Need a Morale Booster? Therapy Dogs Can Help

Work is stressful by itself, but with added layers of stress from having to process outside emotions and hardships, it becomes difficult to give the best service that is should be offered. Allowing a therapy dog in the workplace can help employees reduce stress, and become calmer throughout the day. Read this blog post to learn more about how therapy dogs in the workplace can be beneficial to the work environment.

The Evergreen Health services facility in Buffalo, N.Y., is buzzing with anticipation several days before Stella arrives. Some staff even seek out Matthew Sydor, the director of housing and retention services at the health care agency, days ahead of time to confirm her arrival. Others have requested a calendar invite from him so they can plan their day around her visit.

The middle-aged golden retriever is a certified therapy dog, and her visits are a hit with employees.

Therapy dogs are common in what Sydor describes as the "helping" fields. Bringing therapy dogs into any workplace, he says, is an opportunity to break up the day for employees and give them something to look forward to at no cost.

"At our agency we work with many people who have gone through traumatic experiences. All work is stressful, but layers of stress are added when you are helping others to process their own emotions and hardships," he explained. "The compounding stress makes it difficult to best serve our patients at a high level. Having a therapy dog in the building helps staff to participate in a self-care activity."

Stella's owner, Krista Vince Garland, Ph.D., is an associate professor of exceptional learning at Buffalo State College. The pair specializes in animal-assisted interventions in educational settings but are receiving an increasing number of requests to visit local workplaces.

"Everyone who visits Stella has the same comments: 'I feel so much better. She's brightened my day,' " Vince Garland said. "Aetna also did a study in 2017 that shows tremendous promise on the benefits of therapy dogs in the workplace. Employee sick days were down, morale was up and interactions among co-workers increased."

Having dogs in the workplace isn't a new concept, but it's a concept that hasn't been widely embraced. Only about 11 percent of companies in the United States allow pets in the office, according to the Society for Human Resource Management Employee Benefits 2019 survey.

Paul LeBlanc is the founder and CEO of Zogics, a Massachusetts-based fitness, cleaning and body care company. S'Bu, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, was LeBlanc's first employee.

"When you look at [Inc. magazine's] list of best places to work, 47 percent of those companies allow dogs in the office," he said. "Studies have shown that petting a dog for five to 10 minutes causes a reduction of blood pressure and the dogs have calming effects on people."

But not all employers are ready to go "all-in" like Zogics. For these workplaces, therapy dogs are a viable alternative. Sydor and Vince Garland share insight into what has made their partnership successful and offer tips any business can use.

Communicate. No one likes a surprise, even if it's a friendly four-legged canine. Talk with staff first to address any questions or concerns. Arrange a quick meet-and-greet to give the dog a chance to get used to the environment before interacting with employees.

"This also gives the administrator a chance to touch the dog and make sure it is clean and well-groomed. Therapy dogs are required to have a bath within 24 hours of any visit," Vince Garland said.

Distributing a fact sheet helps with the introduction of a therapy team. Once a visit is established, send a reminder a day prior.

"I suggest telling your staff why you're bringing therapy dogs in and advertise it as much as possible to employees," Sydor said.

Verify credentials. Ask about the team's training. Certifications are not required of service dogs and emotional support dogs. However, therapy dogs must complete training. Stella is an American Kennel Club (AKC) Good Citizen and has earned certifications through Therapy Dogs International and the SPCA Erie County Paws for Love.

"There's a lot of fake information out there. If someone is shy about sharing that information, that's a clue that more discussion is needed," Vince Garland said.

Sydor added, "We found Krista and Stella through Erie County SPCA's Paws for Love, and it has been a great partnership. They hold liability insurance for any damage that may occur. All dogs are well-trained, and the handlers are consistent with how they conduct their work."

Acknowledge cultural differences. "Care must be taken to respect cultural sensitivities," Vince Garland said. "Some cultures regard dogs as unclean, others view dogs as nuisances, while others believe spirits may appear as animals."

