Man's Best Co-Worker
Leib Lurie never intended for his company, message delivery service One Call Now, to be pet-friendly. But his dog, Ivy, had other ideas.
Five years ago, the German shepherd showed up unannounced at One Call Now's Troy, Ohio-based office—a 1.5-mile trek from Lurie's home. When he continued to make the trip each day he wasn't brought to the office, Lurie realized it was time for a change in company policy. Today, four or five employee's dogs, as well as a variety of fish, birds, and other caged animals join Ivy in the office daily to make One Call Now a workingman's menagerie.
"They're not very good at sending voice messages," Lurie jokes of the pets in his office. "But we've gotten them down with using the computer, at least the point part."
One Call Now joins a growing force of companies across the United States to welcome pets in the workplace. While only 17 percent of U.S. employers currently allow animals in the workplace, according to a survey from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, pet-friendly, often specifically dog-friendly, environments are building steam. From major companies like Google, Zynga, and Amazon.com to growing start-ups (some featured in Inc.'s Winning Workplaces), more and more canine companions are showing up to work.
For many entrepreneurs, the inception of a dog-friendly environment begins long before offices enter the picture. "My dog, Blueberry, was the founding dog," explains Randy Hetrick, founder of TRX Training. "Literally, it was him and me before any other people came in, so he takes great pride in what we've accomplished." As Hetrick built his company, he never forgot his first partner. Today, up to ten dogs wander with Blueberry through the four floors of TRX's San Francisco office.
Many pet-friendly work environments develop as a part of the company's larger mission or company culture. After spending years in uptight corporate climates, Nancy Squires founded her own consulting firm, The Squires Group, with a distinctly homey atmosphere, which included her two Italian greyhounds.
Marketing software company G5's dog-friendliness fits into the animal-friendly climate of their mountain town Bend, Oregon, as well as the company's own cultural backbone. "We try to have a culture that promotes freedom for the employees and helps them thrive," says G5 CEO Dan Hobin. "If that involves bringing your dog to work, bring your dog to work."
Having pooches underfoot might seem to some like a distraction, but advocates of animals in the workplace see quite the opposite. Dogs in the office foster friendlier, more collaborative work environments. At G5, this includes dogs posing as mascots for the company's various divisions. "Everyone rallies around the dogs," Hobin says.
Employees surrounded by dogs also have a tendency to rally around their jobs. According to a survey of 50 small and large companies by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association in 2008, companies that allow pets in the workplace see a lower rate of employee absenteeism and more willingness to work longer hours.
"There are a lot of people who know they have to spend extra hours at work, particularly in this economic climate," says Debrah Schnackenberg, vice president of emergency services for the American Humane Association. "People feel comfortable spending that extra hour or two at the office when they know their dog is right there with them."
Dog-friendliness may generate more loyalty for the company as a whole. In the last two years, One Call Now has seen a two or three percent turnover rate. Lurie attributes this small number in part to the office pets. "You ask someone who is in a $12-an-hour job, 'Would you work anywhere else?' And they say, 'No way.' Where else could I bring my dog to work?" he says.
This sense of loyalty stems from a simple concept: Dogs make people happy. "They're always happy to see you, they're happy for the smallest things, and they're ever optimistic," says Hetrick. "Having a dog wandering around just seems to make people smile."
In high-performance or high-stress work environments, dogs can not only spread smiles but also ease tension. Taking a walk, practicing a trick, or even absentmindedly scratching a dog behind the ear allows even the most worked-up employee to relax and reprioritize. "It's their cigarette," says Squires. "The dogs are a sense of peace, gentleness, a diversion, something other than what we define as work. I think it's a great break."
And, a dog break is certainly healthier than a smoke break. Numerous studies have shown that having the companionship or even being in the presences of a pet, for instance in the workplace, lowers blood pressure and cortisol (stress) levels while heightening endorphins and oxytocin, the hormone linked to maternal bonding. Such an emotional connection is healthy for your dog as well. "Dogs bond to their humans and would rather be with them than not," says Schnackenberg. "From an emotional well-being perspective, it's healthy for a dog to be with their owner throughout the day."
With their many attributes and benefits, dogs play a critical role in pet-friendly company's hiring processes. All of the aforementioned companies and many more like them use their dogs in the interview process to introduce potential employees to the corporate climate. Their reactions to the animals also serve as a compatibility test. "I've never met a dog-friendly person who wasn't a customer-friendly person," says Lurie. "And we hire customer-friendly people."
The dog un-friendly or the allergenic, however, need not apply.
"You try to build a company of people who can rally around a vision, and dogs play a part of that," Hetrick says. "People who look at that and say how stinky or hairy or whatever probably aren't people that are going to mold well into the casual, rough and tumble, work hard, play hard work environment that I've created."
The Squires Group maintains a similar mantra. "If people don't do dogs, there may be another part of the company they don't do," Squires says. "I'm not saying they're bad people or that they wouldn't be great for other companies, but they wouldn't be a great fit for our company."
Companies considering introducing a dog-friendly work environment should consider adopting a pet policy. When advising companies in this transition, the American Human Association suggests highlighting clear rules about when you can bring your dog in, what behavior is expected, and what happens when the pet or person does not conform to those rules.
Many small companies adopt these advised policies, but govern their pets in a more ad hoc manner. After a few minor "accidents," G5's HR Department developed a detailed pet policy to include in the company handbook. "I don't think I actually ever read it," admits Hobin. "In short, though, the policy is to be responsible and respectful."
At TRX, dogs are under the same considerations as people. "You wouldn't tolerate a lot of barking, snapping and snarling from the people you work with," Hetrik says. "Neither should you tolerate it from the canine pals they bring to work. We're pretty clear on all that." Growing companies should also be flexible to changing the stipulations in their policy as they develop.
Adjustments to the TRX pet policy are under consideration as the company intends to expand its workforce from 120 to 300 employees. The company may introduce a sign-up, limiting the total number of dogs to the current two to three per floor. No matter the changes, though, dogs will remain a fixture in the company.
"Dogs were part of the fabric from the very beginning," says Hetrick. "And they'll be here 'til the very end. I like having these pups around."
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