For quite a while now, we’ve been hearing that pet ownership has “boomed” during the pandemic. The benefits of pet ownership are well documented. Our furry friends give us unconditional love and companionship, which generally contributes to greater well-being. In these difficult times where we are having little or no social interaction and have been asked to work from home, adopting a pet makes perfect sense. But how big a boom is it? Is this something that employers should be thinking about?
The Canadian Animal Health Institute reported last February that between 2018 and 2020, pet ownership remained stable with 58% of Canadian households having at least one cat or dog. Cats continue to outnumber dogs, but their population has remained unchanged. The number of dogs, however, has increased from 7.6 to 7.7 million.
A Narrative Research study found that among pet owners, 18% had adopted a new pet since the beginning of the pandemic. They reported that the pet boom is mostly generated by Generation Z: “When looking across the population, those 18-24 are the most likely to have purchased a pet since the start of the pandemic (38%), with Boomers being the least likely to (9%).” Millennials are somewhere in between, and it would be safe to presume that within these cohorts, most of those who sought out a pet were employed and working from home.
What will this mean for employers when the pace of relocations picks up again? These new pets will have come to expect having a human around most of the time, and of course, that human will have become quite attached. It is likely that remote working or a combination of remote/on-site working arrangements will remain widespread in many industries. This will certainly be appreciated by pets. Will we see a growth in pet-friendly work environments?
From the perspective of global mobility, will younger employees being asked to move expect to have the expense of relocating pets covered? If your program already covers these expenses, should you expect an increase in costs? The answers will vary depending on demographics of the employees you plan to relocate and the types of assignments they will be offered.
Relocating pets can be a costly exercise. For both domestic and international moves, there could be a need for pet boarding during home search trips and/or while in transition to the new destination. If the move is within the country, the animal can be moved with little or no documentation, and depending on the distance or circumstances, driven to the destination by the transferee. For international relocations, veterinary documentation is required and country specific, and specialty shipping/flight arrangements will have to be made.
The following are a few points to consider for younger pet owning transferees:
– If your policy does not cover expenses related to relocating pets, don’t be surprised if it comes up. Many young people adopt a pet without fully understanding the associated costs; it is likely that they have no idea what pet boarding and transportation can cost and will be wanting some assistance when they find out.
– Keep in mind that pets are part of the family, and in the case of the younger set, they may be the family, or the one that got them through the pandemic. The position that having a pet is a choice and therefore not the employer’s responsibility may have worked with Boomers, but given the retention challenges experienced with Millennials, and likely Gen Z also, this may be a high visibility benefit worthy of attention.
– The impact of increased pet ownership may not be that significant with international moves, as we would expect that employees who know that their job could include assignments are probably going to avoid having to worry about what happens to their pet when the offer comes. On the other hand, they may not have thought it through…
– At the domestic level, the issue may be viewed by the employee as less complicated given that pets can move more freely and probably be driven to the destination. Canada and the United States are large countries, however, and driving will not always be practical.
– If your policy already covers pets and includes a cap on eligible expenses, a level of cost management is already built in. If the policy doesn’t have a cap, we suggest you consider one (either a maximum amount and/or a limit on the number of pets.) Other suggestions include covering the expenses through a Flex account or narrowing the conditions under which the expenses will be covered (e.g., distance to destination, length of assignment.)
Is increased pet ownership a development that will blow up your mobility program? Likely not, but it is a one that requires some attention not only because costs could creep up, but also because your younger employees will raise it if you don’t.