Top dogs leading the office revolution

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“The dogs assist with building a sense of community at Red Energy. It’s easy for people not to spend time with other people and with the dogs you find out how easy it is to talk to people. Dogs make people more tolerant, more understanding and more open with people.”

Lole and Lola at Red Energy.

Lole and Lola at Red Energy.

Red Energy has 10,000 square metres of open-plan office built to encourage employees to move around. However, this large space means if people want to stay away from a dog they can.

“We built the building around trying to encourage people to walk as much as possible and in this situation people can go and see a dog if they want to and stay away from a dog if they don’t,” Graham says.

Around 40 per cent of households in Australia include dogs and a Harvard Medical School special health report found that “just petting a dog can reduce the petter’s blood pressure and heart rate”. Emmanuel Stamatakis, Professor of Physical Activity, Lifestyle, and Population Health at the University of Sydney says that more dogs in the workplace is a positive development.

”Dog ownership is widespread in our communities, why not in our offices,” says Stamatakis. “Dogs are a catalyst to social interactions, they break down barriers and encourage people to talk to one another.”

A survey of 857 American C-suite executives conducted by Kelton Global found that 93 per cent of those surveyed grew up with a pet. According to the survey, having dogs taught them “valuable lessons as a child, such as responsibility, empathy, and creativity – qualities they believe helped them to thrive … and had a positive impact on their ability to build relationships with coworkers and clients”.

Gracie at Clemenger BBDO.

Gracie at Clemenger BBDO.

And nowhere is this more evident than at Clemenger BBDO, one of Australia’s leading creative agencies which has global pet-care company Mars Petcare as one of its largest clients. “Mars has always nurtured having pets in the working environment and all their agencies around the world follow that mantra,” says Nick Garrett, CEO of Clemenger Group.

Garrett grew up with dogs and now finds himself working alongside them. Clemenger’s Melbourne office has up to 20 dogs on any given day.

“Bringing your dog to the office is a gift for a lot of people and there are a lot of dog lovers in our office so it creates a nice playful place, it sends a positive message – it creates a good vibe in any working culture,” Garrett says.

Recognising the cultural benefits, Australian executives are letting the dogs in, albeit often informally and without involving the ‘human’ resources department.

“We certainly were not following any new-age management practice, it grew organically,” Graham says of Red Energy.

Billie helps keep the team at at Red Energy focused.

Billie helps keep the team at at Red Energy focused.

“People have understood it is a privilege to bring a dog into the workforce so they act in a very responsible way. We don’t have a dog policy, we don’t have a list of rules regarding the dogs, but everyone understands that their dogs need to be well behaved, well kept, trained and well socialised; so common sense is the important thing. I think if we got to the stage of having a list of rules we probably would have failed.”

Stamatakis agrees. “We often miss out on the things that exist in our society that would benefit us greatly due to bureaucratic policies,” he says. “There are no Australian laws or regulations around dogs in corporate offices, it is at the discretion of individual organisations. To develop a dog policy that would satisfy everyone, forget it, it is perhaps better off as it is, dealt by each individual organisation at management discretion.

“If HR were formally involved there would be so much precaution and red tape people would get spooked out of it. ‘What if’ scenarios would dominate the agenda and I fear that the policies would be geared towards ‘protecting’ the part of the workforce that don’t like dogs, best to not universalise this,” adds Stamatakis.

Certainly dog policies can be successfully implemented, as evident at large global organisations such as Google, Amazon and Mars. And Clemenger has followed suit.

Nugget and Marlon cosy up at Clemenger BBDO.

Nugget and Marlon cosy up at Clemenger BBDO.

“We have a formal policy in place and there is a good pet behaviour mantra,” Garrett says. “It is expectant that the owner looks after their dog and if the dog is not going to behave and is not sociable – you don’t treat the area with respect, or your colleagues, the dog won’t come back and the opportunities for others to bring their dog in is minimised. We hope the dog policy continues to be a policy that we can uphold as we think it is a lovely thing to do.”

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As the corporate landscape changes with a more innovative and open-minded C-suite executive, office dogs are likely to be entering more Australian offices. “Tradition stops a lot of really good productive things in a workplace, because it is tradition and I feel we shouldn’t be bound by tradition, we should look at things with a fresh eye,” concludes Graham.

And while many employers look for non-financial ways to entice and retain talent, it would seem these forward-thinking leaders are certainly barking up the right tree.

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