Don't Neglect Fido and Mittens When Crafting Total Rewards
Workspan Daily
August 04, 2023
Key Takeaways

  • Pet benefits are increasingly important to employees. With more employers offering pet benefits every year, these benefits are becoming more mainstream. 
  • Voluntary benefits such as pet insurance are a win-win for businesses and workers. They help ease financial strain for employees, and make them more likely to stay at the businesses offering them — and more likely to be engaged in their work. 
  • Millennials and Gen Zs place particular importance on pet benefits. But employees of all ages, up to empty nesters looking for companionship, benefit from the offering. 
  • Companies are beginning to explore additional pet benefits beyond pet insurance, such as pet-sitting, adoption leave and bereavement days, with many saying the choice to offer these benefits is a reflection of company culture. 

After a salary agreement has been reached, paid time off has been agreed upon, and health insurance forms have been signed, an increasing number of employees have a final question before they start a new job: What about my pets? 

Employer-sponsored pet health insurance and other pet benefits are a growing field, one that industry experts argue is key for employers looking to attract and retain talented, engaged employees. 

“As the war for talent continues, many business owners are searching for ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors in terms of attracting new employees or keeping the ones they have,” said Melissa Lovely, vice president of sales for Nationwide’s pet insurance business; Nationwide is the largest pet insurance provider in the United States. “Maintaining a pet-friendly workplace lets employees know that their employer cares about their entire family, pets included — which can also drive attraction and engagement.” 

Pets are a Major Priority to Employees 

Pet owners report better physical and mental health than people without pets, according to research conducted by Nationwide and Material. Of those who were not able to keep their pet, 30% said that cost was the main reason; that number was higher among millennials and Gen Zs, at 41%. 

In fact, LendEDU reports that 45% of surveyed pet owners said they spend as much, if not more, on their pets' healthcare as they do on their own. 

Companies offering pet benefits found that 81% of employees planned to stay for at least the next year, 76% said they were “fully engaged” with their work, and 71% said they would recommend their employer to others, according to the Nationwide report. 

“If a company is looking for a single addition that will have the greatest impact on their entire benefits offering, pet health insurance may be the answer,” the report states. 

A Growing Benefit that Reflects Company Culture 

In 2022, 35% of large employers (with 500 or more employees) offered pet insurance as a voluntary benefit, compared to 22% five years ago, according to recent research from Mercer — and smaller companies are getting on board as well. 

“It's been interesting to see how voluntary benefits continue to be redefined and expanded,” said Brian Russell, U.S. voluntary benefits practice leader for Mercer. “These benefits at one time were cutting-edge, fringe, 'nice to have,' and now they have become mainstream.” 

Mile Two, a software startup based in Dayton, Ohio, offers several levels of pet insurance, with many of its 100 employees utilizing the benefit. Although Mile Two employees pay 100% of the premium, they pay a lower rate than they would if they purchased the same pet insurance on their own. Payroll deduction eliminates the need to remember to pay a monthly bill. 

“Through the various Slack channels related to our pets, it was really clear to us how much our employees valued their pets,” said Amy Linkous, chief human resources officer for Mile Two. “We wanted to extend a benefit that enabled them to easily take care of their pets and take some of the financial burden off their plates.” 

Pet insurance is one of the company's latest additions to its total rewards package, joining extended mental health and wellness benefits. 

“With some of the younger generations, it's become less of a given that you're going to grow up, get married and have kids,” Linkous said. “People are choosing to live the life that best suits them, and they feel more able to do that than past generations. We have a number of employees who've decided their pets are going to be their family — I see that more with younger generations — and knowing we're a company that supports their lifestyle choices and their family choices, it speaks to who we are as a company.” 

A Recruitment Tool for Young Talent — But Everyone Else, Too 

Many companies are turning to pet-related and other voluntary benefits to attract talent from a younger age group that is more vocal about the importance of wellness and mental health. 

About half of Millennials and Gen Zs said in a survey conducted by Nationwide and Morning Consult that pet-related benefits would influence their decision to stay at their current employer, or to look for a new employer offering those benefits. 

However, workers of all ages benefit from the offering, from young employees who consider their cat their family, to families who added a pet during the pandemic, to empty nesters looking for companionship. 

That fact makes pet benefits stand out from other, more age-specific benefits such as parental leave, fertility benefits and childcare. 

“When you have five generations in the workforce, one of the things they tend to have in common is pet ownership,” Russell said. “Pet benefits cover all equally.” 

'Pawternity' Leave, Bereavement Days and the Future of Pet Benefits 

Beyond pet health insurance, some companies also offer discounts at participating veterinary offices; remote or flexible working options to allow employees to spend time with pets; pet-friendly offices; connections to pet sitting, dog walking or other services; “pawternity” or pet adoption leave; and bereavement days. 

“This is definitely an area where there can be more growth,” Russell said. “That's now become more of the cutting-edge, the expansion from the norm.” 

HR professionals choosing to offer voluntary benefits often have pets, too, Russell said — making the gesture of pet benefits, including those beyond insurance, an important expression of the company's culture. 

“What all these things have in common is providing support and assistance to employees,” he said. “We see a strong connection between the ability to personalize your benefits and values, and the loyalty you feel from employees. With an exploding market of all sorts of benefits, it's good to hone on what best fits each employee.”  

Editor’s Note: Additional Content 

For more information and resources related to this article see the pages below, which offer quick access to all WorldatWork content on these topics: 

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