Working like a dog: Companies find benefits in going pet-friendly
It’s fair to call Charger a bull in a china shop. Well, at least a pit bull. The charming nine-year-old has a full-time job in the marketing department at dinnerware giant Replacements, Ltd.
“Charger’s been coming to Replacements since I rescued him from the side of a road as a puppy, so he’s really grown up here,” says Kevin Boyd. “Coming to work is great for Charger because he’s able to engage with people and other dogs so it’s really helped him become more sociable; he has so many friends who give him treats or want to take him for walks. Having him here helps me relax because I know he’s not home alone and really creates special moments in the day, like having him sit in my lap while I’m working.”
Charger is among dozens of pets you’ll find at Replacements. A walk through the warehouse and you’ll see dogs riding on carts pushed by their owners or perhaps encounter a cat or two. An opossum riding high on the shoulder of her human friend even graced the company's retail store with a visit.
Replacements implemented its pet-friendly policy more than 20 years ago, after Founder and CEO Bob Page received a dog for his birthday and couldn't bear to leave him home alone. Fast-forward two decades, and national and international media have repeatedly recognized Replacements as one of the top pet-friendly businesses in the country. The company invites all employees and customers to bring their pets to work or shop; in fact, Replacements’ front doors read, "All Well-Behaved Pets Welcome."
Gaining scientific support
Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University spent a week at Replacements, focusing specifically on the impact of dogs in the workplace. The VCU team monitored stress levels among three test groups: those who brought their dogs to work every day, dog owners who left their pets at home, and those who do not own any pets.
"We were surprised to find that stress actually decreased throughout the day among those who brought their dogs to work, while stress levels significantly increased for those who left their dogs at home," says principal researcher Dr. Randy Barker. "About half of those who bring their dogs to work said their productivity increased with their dog present. Some employees even commented that the presence of pets increases cooperation and builds relationships among coworkers.”
Barker also notes employees overall had higher job satisfaction than industry norms. He believes establishing pet-friendly policies could be a great benefit that doesn't hamper a company's bottom line. "I think leadership in many organizations may be hesitant to allow animals in the workplace, but our study indicates pet presence may serve as a low-cost wellness intervention that may enhance organizational satisfaction and perceptions of support."
Getting started as a pet-friendly workplace
Replacements hears from large and small companies across the country wanting to start similar practices and policies. Their best advice? Start small.
“Consider having a pilot day to gauge how a pet presence works for your organization,” says Public Relations Manager Lisa Conklin. "You might try allowing pets for a half day or a Friday to determine the best fit for your employees and your business. Being pet-friendly is truly a huge part of our corporate culture — so many of our employees tell us it’s one of the best benefits the company offers."
Replacements' formal pet policy requires all animals must be current on vaccinations, polite to people and other pets, and stay on a leash near their owners unless contained in an office or cubicle space. Owners are also required to clean up after any accidents.
Conklin adds pet owners must be sensitive to the fact some people have allergies or may be fearful of animals. Likewise, other employees aren't allowed to aggravate or intimidate pets. "We've seen many instances where employees actually got to know each other better through their pets. Seriously, it's hard not to smile when you're greeted by a wagging tail and friendly face!"
Caption 1: Charger peers over his cubicle at Replacements, Ltd.
Caption 2: Emalee comes to work every day with Jonathan Walker