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Monica Silvestre photo via Pexels

Judy Barnes is worried that her eventual return to the office will cause a lot of anxiety — mostly for Rocky, her six-year-old Golden Retriever.

Barnes, who works as a legal assistant in Birmingham, Ala., says that while the pandemic-induced shift to remote work allowed her and Rocky to spend a lot more quality time together, it’s clear to her that he has become so used to her being at home during the day that she expects some major transition issues — for both of them — once she returns to in-person work.

“It’s been so calming to have Rocky at my feet when I am on Zoom calls all day, but I worry we’re not going to do well when I am back at the office,” she said. “We are both spoiled now with all the time we spend together during the day.”

Barnes, who used to leave Rocky at a dog day-care center before the pandemic while she was at work, isn’t alone in worrying about leaving her pet behind when she returns to the workplace.

About one in three people surveyed by Banfield Pet Hospital, the largest general veterinary practice in the U.S., reported that they got a new pet during the pandemic, and almost 80 percent of them feel were able to bond with their pet more during this time.

Younger workers ready to press employers on policies

Still, many pet owners are trying to figure out what post-pandemic life looks like for them and their pets.

About 63 percent of those polled said increased time at home “has made them think more about how their pets can fit into their workday post-pandemic,” Banfield said, while 57 percent “agree they’ll be most happy returning to their workplace if they can bring their pets with them.”

To be sure, getting businesses to consider pet-friendly policies in addition to potential flexible-work options after it is safe to return to the office may be a tough sell but not impossible, the survey found, and younger workers are willing to test the waters.

Seventy-one percent of Gen Zers (those born in the mid-to-late 1990s to the early 2010s) and 48 percent of millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) have or are planning to request that their employer implement a pet-friendly policy once offices reopen, the poll said.

That may fall on receptive ears in the C-suite, according to Banfield. Three-quarters of executives surveyed said that being a pet owner has made them a better, more compassionate business leader. That’s making them more open to considering such requests.

Rehoming pets a potential option for some

In fact, one in two C-suite executives surveyed are planning to allow pets in the workplace once offices reopen, while 59 percent said they’ll allow more flexibility for workers wanting to stay remote with their pets. According to Banfield, among those who are considering implementing a pet-friendly policy:

  • 59 percent said they’re doing so because of employee requests
  • 58 percent cite understanding their staff has gotten used to spending all day with their pets during the pandemic
  • 42 percent say they want to entice their employees back into the office.

Of pet owners who wish to bring their pets to the office:

  • 38 percent cite being worried their pet will experience separation anxiety
  • 37 percent want the companionship of their pet at work
  • 28 percent think their pets can help keep them calm during stressful workdays
  • 23 percent say they’ll be more productive with their pet as a desk mate.

For the moment, the uncertainty of whether pets will be allowed in offices has one in five pet owners considering rehoming their pets if they are not allowed to bring them to the office when they reopen, the survey found.

Still, many remote workers already are seeking ways to help Fido adjust back to home life without his master.

About a third of owners recently have reached out to their veterinarian for advice on making the transition back to the workplace easier on their pets, according to the poll. In addition, 68 percent of Gen Zers and 42 percent of millennials plan to hire a dogwalker, take their pet to day care or do a combination of both once they return to the workplace, it said.

Business leaders have another important reason to consider adopting a pet-friendly office policy, the survey revealed.

About 50 percent of Gen Zers and a third of millennials polled said they would consider looking for another job post-pandemic if their workplace was not pet-friendly.

Some executives are getting the message: 20 percent of business leaders polled are optimistic that allowing pets in the office will also increase employee retention.

In any case, the post-pandemic workplace will be challenging for both pet owners and pets. Banfield doctors recommend the following actions to help make the transition easier:

  • Ease your pet into a new routine.
  • Avoid emotional departures or greetings.
  • Ensure daily exercise continues.
  • Give your dog a favorite distraction several minutes prior to leaving the house — including long-lasting food treats or a favorite toy.

“We’ve seen the human-animal bond only get stronger during the pandemic, and it’s no surprise that owners are thinking about how they can best be here for their pets when they start to spend more time outside of home,” Brian Garish, president of Banfield Pet Hospital, said in the study.

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