What if a walk into work every day felt like a personal welcome?

Luckily, you don't have to roll out the red carpet to achieve this; you just need some furry friends around. We have a pet-friendly policy in our office, and it's been a huge success. Visitors feel more comfortable and get the sense of an approachable culture, and employees enjoy higher morale and lower stress levels.

As a small business owner, you can increase your applicant pool and employee retention by creating an accepting culture that allows employees to combine passions--their pets and their work.

Professionals and Puppy Love

According to a survey from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 17 percent of U.S. employers currently allow animals in the workplace, and that number is constantly increasing. As pets in the workplace increase, so do the associated benefits, which include:

  1. The "furry handcuff" factor. Companies that allow dogs report lower absenteeism and higher retention rates, which Jennifer Fearing, California state director for the Humane Society of the United States, calls "furry handcuffs.
  1. Increased employee morale. You've probably had the experience of being around an animal and feeling inexplicably happy. Recent studies have uncovered the science behind that boost, proving that simply looking at a dog can increase your levels of oxytocin--a key feel-good hormone. Dog owners are also less likely to suffer from depression. In fact, caring for a pet can often take someone out of a depressive episode better than medication.
  1. Lower stress levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dozens of animal experts report that pets can decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels and increase opportunities for exercise and socialization. And a series of tests at the University of Buffalo recently proved that pets reduce everyday stress.

Preparing for Your Furry Friends

Just as you would prepare for a new pet in your home, it's important that you properly prepare before bringing one into the office. Address these steps before welcoming four-legged friends:

  1. Be respectful of allergies or phobias. Oftentimes, people are allergic to pet dander or saliva, not fur. As a preventative measure, encourage employees with dogs to bathe their pets regularly and keep them away from employees with allergies.Dogs showing any form of aggression should be asked to leave immediately. Pet owners are legally responsible for any injury or damage caused by their pets, but make sure to check with your insurer to guarantee your general liability policy covers dogs in the office. You can also "dog proof" the workplace for those who are frightened by dogs. Consider buying a baby gate to create a DIY playpen to keep your canine close by.
  1. Consider colleagues and building management. If you're leasing your space, you may need permission from your building management or landlord to have pets on the property.Additionally, our office has a "heads up" policy to keep both employees and management aware of doggie visitors.If an employee wants to bring a new dog into our office, she sends out an email to notify other employees beforehand. This process keeps everyone accountable and gives employees peace of mind, knowing exactly what they're coming into each day.
  1. Expect the unexpected. Even the tamest of dogs can exhibit unpredictable behaviors in new situations. Consider easing dogs' transitions by starting with half days the first week. To keep the pets from feeling territorial, make sure each dog has a safe space to relax and feel secure--whether that's a kennel near his owner or a pets-only area.

As an employer, it can feel like a constant battle to increase employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention. But with the "furry handcuff" approach, everyone wins--four-legged friends included. So consider allowing your employees to bring in their pets, and watch your company morale skyrocket.