As the world marks Take Your Dog to Work Day, My Business spoke with two Australian business owners about how their four-legged companions have become valued members of staff.
Friday, 21 June marks this year’s #TakeYourDogToWorkDay, an annual tradition dating back to 1999, when it was created by US-based Pet Sitters International, as a means of recognising the companionship that canines share with their owners.
Many employers, including here in Australia, have since taken up the cause and regularly bring their dogs, or allow their staff to do so.
‘Happiness in the workplace’
Elie Azzi (pictured below), of greeting cards and gifts retailer La La Land, has been sharing his workdays with dogs Thomas and Chris from the very early days of his business.
“My business partner Ludi Chu and I started the business in 2007 from home, and in 2011 we started the brand, La La Land,” Mr Azzi told My Business.
“I first adopted Thomas in 2008 because I was feeling lonely working from home on my own. A few years later, I adopted Chris. Since we got our own office, I have been bringing both to work – it has been like this since the beginning.”
Mr Azzi said that initially, he felt guilt at leaving his beloved dogs at home while working long days.
“Also, I’m not a morning person, so I could never get up early enough to walk them before work, and I have always lived in an apartment, so they never had the luxury of a big back yard,” he said.
But the addition of the dogs in the work environment has had unintended benefits, he said – both for himself and the team of nine as a whole.
“I can have the most stressful day and all I need to do is just look at their cute faces and feel so much happiness,” said Mr Azzi.
“The dogs also make all the employees laugh throughout the day as they can be very funny to watch. Some of our team members have really connected to them too, so I can see an overall positivity with the dogs around. They truly do bring a lot of happiness into the workplace.”
The office ‘trainee’
“Stella [a Labradoodle] joined us about three years ago, and is ‘top dog”, explained Lyndelle Morgan, director of Niche Marketing Group.
“Lady Isabella [a French Bulldog] joined us about three weeks ago and is currently a ‘trainee’.”
Like Mr Azzi, Ms Morgan said the decision to bring Stella to work with her was driven by the desire to avoid having a puppy left at home for long periods of time.
“I got Stella when she was eight weeks old and didn’t feel comfortable leaving her at home by herself for the long work day, so decided to make her an office dog,” she told My Business.
“She loves coming to work every day and knows the Monday to Friday morning routine down pat.”
Ms Morgan, whose marketing business has been operating for 29 years, said there are “so many positives” about having a dog ‘on staff’.
“The team love interacting with Stella, taking her for walks during lunch or when they need time out from their busy work schedules to de-stress,” she explained.
“They are a great conversation starter with clients and visitors, as well as between employees and teams who don’t work directly together.
“Now with Lady Isabella on board, both dogs get lots of pats and attention, are a part of our team and help create a fun, positive office culture.”
‘Pets bring psychological benefits’
It’s not that these dog-lovers are biased either – studies have shown that the companionship of dogs in the workplace does have measurable psychological benefits, according to Marcela Slepica, clinical services manager at AccessEAP.
“Multiple studies have shown the mental, social, and physiological health benefits of owning or interacting with an animal, which causes the body to release ‘happy hormones’ serotonin and dopamine that help combat stress, depression and anxiety,” she said.
“Additionally, pets have proven positive physical effects from improved cardiovascular health to lower cholesterol levels.”
Ms Slepica said these can be important considerations for employers, given the increasing prevalence of burnout.
James Parkinson, product manager at Happy Tails, added that there are also benefits for the dogs in accompanying their owners to work.
“People are increasingly looking at new ways to provide the best care for their pets, and for many dog owners, this includes bringing their furry friend to their job, rather than leaving them home alone,” he said.
“Not wanting to cart pet beds, leads, toys and food to and from work, many are setting up a ‘barking lot’ at their desks.”
Mitigating the downsides
Both Ms Morgan and Mr Azzi admit that it’s not always smooth sailing, however.
“Thomas thinks he is our security guard, so every time someone walks in, he will run to the door and start barking,” Mr Azzi confessed.
“I always have to stay alert for anyone coming through the door, so I can distract or carry him prior. [But] this doesn’t happen often enough for it to be a big problem, because we don’t have many people visiting.
“I haven’t managed to find a solution about this situation, and he is an old dog and so stuck in his ways!”
Ms Morgan said there had been a few “accidents” in the beginning, but that the dogs have worked out their place very quickly.
“It’s amazing what a treat can do!”
Addressing health and safety concerns
Being a workplace, there are of course additional health and safety measures to adhere to when dogs are introduced – such as issues around phobias and allergies.
“Thankfully none of our employees have allergies to dogs [but] there have been occasions when someone comes to visit and they are scared of two little dogs,” Mr Azzi said.
“It’s puzzling! It rarely happens, but when it does, we have to work as a team where we carry the dogs and take the guest into the meeting room and close the door.”
He added that while the office used to have carpet, the business had to invest in floor boards “for hygiene reasons”.
“Also we have regular pest control visits to ensure there are no other office pets.”
Then there is also the need to introduce different dogs to each other, if more than one person in the workplace is bringing their dog, as well as a designated sleeping area for the dogs to rest throughout the day.
Ms Morgan agrees that problems can be avoided by communicating the dogs’ presence in advance to on-site visitors and employees.
“When someone new comes to the office, we always ask them upfront if they are okay with dogs,” she said.
“If they don’t like them, we can keep the dog in another part of the office away from them.”
Advice to other employers
Both Mr Azzi and Ms Morgan are big believers in the benefits that dogs can bring to the workplace.
“On Bring Your Dog to Work Day, we’ll also have Ace the Dachshund join us,” said Ms Morgan.
“We have always had staff bring their pets on occasions – the German Shepherd was a bit large for the office, but a real talking point, while the Labrador – that was also a hospital dog – was very calm and friendly.”
She said that consideration needs to be given from the outset to the type of pet, as well as the location of the business, before introducing any dogs into the workplace.
“Obviously, the pet needs to be suitable to take to the workplace in the first instance, and be comfortably and safely accommodated there all day,” Ms Morgan said.
“Large dogs are more difficult to manage. We have had clients bring their dogs into our office when we have a meeting, and it does take a while for all the excitement to settle.
“[However,] our experiences have all been very positive, and there’s nothing like a walk around the block with a furry friend when you need to clear the head.”
Mr Azzi said that more workplaces should be reaping the benefits of having dogs as part of the team.
“I think every office should allow dogs,” he said.
“Having dogs in the office helps create a fun, calming and happy environment. Without them, the office feels a bit empty. I would encourage every employer to consider furry friends in the office space. They bring only positive vibes!”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.