Office Stress Dogging You? Try Punching In With Fido

Jul 4, 2012
Originally published on July 19, 2012 3:11 pm

Most dog lovers will insist a canine friend makes for a happier home. A number of studies back that up, too, touting the health benefits of four-legged companions.

But there's new evidence that dogs can make for a better workplace as well, making employees happier and more productive.

On a recent afternoon at Los Angeles-based RSA Films, Harrison, one of the company's newer additions, greets a visitor at the door. Sizing up the newcomer, he turns, as if inviting her to follow him down the hall to executive producer Tracie Norfleet's office.

Happy Dogs, Happy Workers

Harrison — all long legs and butterfly ears — has joined Ziggy, a bichon frise mix, and Ippo, a large shaggy blonde with a yellow bow, around Norfleet's desk.

"This is sort of the headquarters here, because ... this is where all the treats are stashed," Norfleet says.

About a dozen dogs accompany their owners to RSA each day. Like many of his canine colleagues, Chuck, Leah Carnahan's corgi mix, lazes at his owner's feet as she goes about her work.

Chuck may be relaxed, but he's helping Carnahan be relaxed, too.

"In the middle of a crazy day, I just look at his face, and it calms me right down," Carnahan says.

Lowering stress is just one of the positive benefits of dogs in the workplace, according to a recently published study from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Study co-author Sandra Barker says dogs also make for a more satisfying work experience.

"The vast majority of employees listed positive things about the dogs: that they reduced stress, that they made them feel more comfortable [and] they contributed to their communication," Barker says.

An estimated 17 percent of businesses are dog-friendly, including corporate giants like Google and Amazon, according to a survey by the American Pet Products Association.

At Authentic Entertainment in Burbank, Calif., co-owner Tom Rogan says his staff of more than 100 employees considers having dogs at work a fringe benefit.

"I think that translates into how people approach their jobs," Rogan says. "If they're happier in the workplace and that's contributing to it, then they are becoming more productive."

Several desks at Authentic have dog beds and a scattering of dog toys underneath them. A pooch occasionally peeks out from around a corner, while others quietly stroll the vast office, occasionally stopping to nudge a knee.

Joey Atkinson sits hunched toward his computer, while Karma, a floppy-eared rescue dog, sits by his side.

"When you get stressed out and you have those kind of moments where you need something to lean on, it's great to have your dog right there," Atkinson says.

Keep Those Snacks Under Wraps

Of course, not all dogs are suited for the office, experts say. Nor is everyone always agreeable to having four-legged co-workers around.

The Humane Society of the United States recommends that companies' pet policies stipulate that dogs be in good health, are spayed or neutered and — perhaps most importantly — have good manners.

Norfleet admits employees need to be vigilant about leaving stray sandwiches on a desk.

As for conference calls? Norfleet says the dogs can sometimes throw folks on the other end of the line. "It's a little disconcerting to other people who work in offices around the world. [They'll ask] 'Who's dog is that? Are you at home?' "

But most RSA staffers maintain the benefits outweigh the occasional disruption — even employees like Elicia Laport, who doesn't own a dog herself.

"You just can't take things too seriously when you're surrounded by all these dogs," Laport says.

Danielle Krause says her dog Ziggy loves his office routine, and — perhaps unlike his human colleagues — hates weekends.

"He knows Saturdays we're not going to work, so he sleeps in. Sundays he sleeps in. But Mondays, he's by the door, waiting to go," Krause says.

Suddenly, a commotion pops up over a squeaky toy, and then, a calm and smiling golden lab named Tank pleasantly sees a departing visitor to the door.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

When a workplace goes to the dogs, well, that could be a good thing. Studies through the years have documented the health benefits of canine companions, but there's evidence that dogs in the workplace can make employees happier and more productive. Gloria Hillard reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)

GLORIA HILLARD, BYLINE: At RSA Films in Los Angeles, one of the company's newer additions greeted me at the front door. He sized me up and then acted as if he wanted me to follow him down the hall. I glanced up at the receptionist.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That was Harrison. RSA.

HILLARD: Excuse me, Harrison didn't come by here did he? I was told to try Tracy's office.

TRACY NORFLEET: Sit.

HILLARD: Sure enough, there with Tracy Norfleet was Harrison, long legs and butterfly ears, along with Ziggy, a Bichon mix, and Ippo, a large shaggy blonde with a yellow bow.

NORFLEET: This is sort of the headquarters here because I think this is where all the treats are stashed.

HILLARD: About a dozen dogs accompany their owners in this Los Angeles office.

LEA CARNAHAN: Can you give us that other list that you guys just came up with?

HILLARD: Lea Carnahan's dog, a Corgi mix by the name of Chuck, lazes at her feet.

CARNAHAN: In the middle of a crazy day, I just look at his face and it calms me right down.

HILLARD: Lowering stress is just one of the positive benefits of dogs in the workplace, according to a recently published study from Virginia Commonwealth University. Co-author Dr. Sandra Barker says dogs also make for a more satisfying work experience.

DR. SANDRA BAKER: The vast majority of employees listed positive things about the dogs; that they reduced stress, made them feel more comfortable, they contributed to their communication.

HILLARD: An estimated 17 percent of businesses are dog-friendly, according to a survey by the American Pet Products Association, including corporate giants like Google and Amazon.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

HILLARD: Dog-friendly Authentic Entertainment in Burbank, California has over a 100 employees. Co-owner Tom Rogan says his staff view dogs at work as a fringe benefit.

TOM ROGAN: And I think that translates into how people approach their jobs .If they're happier in the workplace - and that's contributing to it - then they are becoming more productive.

HILLARD: Here a number of desks have dog beds and a scattering of dog toys underneath them. Occasionally, a pooch peeks out from around the corner. Others quietly stroll the vast office, occasionally stopping to nudge a knee. Joey Atkinson was hunched toward his computer, while Karma, a floppy-ear rescue, sat by his side.

JOEY ATKINSON: You know, when you get stressed out and have those kind of moments where you need, you know, something to lean on, it's great to have your dog right there.

HILLARD: Of course, not all dogs are suited for the office, experts say. And not everyone is agreeable to having four legged co-workers around. The Humane Society of the United States recommends that companies adopt a pet policy that stipulates dogs be in good health, are spayed or neutered and have good manners.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

HILLARD: Back At RSA Films in Los Angeles, Tracy Norfleet admits you need to watch the occasional sandwich on the desk and conference calls?

NORFLEET: It's a little disconcerting, I think, to other people work in offices around the world. Whose dog is that? Are you at home? Uh...

HILLARD: But most maintain the benefits outweigh an occasional disruption even for employees who aren't dog owners, like Elicia Laport.

ELICIA LAPORT: You just can't take things too seriously when you're surrounded by these dogs.

HILLARD: Bichon-mix Ziggy hates weekends according to his owner, Danielle Krause.

DANIELLE KRAUSE: He knows Saturdays were not going to work so he sleeps in. Sundays he sleeps in. But Mondays he's by the door waiting to go.

(SOUNDBITE OF SQUEAKY TOY)

HILLARD: There seemed to be some commotion over a squeaky toy. That's when a calm and smiling golden lab by the name of Tank walked me to the door.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

HILLARD: For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.