Catching a glimpse of a wagging tail skittering around the office isn’t just cute. It may just save your life and the lives of employees.
Allowing pets in the workplace has long been seen as key employee benefit, as well as an amusement (depending on whether you’re an animal lover). But for some employers, an open door policy toward pets--particularly, man’s best friend--has a raft of other business-enhancing benefits, which includes improved morale, reduced employee absenteeism and stress-related ailments like heart disease and diabetes.
In a 2012 study, employees who were around dogs in the workplace reported feeling less stressed than employees who have dogs but left them at home, according to researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University. The study also found that pets triggered workplace interactions that would not normally take place.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also cited similar stress-reducing benefits.
Not all dogs are exactly St. Bernard’s. Naturally, some animals might hew closer to Cujo than Fido and barking--even among the sweetest puppies can get annoying.
Still, the benefits of a lower-stress workplace are too attractive for some business owners to ignore. Here are some companies throwing caution to the wind and welcoming pets into the workplace and the benefits they’ve seen as a result:
Catharsis and better communication
Replacements, a dinnerware retailer based in Greensboro, North Carolina has been pro (well-behaved) puppies at the office for decades. The company’s pet policy started because its founder, Bob Page, didn’t want to leave his pet at home. But he always figured that having animals around was cathartic.
That suspicion was confirmed after the company participated in the VCU study. “The study proved what we always thought: Having dogs around leads to a more productive work environment, and people get to know each other through the pets,” says Lisa Conklin, Replacements public relations manager. “If you are in a position where something is stressful, seeing that wagging tail and puppy smile brightens the day--it can turn around the whole environment.”
The benefits of Replacements’ pet policy extend beyond employee health, says Conklin. Specifically, she reported improved interactions among staffers. “When I first took the job, I often learned the names of the pets before employees, and it helped me build a bond with everyone.” She added that some employees consider the peace of mind that comes from of having their pets within reach a key benefit. “It is a lot of fun to have dogs around the office,” says Conklin.
Exercise and convenience
We all know exercise can help reduce stress. But in lieu of going running with employees each day, Human Movement Management, a Louisville,Colorado active entertainment company, is banking on its pet policy to amp up employees’ workouts.
“We work long days and long hours,” says Jen Chappell, a customer service representative at Human Movement. “Having dogs around the office makes it fun, and makes us get out of the office and exercise.”
HMM president Jeff Suffolk, who’s Golden Retriever’s name is Brady, adds that employees also value the convenience of being able to take their furry friends out for their mid-day walk themselves rather than having to hire a dog walker.
“I always felt like if we had the conveniences of our homes, that we would never dread coming to the office,” Suffolk says.
Work/life balance and mental breaks
As a custom application development company, employees at Indianapolis’ Inverse-Square often work long hours. Bringing pets to work makes the time pass more happily, says Bob Baird, the company’s president and founder. “With dogs around, it is too hard to get bent out of shape.”
Tack on the benefits associated with taking breaks and the policy pays for itself, adds Baird. “Our job requires us to solve complicated problems, and it is amazing what a four block walk with a dog will do.” When someone is getting stressed, they will grab a leash and head outside with a dog. This mental break they may not have taken without a dog in tow allows employees to come back refreshed.
Comic relief and petting therapy
At the crafty marketplace Etsy, pets are welcome for a variety of reasons--not least of all for their comedic timing.
Sarah Starpoli, an employee experience manager, recalls a story when one tiny fur ball bit off more than he could chew. Once, she explains, a very small dog walked through a staff meeting dragging a stolen piece of pizza past the person who was speaking. The slice was same size as the dog, she adds.
The Brooklyn, New York-based company has found that bringing dogs to work helps to keep employees’ spirits high and adds to the sense of community and connection. At Etsy, however, even the dogs have a community. The company keeps a doggie database, which features more than 50 nearby office dogs that are registered to come in. On any given day, about 4 to 10 pups are present.
Starpoli adds that stress levels naturally fall when pets are around. It's hard to be overwhelmed by work when a dog goes skittering by or comes over to say hello. And it’s not uncommon for folks to actively seek out their favorite pups when they need a break.
Culture benefits and setting the tone
At Huffington Post’s offices in New York City and Los Angeles, the pet policy has been in force since 2011 when AOL acquired the media company. Besides traditional stress relieving benefits, the pro-pet policy also sets the tone for the office: comfortable, open and flexible, says Lena Auerbuch, HuffPo’s manager of lifestyle communications and partnerships.
There's an "understanding that everyone keeps their teeth to themselves and remembers where the fire hydrant is," says senior writer Ann Brenoff.