Fido’s Pandemic Perks

Pet owners get new benefits as firms recognize the de-stressing effects of having furry friends at home.

Chauncey’s medical bills are piling up. He had to get X-rays after eating a chicken bone he couldn’t digest. There’s a rash from a recent hike in the woods that requires applying lotion twice a day. And his nails are overgrown and in desperate need of trimming. By the way, Chauncey’s a dog—and thanks to a new pet insurance offering from his owner’s company, he’s able to get the care he needs. 

In an eye-opening nod to the value of pets in the stay-at-home COVID era, a small but growing number of firms are adding to or improving various pet benefits. They range from everything from better health plans to $300 stipends to pay for pet adoptions and pet products. Some firms even have “pet paternity leave” for when the little one comes home.

In taking some steps six months into the pandemic, firms say they want to acknowledge the increasing role pets may be playing in reducing work-at-home stress. Indeed, some owners refer to their pets now as “co-workers. “People can’t take their dogs to work anymore,” says Jamen Graves, a Korn Ferry senior partner in leadership and talent consulting. “So it’s really great to see this personal touch.”

Such personal touches, of course, can alienate non-pet-owners or parents who need extra childcare support. But as they focus on their workers lucky enough to remain employed throughout the pandemic, organizations are looking for ways to promote employee health and wellness. Apple, for instance, gives out a monthly “stay-at-home bonus” so employees can treat themselves to whatever they like, from new office furniture to take out. Other companies have sent care packages and matched charitable donations. Still more provide virtual group workouts from company fitness centers, mindfulness meditation, sleep improvement and other wellness classes.

Lorraine Hack, a Korn Ferry senior client partner, says these perks are meant to help employees focus on the “life” side of work-life balance. But, she adds, the organization also benefits from “increased engagement, loyalty, and motivation, all of which lead to increased productivity.” Korn Ferry research shows, for instance, that benefits overall—and purpose-driven benefits in particular—are highly valued by employees because they are viewed as being more equal than financial rewards. 

Given the pandemic's financial impact, that’s a good thing since most companies aren’t in a position to provide employees with more financial support. Pay cuts, bonus deferrals or cancellations, and hiring freezes are still ongoing, and layoffs are still possible at many organizations. Mark Royal, senior director for Korn Ferry Advisory, who works with clients on improving employee engagement and performance, says that companies in that financial predicament can still reinforce the value they place on employees by “valuing what is important to them.” 

“For many right now, things that make remote work workable are having a significant impact, pets being one of them,” says Royal.