Stephanie Dwilson

Could an Office Visitor Policy Help Drive Work-Life Balance?

No, your workplace isn’t a petting zoo or a day care. But allowing employees to host occasional visitors — whether pets, babies or even family and friends — can raise morale and engagement, not to mention make your employees’ lives a little easier in a pinch. To do it right, though, it’s important to implement a thoughtful policy. Here’s how to make it work.

The Pros and Cons of Visitors

A healthy work-life balance is key to avoiding employee burnout. Not only can a welcoming policy help alleviate stress, but a strict exclusionary policy could come across as draconian and hurt morale. That said, visitors can bring potential problems into your workplace.

Here’s a look at the pros and cons of three types of visitors your employees might be interested in having at the office.

  • Pets. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, bringing pets to work can lower stress, increase employee interaction, boost engagement and raise staff retention. On the downside, some employees might be allergic to pets, and sometimes animals can be distracting, especially if they’re not well-behaved.
  • Children. Allowing children at work can also be good for morale and increase your retention rate. Sometimes emergencies happen or child care falls through, and having a flexible visiting policy can ensure that your employees miss less work and feel supported at the same time. However, it takes effort to develop a policy that prevents a little one from being too much of a distraction.
  • Other visitors. Unless your company is engaged in confidential work that requires a nondisclosure agreement for visitors to enter the office, occasional visits from friends and family can be a source of fun. Employees might want to show off their jobs to their friends, parents or spouses, so be careful about squashing that enthusiasm. Maybe a friend wants to meet them at work before lunch or a parent asks for a tour of the office. Allowing these visits without a raised eyebrow builds morale and loyalty.

How to Craft a Visitation Policy

How do you keep up a fun office that encourages work-life balance without getting so lax that productivity suffers? The key is to craft a thorough visitation policy that clearly outlines when and how visits are allowed.

  • Make security a priority. All visitors — the human ones, at least — should sign in and out. Have visitors note whom they’re visiting and why. Your policy might need to designate confidential areas of the office as off-limits and ask guests to wear a visitor badge and be accompanied by an employee. Consider consulting with an attorney about your ideas.
  • Set expectations for visitors’ behavior at the office. It might make sense to allow brief visits any time, such as meeting for lunch, but make it clear that visitors shouldn’t distract other employees. And if there’s an important deadline looming, suggest scheduling visits for another day. Make it clear that no matter who’s visiting, meetings and deadlines can’t be ignored.
  • Introduce official visiting days. If you want more control over situations where visitors are in the office, try designating a specific day for them. Annual events like a “Bring Your Child to Work Day” are already a popular office standard, so try expanding your festivities to regular family barbecues or pet meetups at the office.
  • Factor in health concerns. Almost every workforce has at least one person with pet allergies. At the same time, employees who are pregnant or have weak immune systems might avoid being around kids if they’re not confident the children have been vaccinated. In addition to indicating that visitors (including pets) should be up to date on their vaccinations, you’ll need to make allowances like flex time or remote working for employees with health concerns when visitors are about.
  • Set a limit. Day care emergencies happen, and having the workplace as a reliable backup plan can take a huge weight off employees’ shoulders. If someone needs to bring children in regularly, though, set clear boundaries that keep your workplace from becoming an impromptu child care center. These restrictions are good for employees, too — with a firm policy in place, your staff will never wonder if they’re breaking a rule when it comes to their little ones.
  • Protect your business. If you do allow children and pets in the workplace, your insurance should cover any liabilities from accidents. Double-check that your policy documents the risk of liability issues, and talk to your employees about how to reduce those risks while visitors are in the workplace.

Your workplace environment is part of what makes your employees see their work as more than just a job. While most of your efforts to nurture a fun, productive and healthy workplace culture don’t extend far past the office door, making space for the people most important to your employees shows that you take your staff’s work-life balance — and their overall happiness — seriously.

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