Why more offices are going to the dogs
Pets can reduce stress, managers say. Yet most firms want Fido to stay at home.
At Sermo, a Web company whose offices resemble a Romper Room for adults – complete with beanbags and arcade machines – finding the CEO is easy. Just look for his dogs. This particular afternoon, Daniel Palestrant's two dachshunds act like draft stoppers outside their master's conference-room door. Mr. Palestrant is something of a Pied Piper for dogs and instituted the office's pet-friendly policy. As such, he loves to see employees playing with Lily, a Yorkshire terrier that treats a pink tennis ball like a homing beacon, or stroking Maddie, a woolly bichon frisé.Skip to next paragraph
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"What does it mean to work in a young, fast-growing start-up company? A little bit of chaos. A little bit of cleaning up everybody's mess. And you can't take yourself too seriously," says Palestrant, who founded Sermo as an online community for physicians. "We started finding that people who are most comfortable with dogs around are the one's who gravitated toward the Sermo culture."
For many companies, Friday's ninth annual Take Your Dog to Work Day will be the closest they get to experiencing Sermo's roly-poly atmosphere. Yet pet-friendly workplaces are on the rise. They're part of a broader axis shift: A younger generation is rejecting formal office culture in favor of fun workplaces that are fulfilling. But a wider adoption of the benefit will depend on how companies handle issues relating to allergies and the personal discomfort of some workers.
"There are more companies that are shifting toward offering dog-friendly work policies because they can use that to attract employees," says Cameron Woo, publisher of Bark magazine. "People are realizing that the button-down white shirt and tie office environment that our parents grew up with doesn't have to [continue]."
According to the Society of Human Resource Management's (SHRM) 2007 Benefits Survey, 6 percent of respondents allow employees to bring pets to work, up from 4 percent in 2006. A newly released survey of 1,000 adults by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association found that 17 percent are permitted to bring pets to the workplace.
Advocates of the policy believe it benefits both employers and employees. People working long days can bring an element of their home life into the workplace, while those who work regular hours needn't get antsy about dashing home to walk the dog. Another plus: Not having to pay for a dog-sitter.
But the biggest gains may be the effect an animal has on the work environment. At Sermo, the reigning philosophy is that the office animals – which include a rabbit and an iguana but, thankfully, no goats – encourage employees to get to know each other as individuals first and foremost.
"We try to break down barriers between people," says Alexandra LaMaster, the company's vice president of talent. "So, when you come into conflict with each other, you resolve that in a better way and you're more honest in a direct manner. The dogs at work is just another way of being more genuine and who you are at work."
The canine companions also offer a more constructive form of stress release than the office Nerf guns. "I'll sit and play with the dogs for a few minutes after a hard meeting," grins Jess Frykholm, whose desk functions as a dog-treat repository.
Tech firms such as Sermo were among the first to turn office cubicles into kennels. Those companies need to innovate, but employees can't be creative if they're unhappy at work, says Alexander Kjerulf, the self-proclaimed "Chief Happiness Officer" and expert on employee relations, speaking via phone from his native Denmark.