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2013

PetsAtWork_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.

 

You’ve heard it over and over again: office life today is much different than a generation or two ago. Jeans? Once forbidden, they are now perfectly acceptable to wear to a board meeting. Working from home? No longer frowned upon, but openly encouraged. And now added to the list of newly accepted practices—bringing your dog or cat to the office. But how do you know if your company should institute a Fido-friendly policy or be a pet-free workplace? We’ve detailed the pros and the cons of having furry friends curled up in the cubicles.

 

Pets = Productivity? 

Many large and extremely successful companies allow pets at work–Google, Amazon, Ben & Jerry’s to name a few—and they have research to support their pro-pet choice. Studies have shown that if Molly the beagle or Cindy the calico accompany workers to the office, they are more productive, efficient, and happier. Trupanion, a pet insurance company based in Seattle, Washington, has been pet-friendly since its beginnings in 1999 and currently, with 250 employees, has a one-to-three pet to employee ratio, one of the highest in the country. “We recognize the benefits every day of allowing pets in the workplace,” says Trupanion’s founder and CEO Darryl Rawlings. “When we need to take a minute to process our thoughts, our furry friends are right by our side for petting,” he explains. “When we're meeting a new co-worker, our pets help break the ice. And if we need to work late, we don't have to worry about rushing home to a lonely pet.”

 

Granted, for a pet insurance company, having an open doggie-door policy may seem an obvious choice. However, other small businesses not tied to the pet industry also encourage their employees to bring pets to the office for similar reasons. “A simple touch, a look of contentment, a break for a little playtime...all work toward a more laid-back atmosphere where creativity can flourish,” says Dick Grove, CEO of INK inc., a public relations firm based in Kansas City, Missouri.

 

Not For Everyone

Just because you don’t allow pets in your office doesn’t mean you are anti-pooch. Many small business owners love their pets but have found four-legged friends and their workspace just didn’t mix. “Having your dog hang around you all day while you're unavailable to give him/her the attention they deserve isn't really fair,” notes Gregory Ciotti, marketing director at Help Scout, a Boston-based email support software company. “It’s also unfair to assume that all of your co-workers are comfortable having your pet around all day, let alone the distractions they might cause.”

 

Although many companies cite an uptick in creativity and productivity when pets are around, Shreyans Parekh, director of business development and marketing for Koyal Wholesale, the world's largest wedding and event-supplies company, discovered the opposite. “We ran an experiment allowing dogs at work to lower stress levels and increase productivity,” says Parekh. “After four months, we eliminated it. Productivity, quarterly numbers, and error rates did not improve with the pets being present—in fact, [they] dropped during some weeks.”

 

Often, health concerns take priority over pet-friendly policies, especially when space is an issue. Self-proclaimed dog lover Kim Laudati owns two luxury beauty clinics, both of which are located in prime real estate areas of Manhattan. “At both locations, the subject of pet allergies is of great concern,” says Laudati. “I really wish that I had the square footage to have a dog sitting space so owners could bring their pets, but square footage is a premium in any big city, and much more so here in New York City.”

 

PetsAtWork_PQ.jpgBones of Thought to Chew On

No matter what you decide, guidelines regarding your pets in the workplace policy should be in place on the first day you start your business. If you keep your company animal-free, one or two lines stating that in the company handbook is fairly simple. However, allowing furry friends in the office requires detailed policy guidance to create an environment that is healthy and happy for both the pets and employees. Dr. Mallary Tytel, president and founder of Healthy Workplaces, LLC, works with small businesses to develop and sustain positive, productive, and successful work cultures. She says welcoming pets in the workplace is not for every business, but those that do need rules to ensure comfort and safety of both the employees and pets. “Most of the rules will be common sense, but paying serious attention to proper office etiquette is critical,” says Tytel.

 

What to outline in that pet policy? Everything from detailing the criteria on how animals are deemed acceptable to bring to the office to requiring up-to-date files on vaccinations and certificates for every pet that comes through your doors. “Communicate and enforce standards of behavior,” says Tytel, “One example is three accidents and you're out. [Also, be sure to] uphold a zero tolerance policy for any aggressive pets.” Tytel also suggests designating areas where pets do not go. “Identify and implement pet-free zones. These can include meeting areas, conference rooms, employee break rooms, cafeterias, and rest rooms,” she says.

 

Trupanion’s Rawlings agrees that implementing a finely tuned office policy is vital to reap the benefits of having pets at work. “We developed and tweaked our office pet rules to create a safe and productive environment for both employees and pets,” he says. “We have a designated Pet Team of employees, including those with veterinary clinic and pet care facility experience, who provide guidance and review incidents. Employees at Trupanion have a clear understanding of our office pet rules which apply equally to everyone from interns to executives.”

