Pet-friendly workplaces are becoming increasingly common, and well they should. A growing body of research documents benefits such as increased employee morale and productivity and decreased levels of stress in pet-friendly environments, and Vincent Bradley, CEO and president of Banfield Pet Hospital, a division of Mars, Inc., says the anecdotal evidence is just as compelling.

Bradley has championed a pet-friendly workplace throughout his career at Banfield, and when the company relocated to a new 18-acre campus designed from the ground up this year, he took the opportunity to raise the company's pet-friendly philosophy to the next level, which Banfield calls pet-responsible. The lessons learned along the way can help other companies interested in reaping the significant benefits a pet-friendly workplace has to offer.

Sitting in a glass-walled conference room that looks out on open-office "neighborhood" for Banfield's Central Team Support, Bradley fields questions with his dog Bingo, a mixed-breed Labrador retriever, at his side. The scene is an apt metaphor for the core elements of the company's Pets at Work (PAW) program. "To be successful, a program like ours really requires a holistic approach that encompasses both the cultural aspects of the company, leadership buy-in, design elements where they're called for, and a commitment by individual pet owners to be responsible and do their part," he explains. There are strong parallels with Banfield's open, collaborative work style, and many of the associates on the other side of the glass have pets at their feet, as well.

It starts at the top

A lot of moving pieces are required for a successful pets-at-work program, but the most important element is the full backing of the organization's leadership. "You need buy-in at the top right from the get go," Bradley emphasizes, adding that you also need buy-in throughout the organization at some point because everyone, even those not bringing their pets to work, needs to be comfortable working in this environment.

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Dog-friendly design considerations

Banfield designed dog-friendly elements into its new campus of three interconnected buildings, and the entire 18 acres is Wi-Fi-enabled and laced with walking trails. The combination supports collaborative work and encourages associates to leave their desks and take their dogs for a walk. A notable pet-friendly design element is an integral three-story dog ramp, making all areas of the buildings easily accessible for all dogs, especially those that have trouble with stairs. Button-activated watering stations throughout the campus provide a steady flow of fresh, hygienic water for thirsty pets, and a BYOB (bring your own bed) policy and an on-site dog park make the environment even more inviting. Being able to incorporate pet-friendly design elements into the campus pre-construction was ideal, of course, but Bradley stresses that most existing workplaces can be made pet-friendly with a little imagination and creativity.

Policies are important

To ensure the safety and comfort of dogs and employees alike, it's important to formulate, enact, and adhere to a clear-cut set of policies. "This is an iterative process, and policies may have to be refined over time," Bradley notes. "But they must be clearly communicated and evenly applied."

Some of the most important and effective policies at Banfield are an in-depth behavior assessment every dog must go through before being certified to come to the workplace, a robust vaccination requirement, associate education, and a company-issued leash policy that provides visual cues that a dog has successfully completed the assessment process and what its level of approachability is. Green leashes indicate a pet is routinely friendly with both people and other dogs; yellow suggests it's best to ask the pet parent before approaching. The assessment is done by a professional dog trainer, and about 200 of the facility's 700 associates have had their pets certified, with 61 percent getting green leashes, 34 percent yellow. "Bingo assessed as a green leash, but I chose to get yellow just to give him a little more space and to let other associates see that there's nothing wrong with having a yellow leash," Bradley says.

They need to be trained (and so do the dogs)

Going through the assessment process was eye-opening for Bradley because it heightened his awareness of how responsible he really was for his dog's behavior, so training for both pets and pet-owners is emphasized at Banfield. The company provides free office hours with a pet behaviorist as needed, and it provides additional training services for pets that are unable to achieve certification on their first try. There is a PAW committee that reviews any reported or observed adverse incidents involving a dog in the building, and the goal is always to come up with a plan to correct the situation with additional training and subsequent reassessment, if needed.

With years of experience in pet-friendly, and now pet-responsible, workplaces under his belt, Bradley is an ardent proponent of the benefits pets-at-work programs offer. "We believe in the importance of the human-animal bond, and that it makes us better people. I think having pets in the workplace has a huge impact on us culturally, enhancing our well-being and productivity and reducing our stress," he says. "There is more and more research objectively demonstrating these benefits, but I can also tell you, just from reading the pulse of our culture, that it makes a big difference in our ability to recruit and retain talent and in making Banfield a great place to work."