Companies welcome pets to ease employee stress
Some of Virginia’s best workplaces are going to the dogs.
Companies are allowing employees to bring their dogs to work. Executives say the practice reduces employees’ stress while helping to build morale.
At Charlottesville-based Crutchfield Corp., for example, dogs are a constant presence and have become a reflection of the company’s corporate culture. “We’re pretty quirky,” says Chris Lilley, Crutchfield’s chief human resources officer.
Allowing pets at work is just one of the many steps taken by the Best Places to Work in Virginia to make their offices more welcoming. Research has found that workplace stress is a major contributor to employee absenteeism, low morale and burnout, all of which can cause reduced productivity.
This is the eighth year that Virginia Business has compiled the Best Places to Work in Virginia list in cooperation with Pennsylvania-based Best Companies Group.
This year, 175 entrants vied to be named one of the Best Places to Work in Virginia. A hundred were selected for the list in three categories: small (15-99 U.S. employees); midsize (100-249); and large, (250 or more).
The Best Companies Group made its selections based on surveys conducted with the companies and their employees.
Employee surveys, for example, were used to benchmark companies on a list of core values: leadership and planning, corporate culture and communication, role satisfaction, work environment, relationship with supervisor, training and benefits, pay and overall engagement.
Founder fond of dogs
Crutchfield’s connection with dogs is — like its business — a reflection of the interests of its founder.
William G. “Bill” Crutchfield started the company in 1974. When Crutchfield planned to sell a Porsche 356 coupe, he was unable to find anyone to help install an after-market car stereo.
That gave him an idea for a mail-order, car-stereo business. Since then, the company has expanded to offer a variety of consumer-electronic products. As the company has evolved, its workforce has grown from one employee to about 600.
Crutchfield, which launched a website in 1995, claims to be the first retailer to sell consumer electronics on the internet.
But let’s not forget the dogs. Bill Crutchfield is a dog lover. A photo of him being licked by a dachshund is prominent on the company’s website.
Other dogs on the site, under the rubric “Crutchfield’s Furry Family,” run the gamut of breeds.
Just as Crutchfield evolved as a company, it has morphed into a dog-friendly environment. “It creates an informal atmosphere,” Lilley says.
Employees who bring their dogs to work tell him they are happier, and that positive attitude helps when the work starts piling up.
The company seems to be on solid ground in crediting pets with reducing stress. A number of studies, including one by Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012, have found that the presence of dogs in the workplace can make a difference in lowering an employee’s stress.
“On a daily basis we have dozens of dogs out here. They are really part of most departments,” says Kelly Greenstone, the company’s employee relations manager.
But, Lilley says, dogs don’t just roam the building. Some employees are allergic to dogs, and others simply are not dog people. They may be afraid of dogs and become nervous around them.
That’s where empathy and tolerance comes in. There are dog-free spaces and fur-free departments.
Employees also check with their cubicle mates and other co-workers before they bring in their dogs, Lilley says.
“That’s what I really like: watching employees take care of each other. It’s very self-policing,” he says.
Crutchfield also strives to relieve stress through a variety of wellness programs, including exercise and mindfulness classes.
The company also has a “gratitude board” where employees can post comments about what they are most grateful for.
But it’s the presence of dogs that gets everyone’s attention.
Sticking to the stairs
Crutchfield is not the sole company on the Best Places to Work list using dogs to lower workplace stress.
Centreville-based Carfax brags about its dogs in the Best Places to Work survey. The company provides vehicle history information for buyers and sellers of used cars.
“Dogs are great stress relievers,” the company says in the survey. “Having dogs in the office creates excitement and a loving environment. Some of our dogs come dressed in a different outfit every day — people can’t wait to see what they’re wearing.”
Adrienne Webster, vice president of human resources at Carfax, says dogs also provide their human handlers with a health benefit. Walking the dog helps to keep the owner fit.
Webster says that the company’s employee handbook emphasizes “no jerks” in the workplace. The same policy applies to dogs. Employees are responsible for making sure their pets are well behaved.
“Dogs aren’t allowed on elevators. They have to take the stairs,” is one of the company rules that Webster says help keep dogs in line. “We haven’t had any incidents,” of misbehaving dogs, she adds.
Allowing pets in the office is not the only way to keep stress under control.
For example, Virginia Distillery Co. in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Nelson County uses flexible scheduling to permit employees to handle personal concerns, such as attending a child’s school event or keeping a doctor’s appointment.
Having that flexibility is important to employees who are working to build the company’s brand.
At the World Whiskies Awards last year, one of the distillery’s products was named the Best American Single Malt Whisky.
Meanwhile, the distillery’s flagship American Single Malt is still aging, with a release date set for 2019.
In addition to its flexible scheduling, the company also does well by doing good. Its community projects include volunteering at the local food pantry and producing a special single-barrel release of whisky whose proceeds went to the Nelson County first-responder teams.
The company’s CEO, Gareth H. Moore of Charlottesville, says Nelson was chosen for the distillery for a compelling reason.
“Nelson County has a long tradition of manufacturing craft beverages — we are surrounded by great businesses like Devil’s Backbone brewery, Bold Rock cidery and a plethora of wineries. The community has a heritage of building these industries locally to create world-class products and also a culture of hospitality in welcoming people to their facilities to experience their products in person,” Moore says.
Pajamas and flip-flops
Sometimes you can reduce workplace stress by the clothes you wear. That’s one of the practices followed by Health Quality Innovators (HQI) in Richmond.
Employees, for example, are permitted to wear shorts to work when the temperature gets above 90 degrees in the summer, and the company celebrates National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day, which will be held April 16 this year.
“We wear business-like pajamas. It’s a lot of fun,” says Jenni Brockman, vice president, organizational growth and communications for the nonprofit, health-care quality consulting firm.
Brockman says the company strives to be creative in coming up with innovative ideas that help health-care providers and patients.
Some of the company’s creativity exercises for employees also involve clothing. For example, HQI held a contest in which employees were invited to create their own flip-flops.
One employee developed small, blow-up pools for flip-flops; another created platform-shoe flips-flops. The big winner was flip-flops made out of bacon.
“We try to have fun. It goes a long way toward relieving stress,” adds Heidi White, the company’s director of human resources.
Finding the right dress
Sometimes customers’ tension can trigger employees’ stress. That’s an issue that Ashley Kimberl tries to address.
Kimberl is president of All the Rage Stores, a special occasion dress shop that has locations in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.
In addition, she operates a prom and bridal business, Studio I Do. Customers include brides searching for wedding gowns and teenage girls looking for prom dresses. Finding the right look can be stressful for employees as well as customers.
Kimberl lowers the tension for employees by using a team approach to sales, “so they don’t have a bunch of quotas.”
In hiring for her sales team, she looks for people who are not only outgoing but are also adaptable.
“We have to be chameleons,” she says. “A big part of our training is talking about how you have to be able to mold yourself to every customer’s needs and wants.”
To boost employee morale, Kimberl holds staff meetings outside the shop and buys employees coffee or lunch.
Sometimes she splurges on stress relief. “We had a spa day. Everybody got their nails and feet done,” she says. “It was great.”
Virginia Business Best Places to Work 2017
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by Gary Robertson
Please enjoy a gallery of photos from our Best Places to Work awards luncheon. If you would like a copy of your company's photo, please contact Adrienne R. Watson at [email protected]business.com with the photo number.