Harvey is no ordinary canine. The 3-year-old boxer has a full-time job, working almost every day at Greensboro, N.C.-based Replacements, Ltd.
“Every morning he’s standing by the front door, waiting to go to work,” says Harvey’s owner, Sara Vestal, restoration manager. “He’s been coming with me since he was 6 weeks old, and he truly thinks this is his job. If he sees me taking something out of a box, he grabs a box too and is by my side trying to help.”
Pets in this workplace may sound a bit farfetched, considering the company is known as the world’s largest retailer of old and new china, crystal, silver and collectibles. But among Replacements’ inventory of 13 million fragile items, you’ll find a pit bull in this china shop, along with a beagle, several miniature dachshunds and dozens of other canines every day. And look out for the cats, and yes, a fish. An opossum has even graced the company’s retail store with her visit.
Replacements implemented its pet-friendly policy more than 17 years ago, after Founder and CEO Bob Page received a dog for his birthday and couldn’t bear to leave him home alone. Once Page started bringing his dog, he realized his employees might enjoy having their pets as well, and opened the company to animal friends. In fact, the company’s front doors read, “All Well-Behaved Pets Welcome.” Replacements is one of the top tourist destinations for central North Carolina, encouraging customers to bring pets to shop, while its monthly employee pet feature is popular on the company’s website.
At a company known worldwide for its diversity and progressive workplace policies, many employees, including Vestal, believe this is one of the best benefits.
“Having Harvey here is a comfort; it relaxes me. If I have to stay late, I don’t have to worry about getting home to let him out or what he’s gotten into during the day. If I’m having a bad day, doesn’t matter, he’s in my corner. And taking him out for a walk on my break really allows me to catch a breath I generally wouldn’t allow myself, giving me the chance to refocus.”
A recently released scientific study reinforces Vestal’s perceptions. Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University spent a week at Replacements delving deeper into the impact of dogs at work. The VCU team surveyed and monitored stress levels among three test groups: those who brought their dogs to work every day, dog owners who left their pets at home, and those who do not own any pets. Their work marks the first quantitative study conducted in the workplace on the psychological and physiological impact of pets.
“What surprised us most is the fact stress actually decreased throughout the day among those participants who brought their dogs to work, while stress levels significantly increased for those who left their dogs at home or don’t own pets,” says principal researcher Randolph T. Barker, Ph.D., professor of management at VCU’s School of Business. “We also found it very interesting that about half of those who bring their dogs to work said their productivity increased with their dog present. Additional findings indicate having pets in the workplace also increases cooperation among coworkers.”
Barker also notes employees as a whole had higher job satisfaction than industry norms. He believes establishing pet-friendly policies could be a great benefit that doesn’t hamper a company’s bottom line.
“I think leadership in many organizations may be hesitant to allow animals in the workplace, but our study indicates pet presence may serve as a low-cost, wellness intervention readily available to many companies and may enhance organizational satisfaction and perceptions of support.”
Replacements’ formal pet policy requires all animals must be current on vaccinations, polite to people and other pets, and stay on a leash near their owners unless contained in an office or cubicle space. Owners are also required to clean up after any “accidents.”
“Companies interested in starting pet-friendly practices might want to start small,” suggests Public Relations Manager Lisa Conklin. “Consider having a pilot day to gauge how pet presence works for your organization. You might try it for a half-day, on a slow day or even a Friday to determine the best fit for your employees and your business.”
Conklin adds pet owners must be sensitive to the fact some people have allergies or may be fearful of animals. Likewise, other employees should not be permitted to aggravate or intimidate pets.
“We’ve seen many instances where employees actually got to know each other better through their pets. I do think it means a great deal to us here – it’s hard not to smile when you’re greeted by a wagging tail and friendly face!”