Who Let The Dogs In? More Companies Welcome Pets At Work | KUOW News and Information

Who Let The Dogs In? More Companies Welcome Pets At Work

Aug 8, 2016
Originally published on August 9, 2016 8:14 am

Charlie is an ideal colleague. He's energetic, knows how to handle bullies and has serious people skills. His work mostly entails riding on a cart pushed by Kim Headen, who fills orders in the warehouse at Replacements Ltd.

"He loves coming to work," Headen says. "He beats me to the door when we pull up in the parking lot. He knows his way in and to go exactly where I sit."

Charlie is a Yorkshire terrier. He's among the 400 people and about 30 animals who come to work at Greensboro, N.C.-based Replacements, where other varieties of fauna regularly come to visit.

"We've had customers bring in a duck, a potbellied pig, a possum," says public relations manager Lisa Conklin, who hopes to bring her horse, Azim, to work one day.

But consider this: Replacements makes and sells fine dining ware.

"Here's the interesting thing, is that we have never had a pet break anything here," Conklin says. "We've had people, myself included, who have broken a number of these delicate pieces. But we have never to our knowledge had a pet break anything."

According to the Society of Human Resource Management, 7 percent of employers now allow pets to come to work with their owners. That's up from 5 percent five years ago.

Benefits managers say it's a nonfinancial benefit that speaks to the growing demand among workers for work-life balance.

Conklin agrees. She says the pets-at-work policy costs the company nothing, and staff often say it's their favorite perk. Conklin also says it helps with employee retention, too, though longevity can become bittersweet.

"It's oftentimes very emotional, because sometimes you see someone come in with a puppy and you watch that dog go through its life," Conklin says, her voice cracking. "And then unfortunately sometimes we lose them, and it's amazing to see that lifespan of that dog here at work."

Studies show pets lower stress hormones, and some show that workplaces that allow pets see higher morale and productivity.

"They tend to see that the dogs increase co-worker cooperation and interaction, particularly when people would go by and see the dog just to visit," says Randolph Barker, a professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University.

(Yes, that is his real name. "You know, we've always been teased about that," Barker says. "But I've had that name all my life, and it's legitimate; we didn't change it because of the research.")

Barker's 2012 research measured levels of cortisol in workers' systems and found that people whose pets came to work saw a decrease in stress throughout the workday, whereas those who didn't have a pet saw their hormones increase.

Pet-food maker Purina has long had a pets-at-work policy — one that requires animals to be civil and well-behaved, among other things.

Kurt Venator, director of veterinary services for Purina, says a successful policy must be planned in advance and accommodate co-workers' wishes — including pet allergies. And, he says, recognize that the first day on the job might be tough on your pet.

"They encounter novel things, such as revolving doors or elevators," Venator says.

Barbara Sobel sports cat tattoos and is adamant about her love of felines. There are two that live in the offices at Good Scents, a shop in Cape May, N.J., where she works. She says cats make for great colleagues.

"I get greeted every morning. I can bounce ideas off of them on projects. They don't judge me," she says and laughs.

But has a cat allergy ever got in the way of hiring?

"You know what? In all the years that I've worked here, and everyone who's come through our doors, that's never been a problem," Sobel says.

That's not to say problems don't sometimes arise.

In the case of Buchanan Public Relations outside Philadelphia, Lacey — a Rottweiler mix — was terrorized by Romeo, a toy poodle.

"He had a bit of a Napoleon complex," explains Assistant Vice President Nicole Lasorda.

Instead of reneging on the pets-at-work policy, the company's owner, Anne Buchanan, hired a dog trainer to sort things out. Romeo ceded some territory, and workplace harmony was restored.

Lasorda says the pet policy is a big priority. A year ago, when the company looked for bigger office space to rent, the policy posed a challenge.

"Every place she went when they said no pets, it was off the list," Lasorda says. "And there were a lot of places that were no pets."