 

Though not as vital as that health insurance plan, definitive guidelines about pets in the workplace are key to the success of your company. And, remember, if furry friends are a no-go, yet you yearn for a pet in the workplace, there’s always Plan B: Bubbles, the beta fish.

TeamofRivals_Body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

 

America has always been imbued with the spirit of competition, especially in sports. Whether it’s a swimming race at a national heat or a championship tennis match, the drive to win is a powerful catalyst.

 

A similar mindset exists in the workplace, where very often employees vie for leads, coveted accounts, or simply power, with the same gusto they might display at an athletic contest. However, if not harnessed properly, competition can lead to a toxic, cutthroat culture resulting in high employee turnover and erosion of morale.

 

For small businesses with a skeletal workforce, this scenario can have particularly dire consequences to the bottom line. How then can internal competition at your workplace be leveraged positively and in a way that will strengthen your company’s bottom line? Below are a few tips:

 

Avoid positioning employees against each other

This is a surefire remedy for internal discord and disharmony. If you’re issuing a challenge to staffers, let them know what they will be judged on. Emphasize the effort.

 

Don Fornes, founder and CEO of Software Advice, an eight-year-old software consulting company based in Austin, Texas, often works with small business clients and agrees. “Don’t make it a zero-sum competition,” he stresses. “Rather make it where theoretically everyone can win.”

 

For example, Fornes says everyone at his company is eligible for the same rewards. “All employees receive a bonus if they hit their sales or performance goals,” he explains. “We don’t just offer a bonus to the one person who performs the best.”

 

TeamofRivals_PQ.jpgDon’t overstress the rewards

This takeaway might sound counterintuitive to anyone who has ever entered a contest or race but sometimes, it truly is the spirit of competition that drives and galvanizes people to do their best. Make the challenge light-hearted and fun. Employees shouldn’t feel that they’ve let down the entire organization because they couldn’t keep pace with a goal or win a challenge.

 

Kristy Sharrow, director of marketing for LevelEleven, a Detroit-based provider of software solutions that caters to small businesses, concurs. “The prize is less important than most people think,” she explains, adding that many of her company’s clients have run successful competitions that offered only “bragging rights” or “inexpensive incentives.”

 

One client, in particular, Sharrow notes, infused its competitions with playful humor. “They offered incentives like toy chatter teeth or a plaque that said, ‘Chatter It Up.’”

 

Her own company takes part in similar whimsy. “We run cold-calling competitions daily for a macho man figurine and everyone gets fired up to win it,” she says. “Another client just ran a contest with an incentive of milk and cookies. The employees loved it. Most of the time, it’s the competition itself that motivates employees—not what they’ll win.”

 

Emphasize improvement

To avoid turning your team of rivals into a team of backstabbing, Machiavellian power players, it’s important to place a premium on improvement rather than winning at all costs. Such a positive reinforcement may result in happier and more confident employees who may be induced to go the extra mile for you when times get tough.

 

Jim Grew, president of the Grew Company, a consultancy that frequently works with small businesses, subscribes to this best practice. Having mentored many small business leaders, Grew looks especially askance at the negative aspects of internal competition.

 

“Usually, it’s great at first, but then it erodes into competition for its own sake, with the wrong priorities emphasized,” he says.

 

Instead, says Grew, small business owners should reward improvement. “This requires carefully defined and specific targets, short timelines [to achieve goals] and encouragement by management,” he explains. “Try with two teams who may or may not compete directly. Ask the leaders what is one thing they could do to ramp up results in an amazing way? Guide them in picking the activity, and ensure that the measure is unambiguous. Tell them it’s a test.”

 

Grew tried this precise approach with a mid-size manufacturing client. “[We helped them structure] a small monthly bonus for all their employees if all orders were shipped on time with no errors or quality problems,” he says. “Earnings jumped $1 million in a year.”

 

Don’t make the competition interminable

To foster internal competition that will benefit your bottom line, make sure that the challenge you issue is for a specific length of time. You want to motivate your employees—not make them feel they’re running a marathon. With no end in sight, staffers might give up prematurely out of sheer fatigue, boredom, or frustration.

 

Sharrow echoes the sentiment. “If a [contest] drags on, it’s difficult to keep employees motivated to compete,” she says. “We suggest competitions run for anywhere between an hour and a few weeks. If it’s around something like a quarterly bonus, competitions can run longer. But that should be the exception.”

 

Keep employees in the loop

Lastly, to increase and maintain employee engagement, make sure each competition participant knows their individual standings as well as the deadline for the competition. Use in-person meetings, social media platforms, and e-mails to communicate updates. And be sure to stay consistent. If employees become confused about the details of the competition, the entire exercise loses its effectiveness.

 

Using competitions or challenges to motivate your staffers can be a great way to boost your bottom line while increasing employee engagement. But make sure they’re executed in a manner that encourages effort. Otherwise you may end up paying a costly price when it comes to both company morale and profitability.

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