Orion Associates, Meridian Services and Zenith Services strive to create a work environment that is friendly and welcoming towards its employees and supportive of their personal lives.  As a part of that effort, the organization has established an “Open Work Environment” policy (the policy text included below) that allows employees to have their children and pets in the workplace, within certain guidelines.

In order to provide a place where employees can have their children at work, the organization included a Day Care Center as a part of its Metropolitan Office’s expansion and remodeling.  The Day Care Center, called Little Stars Kids’ Club, is open for all employees, to provide care for their children between the ages of six and eleven.  When it opens, Little Stars will offer a structured curriculum, led by trained staff.  There will also be options for limited daily emergency care when employees need it the most.  Little Stars Kids Club is intended to be a nurturing environment where all children will be encouraged to succeed.

While pets are regularly present in the workplace, as a part of its pet-friendly policy, the organization hosts an annual “Bring Your Dog to Work Day.”  This year, the event took place on July 29th and over a dozen dogs visited the Metropolitan and Saint Cloud offices that day.

Orion Associates was recognized in a feature about pets in the workplace, in The Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper, on August 1 and 2, 2008.  The link to the article and the text of the article are included below:

Globe and Mail Update
August 1, 2008

Maybe you’ve seen the cartoon that shows a cat sitting snugly – some would say smugly – on a computer keyboard, under the heading, “Why ‘Take Your Cat to Work Day’ never caught on.”  While a feline focused workday is probably not in the cards for many companies, an astounding number of employers allow pets at work either as a regular practice or in a pet-sitting emergency.

A recent poll by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association suggests nearly one in five companies permit pets.  Benefits range from reduced employee absenteeism to workers agreeing to put in more hours because they’re not fretting about racing home to walk the dog or feed the cat her vittles.

Not every workplace is ideal for animals, though.  Health care, food service and factory settings are obvious no-go zones.  But so are those where numerous employees are allergic, phobic or simply regard pets as pests.

Is it possible to keep puppy-lovers and puppy-loathers in the same ballpark or are pet-friendly companies barking up the wrong tree?

Calming effect

Toni Thulen, Chief Financial Officer of Orion Associates, a management company in Golden Valley, Minnesota, outside Minneapolis, is definitely a dog person.  Her office even has a doggie-sized door for her pup, Ellie, put in when they recently renovated the seventy-employee office.

She says having a dog at work keeps workers happier.  It seems her co-workers agree.  Recently, it was Take Your Dog to Work Day and 20 dogs were at the office hanging out in crates and in the halls.  The receptionist’s desk had three boxes of milk bones ready and waiting.

“You know how hectic it can be at the office.  There are times when I get completely stressed out and instead of getting up and walking around the halls to take a break, I walk over to my dog to give her a hug.  She just has such a calming effect,” she says.

Coming to the office can be good for the animals too, says Tim Trow, president of the Toronto Humane Society.

“I think animals like to be with their family.  They don’t like to be left alone,” he says, adding that as long as the animal doesn’t mind being moved, has a comfy place to sleep, has access to cool water and gets a bit of exercise each day, there shouldn’t be a problem.

Pet Peeves

Mr. Trow says the decision to allow animals in the office needs to be agreed to by everyone, especially as allergies seem to be on the rise and some people are afraid of animals.  Then there’s the possibility of distracting barking, meowing, lapping, squeaking and, well, a mess on the carpeting.  It’s easy to see why some employees think Take Your Dog to the Company Picnic is a better option.

And don’t forget employees at other workplaces nearby.

“In an office tower, people might not want pets in the lobby or they’re afraid to be in an elevator with one,” says Mr. Trow.

Meanwhile, Ms. Thulen says Orion requires one thing:  “Stoop and scoop.”

“We have a policy that if you’re going to go outside with your dog, you’ve got to take a bag with you and clean up after,” she says.

Other companies have a “three-strikes and they’re out” guideline.  If an animal bites, scratches or makes too much noise three times, they’re sent home.  No wonder fish is the Number Two choice of pet at the workplace according to a survey conducted for The HON Company, an office furniture company in Muscatine, Iowa.

What clients think

On the flipside, some clients love pets at their suppliers’ workplaces.  In fact, Roberta Fox, president and senior partner at Fox Group Telecom Consulting in Mount Albert, Ontario, gets work because she has her Bouvier, Shadow, in the office with her – and on the corporate website.  (Shadow’s title is Chief Morale and Security Officer and he gets about twenty-five e-mails a month, she says.) After going up against two other competitors, one United States potential client gave Fox Group the project because of Shadow’s presence.

“They saw we had our dog on our Web page and said, ‘Well, these guys must be kind of funky.  They said our attitude – and Shadow – was the tipping point for getting the work,” she says.

Still, she’s careful to let new clients know he’s on site before they arrive at her office for the first time.

“I say, ‘We have a company dog. If you’re comfortable, fine.  If you’re not, I have no problem putting him away while you’re visiting,” she says.  Two or three people a year take her up on the offer.

Hiring help

What happens if a potential hire doesn’t like dogs and the office is pro-canine? Obviously good companies hire for fit, but it would be a mistake to pass over a great employee in favour of a Jack Russell.  Still, pets can help employers get a better sense of an employee’s true personality, as Ms. Fox found out a few years ago when she was hiring an experienced consultant.  She even had the offer ready, but when Shadow laid his head on the man’s lap – something she’s never seen him do before – the man slapped him away and started yelling.

“He went ballistic,” says Ms. Fox. “This gentleman spent the next five minutes berating me because I was so stunned.”

Another call to the man’s references turned up a new, interesting development. Asked point blank about his personality, and it came out the consultant was known to have an explosive, abusive temper.

“My dog was trying to tell me something,” Ms. Fox says.

Orion Associates’, Meridian Services’ and Zenith Services’
“Open Work Environment” policy:

Children:  The organization allows children to be in the workplace, particularly in the company’s offices, provided that the employee’s duties do not involve direct service with consumers.  Children’s presence in the workplace must be transitional in nature, as a temporary measure in the event of illness or a problem with day care.  The transitional nature of the children’s presence also means that it is acceptable on an occasional daily basis, but is not considered an option for an extended number of days, such as a week.  Children may not be in the workplace as a means of child care.  While allowed, children in the workplace should not be routine.  Under no circumstances can children be disruptive with their parent or other employees.  All determinations as to what is considered appropriate regarding the presence of children in the workplace is at the discretion of one’s supervisor.

Pets:  The organization allows pets, usually dogs, to be in the workplace, particularly the company’s offices.  Pets must be properly confined and must not cause property damage.  Pets may not be permitted under certain circumstances, such as shared office space without the consent of the co-worker or in the event that a co-worker has an allergy to that animal.  Pet owners must clean up after their pets, both indoors and outdoors.  While allowed, pets in the workplace should not be routine.  Under no circumstances can pets be disruptive with their owner or other employees.  All determinations as to what is considered appropriate regarding the presence of pets in the workplace is at the discretion of one’s supervisor.

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