These offices are going to the dogs — literally

by Ashley G. Williams

“There’s a land mine in the conference room,” might not be a phrase heard in many offices. But the occasional accident, is an occupational hazard in a place where animals “work,” too. The emergence of pet-related perks at the office is not surprising, considering the praise both employers and employees give such policies.

These programs, which vary in degree, allow people the opportunity to take their pets to work. Research shows that pets help lower blood pressure, stress levels, and healthcare costs, resulting in a win-win situation for pet parents and their employers.

As a lifelong animal lover, Tim Riester, president of the advertising and public relations company Riester~Robb in Phoenix, sees two to three dogs in the office every day. He views this unofficial “doggie day care,” as an extension of the child-care services his company provides. A pet-friendly policy shows employee appreciation and promotes company loyalty. “[The dogs] just cruise the whole office and go wherever they want. They’re around so much, they know to let someone know when they need to go out,” Riester says.

Similarly, with eight to 10 dogs “working” every day, Build-A-Bear Workshop founder Maxine Clark relishes the atmosphere. “I wanted to create a fun workplace; I’ve found that the more fun people have, the harder they’ll work.”

Pet-friendly practices are quickly becoming a new recruiting tool to attract and retain employees. “I’ve had a few nieces and nephews apply for jobs at Home Depot, and pet insurance is one of its recruiting tools,” says Bill Gorman, group sales manager for Veterinary Pet Insurance in Brea, California.

Employees love the benefits of taking their four-legged family members to work. Imagine the morning rush without leaving behind a pair of pleading eyes. For Patti Hasner, office manager at the law offices of Dittman, Dowling and Schone in Delray Beach, Florida, her company’s pet-friendly policy creates an enjoyable workday alongside her Toy Poodle Samantha. The whole environment is happy and filled with laughter and smiles, according to Hasner. Clients become more at ease in what is potentially a stressful situation (Samantha even accompanies Hasner to witness wills!).

Contrary to typical concerns, these offices run smoothly with few disruptions from pets. For example, Celina Montorfano, vice president of programming for the American Hiking Society in Silver Spring, Maryland, spends most of her workday with Cody, a Retriever mix, snoozing in the corner of her office.

But what happens when a personality conflict occurs? At Riester’s office, employees coordinate schedules to avoid any potential incidents between pets. Another added bonus: Riester’s pet perks lead to an instant group of familiar caretakers; he says it’s not unusual to see people’s dogs at work when they take a vacation.

The health benefits of pets easily cross over to the workplace. Hasner’s experience with Samantha illustrates how pets decrease stress at work. For Montorfano, her dog’s presence helps her maintain the balance between life and work because he is such an important part of her family. “He helps calm me down, and when he’s here, it’s perfect to take a break and get outside,” she says. Employers also notice increased productivity. “…Throwing a dog a Frisbee sometimes could just be exactly what you need to get to that new idea you were thinking of,” Clark says.

The presence of pets also helps promote an understanding between the client and company, Riester says. “When you work like crazy and can select clients that are likeminded—you feel you are working for a friend,” he says. “There is something about having to stop and take one of the dogs out, something about being in a very serious meeting and having a dog sniff your foot reminds us not to be so serious.” These perks may not be mainstream yet, but imagine explaining background barking noises to a client over the phone—how fabulous.

Want a pet-friendly workplace?

Here’s how…Tired of leaving four-legged family members behind, organizing dog walkers, and dealing with a lot of guilt?

Consider approaching your employer about offering pet-related perks at work. Start by outlining your employer’s potential concerns and address each one. Here are a few specific suggestions:
• Convince employers and human resources that pets will not disrupt work as much as one might think.
• Start small; approach the subject as a one-time event, perhaps a day or once a month. Avoid an everyday policy in the beginning.
• Play up the positive aspects, such as how pets help relieve stress and boost morale.
• Offer HR insight to perks from other sources. One reason companies become more aware of perks like pet insurance is because of movement between companies.

For information, visit Pet Sitters International at www.PetSit.com/DogDay.
Did you know that according to the Pet Products Manufacturers Association:

46 million people who bring their pets to the workplace work more hours
37 million say having pets in the workplace helps improve relationships between managers and their employees. Try telling that to your boss!

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