From K-9s to 1099s: Pet-friendly firm boosts morale

By Tracy Crevar Warren

With a fragile economy still struggling to rebound, employers continue to search for ways to boost morale and productivity in 2011. Clarksville, Tennessee-based CPA firm Stone, Rudolph & Henry (SR&H) has found a secret to success in Rocky.

This bright-eyed Bichon Frise has been part of the SR&H team for three years. Although Rocky didn't originally come to the firm to improve morale, his presence has made a positive impact on SR&H.

While SR&H gives Take Your Dog to Work Day a whole new meaning, the American Humane Association indicates that organizations can receive a number of benefits from creating pet-friendly workplaces, including:

  • Increased staff morale and worker productivity
  • Increased camaraderie among employees
  • Happier employees result in enhanced job performance

A study by the American Pet Products Producers Association offers additional insight:

  • One in five companies in the U.S. allow pets in the workplace
  • 55 million Americans believe having pets in the workplace leads to a more creative environment
  • 53 million believe having pets in the workplace decreases absenteeism
  • 50 million believe having pets in the workplace helps co-workers get along better
  • 38 million believe having pets in the workplace creates a more productive work environment

Lessons learned from an IRS audit

SR&H began its transition to a dog-friendly environment several years ago when Tom Henry, firm managing partner, purchased a puppy for his daughter, Josie. Initially the little pooch came to the office out of necessity, but it quickly became clear that Rocky was more suited to life as an office dog than stay at home during the week.

The professionals at SR&H learned many valuable lessons in Rocky's early days that were essential in creating an atmosphere allowing its employees, clients, and others to successfully co-exist with its new four-legged friend.

"I still remember that infamous IRS audit." Henry said. "The meeting was being held at one end of the building behind closed doors, and I could hear Rocky barking from his cage all the way at the other end, to the point of howling as the auditor interviewed my client. Fortunately she was a dog person, and that seemed to set the tone. The audit went extremely well, to which we can credit Rocky."

Training is essential

Following the IRS audit, it was evident that some formal training was needed to help Rocky adapt to his new life in a professional services firm. In fact, it was an essential success factor.

Unfortunately, Rocky's obedience classes were necessary at the height of busy season. As SR&H quickly realized, tax season wasn't the best time to create a pet-friendly work space. Despite the timing, Rocky had perfect attendance in his classes, and he quickly put the lessons to work.

"Most office visitors rarely know Rocky is there now," said Henry. "He generally sits quietly underneath my desk during client meetings, seldom making a sound. Rocky's presence is revealed, however, when an observant visitor notices his water bowl, or hears the occasional clank of his leash."

A positive start to the day

SR&H team members are greeted each day with a visit from Rocky. It's a daily ritual when he arrives at the Stone, Rudolph & Henry offices. This is a classic example of a win-win partnership. Employees benefit from a personal welcome to start their day, while Rocky gets treats.

Donna Wade, the firm's Write-Up Team Leader, meets him with a treat first thing every morning. "Seeing Rocky is a great way to begin my workday," Wade said. "He's always happy to see me, and disappointed when I'm not in the office."

Added benefits for employee meetings

It's no secret that today's professionals are overrun with meetings. Rocky has made a positive impact in this area too. He brings sincerity, playfulness, and a bit of humor to internal firm gatherings. He's also good at communicating through his keen non-verbal skills when things get long-winded.

"Sometimes he commands his own chair at our meetings." Henry said. "Often at long meetings, he's been known to stretch out completely across the conference table. In more than one meeting, apparently the boring ones, Rocky's been heard snoring."

Cream of the Crop marketing awards

"One of the firm's popular events, the SR&H Cream of the Crop awards, is also a favorite with Rocky," said Shea Bradford, director of marketing. "It's a regular time for us to celebrate business development success by recognizing our professionals for their contributions.

"It could be the stories that fellow SR&H team members share about why they won the new business. Or watching the delight on the faces of those awarded with the giant plastic ice cream cone to mark their rainmaking efforts. But we all know it's the homemade ice cream that Rocky really enjoys," Bradford said.

Territory games

"Although having a pet in the office has been good for morale, it's not always smooth sailing," said Henry. "On the leash, he is the consummate professional. But Rocky can get a little territorial, as most dogs do, when he's not leashed."

Rocky is protective of Henry's office and corner of the hallway from anyone he isn't familiar with, such as clients and new employees. There are also a few people that he has just decided not to like. It's important to note that his guarding is only to bark. Team members and frequent visitors know that food treats do the trick in this territorial situation.

Keys to success

Rocky has been a wonderful addition to the SR&H team. Maybe a pet-friendly workplace can be an effective tool in boosting morale and productivity in your firm too. If so, here are some recommendations to help you get started:

  • Conduct some due diligence - talk to other pet-friendly employers
  • Read Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces by Liz Palika and Jennifer Fearing
  • Set ground rules for pet owners and their pets
  • Get the necessary training for pet owners and their pets in advance
  • Have a trial run to make sure it is right for your firm
  • Consider Take Your Dog to Work Day, which is June 24 this year, as a start date
  • Avoid your firm's busy season to get started
  • Help employees and clients understand how to best interact with the animals

If you decide to welcome pets into your workplace, you'd better keep a few dog treats handy too, just in case.

About the author:

Founder of The Crevar Group, Tracy Crevar Warren helps professional services firms win more new business and build more profitable practices. A sought-after consultant, facilitator, author and speaker, she advises clients on practice growth through marketing, sales and client service. With a proven track record and positive high-energy style, she inspires and empowers practitioners to do more of the work they love. She has just finished working on her first book Bull's-Eye! The Ultimate How-To Marketing & Sales Guide for CPAs produced by the AICPA. Warren can be reached at 336-889-GROW (4769) or www.thecrevargroup.com.

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