Minneapolis marketing agency Nina Hale made headlines this month for its "fur-ternity leave" policy, which allows employees to work from home for a week after they welcome a new dog or cat. "This is kind of a no-brainer," Allison McMenimen, a vice president at the company, told The New York Times of the policy. "The idea of offering benefits that just help keep employees at the office, that's over."

Indeed, more and more companies are offering fur-ternity leave, paw-ternity leave, and other flexible options that respond to the needs of pet owners. This pet-focused flexibility is a trend that has increased over the past five years as family timelines continue to evolve, according to Steven Feldman, executive director at the Human Animal Bond Research Institute.

"Millennials are getting pets as their 'starter kits,'" Feldman tells SHRM. "A lot of millennials, before they have children, often end up with feline or canine children as a way to start parenting. Those pets are just as much a part of their families as human kids will be later on."

In fact, the American Pet Products Association states millennials are the top pet-owning generation—and many millennials are even opting to have pets instead of children, as The Washington Post reports. "Pets are becoming a replacement for children," Generation Me author Jean Twenge tells the newspaper. "They're less expensive. You can get one even if you're not ready to live with someone or get married, and they can still provide companionship."

Additionally, a 2017 Harris Poll revealed that dog ownership ranked among the top three motivators for millennials buying their first home, ranking even higher than marriage and the birth of a child.

Amid these changes, millennials are "looking for … acknowledgment from employers of the important role of pets in their lives," Feldman adds. Such acknowledgment could come in the form of any of the six flexibility types. DeskPlus and Remote give employees the freedom to work from home with their pets, and TravelLite puts a limit on employees' business travel and thus keeps them home with their pets more. Meanwhile, TimeShift, MicroAgility, and PartTime all provide time-based modifications that break up the traditional 9-to-5, 40-hour-per-week work structure, giving pet owners more latitude to tend to the needs of their furry (or scaly) friends.

SHRM shares the experience of Anne Doussan, an executive assistant at a New Orleans real estate investment. When she adopted her dog Celie in 2016, Doussan had no idea the eight-week-old Labrador mix had serious heart conditions that would require frequent veterinarian appointments. But Doussan's supervisor let her come into work late and leave early for those appointments and to take longer lunch breaks to check in on Celie. The supervisor even let Doussan bring Celie into work on some days or work from home on other days. "They were incredibly understanding of my puppy's special needs," Doussan says.

And again, what's good for employees is good for employers: A 2018 Nationwide/HABRI study showed 9 out of 10 employees in pet-friendly workplaces feel fully engaged in their work, highly connected to their company's mission, and willing to recommend their employers to others. Pet-focused flexibility policies "signal you're looking at the employee's entire family," Feldman tells SHRM. "These are all things that show you care."