The Last Word
Go to the Dogs
Insurance organizations have been slower to adopt the concept of pet-friendly workplaces, but some are starting to open their doors to pets.
- Lori Chordas
- January 2019
Holmes Murphy's “star employee” doesn't spend the day sitting behind a desk or meeting clients in the field. Yet, the familiar face in the insurance broker's Waukee, Iowa office plays a vital role in boosting employee morale and creating an engaging workplace.
Max, a one-year-old goldendoodle, has become a permanent fixture in the company since joining the firm last January.
Holmes Murphy is one of a growing number of pet-friendly workplaces in the United States. Today, about 7% of employers permit pets in the office, and the number is steadily rising, according to reports. There are more than 80 million U.S. pet owners, 35% of which are millennials, according to the American Pet Products Association.
“As that generation becomes a bigger part of the workforce and companies become more casual in different ways, businesses are increasingly opening their doors to pets at work and offering perks like pet insurance,” said Scott Liles, chief pet insurance officer for Nationwide, the largest U.S. provider of pet health insurance.
Other major pet insurance providers include Healthy Paws, which is underwritten by The Chubb Group; Embrace, underwritten by American Modern Insurance Group; and Figo Pet Insurance, underwritten by Markel American Insurance Co.
While there are some concerns associated with pet-friendly workplaces, such as potential allergies or injuries to employees, studies show that pets in the workplace can be an effective way to improve staff morale and retention.
Ninety percent of employees in those workplaces say they feel connected with their employer's mission and were willing to recommend it to potential workers, according to a recent study by Nationwide and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute. Less than 65% of employees in non-pet friendly workplaces felt the same way.
Pets also help improve employee health. Nearly 70 million Americans feel having pets in the workplace reduces stress and 23 million believe a pet-friendly environment decreases smoking in the workplace, according to a study by the American Pet Products Association.
Google, Petco, Ben &Jerry's and Bank of America are among the growing list of employers that now allow pets in the workplace. Many firms are even designing their campuses specifically with pets in mind. Amazon's Seattle headquarters includes open courtyards and dog-friendly water fountains.
The insurance sector has been slower to adopt the concept, but industry experts expect that to soon change.
After Holmes Murphy relocated its offices to Waukee last January, it needed a way to keep in check the goose population of a nearby pond. “We decided to adopt a dog to help with that and before we knew it Max became a permanent part of the company and ended up no longer being needed for the goose population,” said Karla Radda, vice president of operations at Holmes Murphy and Max's caretaker. Max's typical “workday” includes 30 to 40 minutes of active play in the morning, accompanying Radda to meetings, napping under employees' desks and lunchtime walks with staff.
While pets in the workplace offers many perks, there are a few potential liability issues that employers need to consider, including allergies and employee safety concerns.
“That's why it's important to follow best practices and create a comprehensive pet policy that addresses safety, legal and insurance risks to ensure everyone is comfortable and safe,” Nationwide's Liles said.
The rise in pet-friendly organizations is placing new demands on employers. Pet owners are now requesting employee benefits such as pet bereavement leave and “pawternity” leave, or paid time off for the birth or adoption of a pet.