There’s a chance you read that title and thought we’d made a spelling mistake but, believe it or not, the controversial staff benefit of pawternity leave has actually been around for a fair few years.
Also known as ‘furternity leave’ and ‘peternity’ leave, pawternity leave first really hit the headlines on a global scale in 2017 when Scottish brewer Brewdog announced that all employees who adopted a puppy or rescue dog could have one week’s paid leave to help settle in their new furry friend. Brewdog’s Founder, James Watt, said the company wanted to “raise the bar for staff benefits.” However, it wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t also mention the recent negative press stories surrounding this employer and their culture.
Fast forward a few years and the topic is back with a bang (and mixed reactions) amidst a pet boom which has seen 3.2m UK households acquire a pet since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The CEO and Founder of food and retail park Boxpark, Roger Wade, recently set up a poll on the topic which saw over 34,000 votes. Interestingly, the majority of voters were against pawternity leave – 61% with the remainder in favour – 39%.
Following this, WorkBuzz decided it would be interesting to run its own mini poll – considering we have a heavy following of workers in the HR space – titled: ‘Should employees be entitled to pawternity leave?’ We found that 64% of voters were actually in favour of the perk, with 22% against, and 13% undecided or not bothered.
Would you believe us if we told you that, according to pet insurance company, Petplan, nearly one in 20 new UK pet owners in 2016 were offered time off to care for a pet? The paid leave ranged from a few hours to up to three weeks!
The benefits of pawternity leave – should you throw pet parents a bone?
Employers are not legally obliged to give their employees ‘pawternity leave’ in the UK – paid or unpaid – but some choose to do so because they have considered what is valuable to their staff – essentially prioritising animal welfare.
Bringing home a new animal can be hard work – especially when juggling work – so having some extra time to bond (and train) that new furry friend can be a godsend for employees. And, seeing that some owners see their four-legged friends as their actual babies, what’s the difference between pawternity and parental leave?
One of the first businesses to introduce pawternity leave was Mars Petcare and, at the time, their HR Director, Kate Menzies, said: “We know how important it is to take an animal into your home, and we want to enable and ease responsible pet ownership for our employees. Dogs and cats are at the heart of our business and our policy is designed to embrace a culture that is passionate about pets.” Mars Petcare also allow their staff to bring pets into the office when the leave is over.
It’s largely documented that having a pet can lower your stress levels, help you make friends, ensure you’re never lonely, teach children responsibility, potentially keep you fit and, ultimately, make you feel happier. With this in mind, numerous studies have also shown that happy staff are more productive with one study from the University of Warwick revealing that happiness improves productivity by around 12%.
Menzies added, “Pets in the office really do break down barriers amongst employees and create a much more relaxed environment. They can offer a sense of comfort, relieve stress, increase physical activity and even improve productivity.”
So, pawternity leave is a no-brainer, right?
The negatives of pawternity leave – are employers barking up the wrong tree?
Ask yourself this: if the owners of new pets get time off work, what do those without receive? It’s a great thing to offer your staff generous perks as it helps to ensure a contented workforce, but it’s unfair to offer such benefits to a few and not most/all.
Today, the demands for time off to be with lockdown pets is not sitting well with the millions of people who still lack paid parental leave. The Financial Times reported that ‘pawternity leave is a step too far’. In the US, they don’t even have a national statutory paid maternity, paternity, or parental leave, let alone pawternity.
It was all fun and games when employees were brushing cats away as they tried to chew their screens mid Zoom call, but as staff migrate back into the office, they are suffering from separation anxiety. Luckily for some, many employers today enjoy and actively promote their ‘office dog’ (or three) and have welcomed pets into the workplace since offices reopened. But what about those who are allergic or those who are not a fan of sharing their space with drooling, hairy, sometimes smelly, creatures?
And where do you draw the line? Do employees who get a new hamster or rabbit get to enjoy pawternity leave, too? Will those who just want a bit more paid time off start to buy pets so they can also benefit from that specific perk? The RSPCA has said it is bracing itself for a “major dog welfare crisis” as Covid-19 restrictions ease. The charity has seen a rise in owners giving up their pets and, going forwards, it expects to see huge numbers of dogs handed into rescue centres, sold online, or abandoned.
It’s a sticky situation (literally) and therefore perhaps it’s not so surprising that pawternity leave isn’t well received by everyone.
To bite or not to bite?
With the Guardian reporting that pawternity leave could help retain talented staff and help improve employee wellbeing amidst labour shortages, it’s up to employers to decide whether the scheme is the right thing for their business and people.
Yes, businesses must weigh up whether pawternity leave brings with it staff happiness and a ROI, but they must also be willing to offer an alternative benefit to those who do not have a new pet… Or they risk turning what they thought would be a good decision into a rather sour one.