveys have consistently shown that pet parents, a substantial portion of the workforce whose numbers exploded in the wake of COVID-19, are concerned about returning to the workplace and leaving their furry family members behind. Due to work from home arrangements over the past 16+ months, many pet owners are now accustomed to working alongside their pets daily and caring for them more intimately than ever before. As a result, employees are now hesitant to leave their side and come back into the workplace. Last summer, a poll of 3,000 pet owners found that 20% worried their pets would have separation anxiety if they returned to the office, and that number climbed to nearly 70% by this spring.

Just how serious are the repercussions of these growing employee sentiments to organizational leaders? According to a recent survey by Honest Paws, 67% of dog owners said they would consider looking for a different job if their company no longer offered remote work (though 78% said they would stay if they could bring their pets to work).

Employer inaction or unwillingness to adopt pet-friendly policies will likely exacerbate current low job satisfaction and attrition in an already tight war for talent where employees — especially millennials and Gen Z — would rather quit their jobs than leave their pets home alone full time.

Time recently dove deeper into this growing issue to understand the impact returning to work on pet-owning employees and their organizations. Here are some highlights from the piece:

Employers must search for ways to make employees (and pets) happy

According to the article, organizations saw immediate impact from prioritizing pet parents’ needs:

“Morale and productivity improved as soon as a handful of dogs and cats started appearing in the office for the first time in June 2020, according to Rachel Cassidy, a veterinarian consultant at the website. ‘Pets are so much an extension of us that it just makes sense for them to follow us to work instead of being bored at home,’ Cassidy says. ‘It sometimes makes us ask the question: Why didn’t we think of this sooner?’”

Pets are crucial to employee mental health

Nearly two years of the pandemic has reshaped employee experience, and employers must take notice of the new needs and expectations of employees. While the transition to remote work didn’t result in a lack of productivity and performance as employers initially predicted, the social isolation and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic have contributed to a dramatic decline in employee mental health. Now, more than ever, holistic well-being programs are vital in promoting everything from employee retention to job satisfaction.

While many employers have struggled to adopt measures to mitigate the growing mental health “pandemic within a pandemic,” pet owners say their furry loved ones play a pivotal role in restoring morale. Time goes deeper with one worker who adopted a dog at the start of the pandemic and highlights the positive impact it plays on his mental health:

“Before Azusenis adopted Finley, he was living by himself and feeling increasingly lonely. Finley gave him something to focus on, he says, and he poured all of himself into making sure his dog’s finite time on earth was filled with happiness. ‘I felt like throughout this last year, I was wandering through a field in the dead of night, in pitch black,’ he says. ‘She kept me focused on the light.’”

On the other hand, dog owner Kristen Aikey told Time just how mentally challenging a return to the office would be for pet parents like her and why employers must take action:

“Aikey, 23, is the primary caretaker of Penny, her family’s 15-year-old dachshund, who became blind last summer due to glaucoma. Aikey has been administering three different eye drops four times a day, along with eye ointment and thyroid pills twice daily. Her responsibilities begin as early as 4 a.m.—when Penny wakes up to relieve herself and takes her first dose of medication—and continue every few hours until bedtime.

Aikey has been working remotely for a Manhattan-based public relations company, but she and her parents, who have returned to the office, worry how they’ll care for Penny if Aikey can no longer be the designated work-from-home steward. Their biggest fear is that Penny will fall down any of the three sets of stairs in the house when nobody is home. But they’re also worried how their senior pet will react to being left alone in general.

“‘That would be a culture shock for her, right after a full year of having all the attention,’ … Aikey was “obsessed” with Penny from the start, and they’ve only grown closer since 2020. “It’s been the ‘Kristen-and-Penny Show’ for the last full year,” Aikey says. ‘How can you rip that away?’”

Does your organization have a plan to support the needs of pet parents?

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Read the full Time piece here