Instead, the company bought its own building, and the animals still come to work.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There is a dog on the second floor of our building here. He's NPR's unofficial mascot Nipper the Newshound. He wears an NPR T-shirt. People love him. They take photos with him when they're on a tour of the building, but he's plastic. Imagine the joy he would bring if he were real. Well, more and more companies are allowing real pets at work, and NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports it can actually keep the fur from flying at the office.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Charlie loves office work.

The Yorkshire terrier spends much of his day on a cart pushed by Kim Headen who fills orders in the warehouse at Replacements Ltd.

KIM HEADEN: He loves coming to work. He beats me to the door when we pull up in the parking lot. He knows his way in and to go exactly where I sit.

NOGUCHI: Charlie navigates office politics like a champ. Big dogs know not to mess with him, and the humans consider him part of their team. Lisa Conklin handles public relations for Replacements Ltd. which has 400 employees plus about 30 animals that come to work, not including the various visiting fauna.

LISA CONKLIN: So we've had customers bring in a duck, a potbellied pig, a possum.

NOGUCHI: Conklin wants to bring her horse, Azim, to work one day. But consider this - Replacements makes and sells fine dining ware.

CONKLIN: Here's the interesting thing is that we haven't never had a pet break anything here. We've had people, myself included - have broken a number of these delicate pieces, but we have never to our knowledge had a pet break anything.

NOGUCHI: Conklin says the pets-at-work policy costs the company nothing, and staff often say it's their favorite perk. She says it helps with employee retention, too, though, longevity comes with bittersweetness.

CONKLIN: It's oftentimes very emotional because sometimes you see someone come in with a puppy, and you watch that dog go through its life. And then, unfortunately, sometimes we lose them, and it's amazing to see that lifespan of that dog here at work.

NOGUCHI: Studies show pets lower stress hormones, and some show workplaces that allow pets see higher morale and productivity.

RANDOLPH BARKER: They tend to see that the dogs increase the co-worker cooperation and interaction particularly when people would go by and see the dog just to visit.

NOGUCHI: That's a Virginia Commonwealth University management professor named Randolph Barker. I kid you not.

BARKER: You know, we're always teased about that, but I've had that name all my life. And it's legitimate. We didn't change it because of the research.

NOGUCHI: Pet food-maker Purina has long had a pets-at-work policy, one that requires animals to be civil and well-behaved among other things. Kurt Venator is director of veterinary services for Purina. He says it's critical to plan in advance and accommodate co-workers' wishes, including pet allergies and, he says, recognize that the first day on the job might be tough on your pet.

KURT VENATOR: They encounter novel things such as revolving doors or elevators.

NOGUCHI: Now, there are dog people, and then there's Barbara Sobel.

BARBARA SOBEL: I have cat tattoos.

NOGUCHI: Two cats live in the offices at Good Scents, a shop in Cape May, N.J. where she works.

SOBEL: I get greeted every morning. I can bounce ideas off of them on projects (laughter). They don't judge me (laughter).

NOGUCHI: I ask whether a cat allergy ever got in the way of hiring.

SOBEL: You know, what? In all the years I've worked here and everyone who's come through our doors, that's never been a problem.

NOGUCHI: That's not to say problems don't arise. In the case of Buchanan Public Relations outside Philadelphia, Lacey, a Rottweiler mix, was terrorized by Romeo the toy poodle.

NICOLE LASORDA: He had a bit of a Napoleon complex.

NOGUCHI: Assistant Vice President Nicole Lasorda says instead of reneging on the pets-at-work policy, the company's owner Anne Buchanan hired a dog trainer to sort things out. Romeo ceded some territory, and workplace harmony was restored. Lasorda says the pet policy is a big priority. A year ago when the company looked for bigger office space to rent, the policy posed a challenge.

LASORDA: Every place she went when they said no pets, it was off the list. And it just - there were a lot of places that were no pets.

NOGUCHI: Instead, the company bought its own building, and the animals still come to work. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.