When Bob Page walks through the warehouse of his North Carolina-based dinnerware company, he wears a fanny pack full of pet snacks. He hands them out to 20 or 30 dogs that come to work every day.
Replacements Ltd.'s founder has been doing this ritual since 1997, when Page first began allowing his 450 employees to bring their dogs to work. "I thought if I am going to have a dog, I am going to bring him to work," he says. "So I said, 'Why not let others bring them in too?' "
The practice is not unheard of -- nearly 1 in 5 companies allows pets in the office, if you believe a survey conducted by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association revealed in 2006. (Experts believe the wide majority are small outfits.)
Years after implementing the policy at Replacements, Page is convinced the practice has helped to boost morale and office relationships. For his part, he brings his own miniature dachsund, Toby, to work every day. And he says he's much more comfortable asking his employees about inventory reports when Toby is playing alongside his workers' dogs.
And new research is bearing him out. A new study by Virginia Commonwealth University tracked 76 employees of Page's company and found that a dog in the workplace helped lower stress levels and made jobs more satisfying. According to the VCU study, on days when dogs were not in the warehouse, the average stress level reported by the the workers was 10 points higher on a 40-point scale. The results were based on how the workers ranked their reaction to unpleasant images in a standard stress test.
Because the study had just 76 subjects, researchers cautioned that the results were preliminary but stressed that the differences in "perceived stress" was significant. "Dogs in the workplace can make a positive difference," said lead investigator Randolph T. Barker, a professor of management with the VCU School of Business, in a release put out by university. (Barker and the study's authors did not respond to an interview request from AOL Jobs.)
In fact, other employers with pet-friendly policies report similar findings.
"If you have one hand on an animal, it really takes down the stress level during meetings," said Meredith Leslie, who works in human resources in the Pet Care department at Procter & Gamble. The division, which counts Iams among its eight brands, has been allowing dogs in the workplace since 2009. It cordons off sections of the office where employees can keep their pets; images of paw prints are placed by the company on desks in areas where pets are welcome.
Have dogs in the corporate offices caused any problems? Leslie says no, though P&G keeps an animal behaviorist on staff to conduct screenings with the pets to see if they can handle life in the office. This involves running the pet through everyday office situations to see if the pet can keep calm. Few pets have been banned by the behaviorists, Leslie adds.
Occasionally, though, there have been some hijinks. "I was so many shades of red when I
brought in my beagle for the first time, and its howling went through half of Procter & Gamble." But, she adds, people were more amused than miffed. "Nobody was unhappy, even outside the pet division, and everyone was tickled pink for the day."
While it's unlikely that the pets division at P&G would ever have a job applicant who didn't want to be around pets, all the employers interviewed for this article had a policy of telling job applicants about their policies to avoid any potential problems.
"A lot of offices talk about diversity," says Jeanine Falcon, who works in human resources at Replacements. "Well, we walk that talk."
Falcon, who has been working at Replacements for 14 years, has brought all three of her dogs over that time to work. And she says that when one of her dogs, a Bernese mountain dog named Bella, contracted lymphoma, it was much easier for her to go back and forth to appointments at the vet's office.
But Falcon said the benefits extend beyond emergencies. "If you work long days, you worry about letting your dog out. But if your pet is with you, you don't feel that angst, staying after 5 or 7 or later. It lets you get out of your office and go outside, and take your pet for a walk. It makes you happier."
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