Senior Client Partner, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for EMEA
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Can Sparky (the Dog) Come to the Office?
There’s a hot new debate in the UK corporate world. No, it’s not how Brexit is working out. Or where the economy is heading. It’s about dogs… in the office.
Though pet owners have long been howling to bring in their pets, the combination of the pandemic and the ensuing return-to-office movement has renewed the case for companies to consider the practice. A new survey found that three-quarters of UK workers would be fine working in dog-friendly offices. And certainly, dog owners are enthusiastic about this, with one Royal Kennel Club survey finding that 52% want to bring in their dogs. “People who have dogs think about their working pattern and how they care for the dog,” says Donna Herdsman, Korn Ferry’s head of diversity, equity, and inclusion for EMEA.
To be sure, such a change faces many obstacles and issues, such as whether the company’s office is in a dog-friendly building and how HR departments would deal with workers afraid of or allergic to dogs. But momentum has been building, dog lovers say. Between 2019-20 and 2021-22—a period that encompasses the COVID-19 pandemic—the number of dogs owned in Britain grew from 9 million to 13 million. As people worked from home, man’s best friend was by their side.
At the time, it was easy to have your dog at your feet, take it for a walk, then get back to work, all while staying in the same neighborhood. Return-to-office mandates are now making many dog owners anxious about leaving their pets alone. “It’s like having a child,” says Grant Duncan, Korn Ferry’s managing director, and sector lead for media, entertainment and digital for EMEA.
Dog lovers point out that their pets can reduce their stress levels, important in a work environment. Not surprisingly, 49% of people in one study said a pet-friendly office might convince them to take a job offer. But to make this culture change possible, experts say, HR departments would have to resolve a lot of headaches, such
as what breeds would be allowed into the office. “What if someone brings in an XL Bully dog? No one else will take their dog in,” says Drew Hill, a London-based senior client partner for Korn Ferry. And workers going on frequent breaks to walk their dogs can cause just as much disruption as dogfights can. “Dogs aren’t animals that will sit quietly,” Herdsman says.
Experts say that firms considering the idea would need to review these and many other concerns, such the fact that many cultures see dogs as animals that are unclean or meant to be kept outdoors. (To understand what a thorny debate this is, consider the fact that a recent Harvard Business Review article on pet policy, authored by two academics, took up 1,500 words.) “Bringing a dog to the office is imposing your personal interests onto someone else’s life,” Duncan says. “I think it’s a very bad idea—and I am a dog owner.”
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