Designate a point of contact. This person handles scheduling visits, interacting with the team, and confirming vaccinations and liability insurance. The ideal individual works well with people and is animal-friendly, according to Vince Garland.

Create a space for the team. Not everyone will embrace dogs. Designating space separate from the main workflow respects the space of those employees who choose not to interact with the dog.

"Evergreen has given us a room for visits," Vince Garland said. "By being out of the flow, we're able to meet with staff who are interested without making others feel uncomfortable."

SOURCE: Navarra, K. (13 January 2020) "Need a Morale Booster? Therapy Dogs Can Help" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from

Inviting Remote Workers to the Holiday Party

Are your employees working remotely? Owl Labs found that at least 62 percent of employees work remotely once a month, and 49 percent of those work remotely full-time. Further research from Buffer discovered that remote employees cite loneliness as their second-largest struggle. Read this blog post to learn more.

Text messaging-based personal shopping concierge service Jet black has 370 employees, two-thirds of whom work outside of its New York headquarters. When it comes time for its annual holiday party no one is left out, though. Instead, remote workers get their own take on the festivities so everyone feels like part of the team.

Jet black's holiday celebrations include a company-wide gift exchange, deliveries of restaurant gift cards to those who work the holidays, and a remote holiday meet-up.  "We make a conscious effort not only to include but also engage our remote employees," explained Odette Lindheim, the company's director of people operations. "We get a room that's central to our remote workers, set up games and snacks, send them company swag, and put on holiday music. People are invited to come for an hour or all day. It gives our people working from home offices a way to get that office party feeling even if they don't normally go into an office."

'Tis the Season

Holiday parties have a firm foothold in corporate America. At the same time, remote work is way up. The 2019 "State of Remote Work Report" by Owl Labs found that 62 percent of employees worked remotely at least once a month; 49 percent of those respondents say they work remotely full-time. According to Buffer's "State of Remote Work 2019" report, remote workers also cite loneliness as the second-largest struggle they face.

Keeping these facts in mind, HR managers and those who are planning the company holiday party may want to make a more concerted effort to bring remote workers into planning parties and celebrating, says S. Chris Edmonds, president and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group, a work culture consulting firm based in Conifer, Colo. They shouldn't feel isolated or alone during what is touted as the happiest time of the year.

"Keeping people connected and sharing information with each other is something companies must think about throughout the year. Sharing common experiences and giving employees the opportunity to have some fun around the holidays helps improve relationships and is immensely powerful," he said.

The most obvious way to accomplish this is to fly everyone in for whatever event you plan at the main office. This may not be the easiest option for those companies that have a significant number of remote employees, though, simply due to cost and logistics. For some companies—although flights, hotels, and meals add up—the extra cost and trouble can be worth it, says Cheryl Johnson, chief human resources officer at Chicago-based software company Paylocity. Johnson, for example, piggybacks her own 150-person department's—half of whom are remote—holiday celebration with a staff-wide meeting and professional development program.

"As a company, when we look at employee experience, we believe that everything should be equitable," Johnson said. "We budget a certain amount per head and plan events that cater to every group."

There's a similar plan in place at the Ken Blanchard Companies, although inclusion takes a more virtual bent. About half of the company's 300 employees work remotely, with office locations scattered across the U.S., France, the United Kingdom, and Asia. In order to show appreciation and create team bonding, the company holds an annual Shop and Share program, sending out $50 to every employee and asking them to do a show-and-tell with what they buy. Originally, the company flew everyone in to the main Escondito, Calif., headquarters, but today that's changed.

"Now we start the Shop and Share program with an all-company meeting that everyone participates in, either in the headquarters or through a live broadcast. After the meeting and at an appointed hour, everyone goes out shopping for something for themselves," said Shirley Bullard, the company's chief administrative officer and vice president of HR. "Then we all come back and share our purchases with each other. As we have become more decentralized and people move into the field, [the program] becomes more and more important because it helps us stay connected."

Bullard says it's just one of many strategies that the company employs to help people feel engaged. Organizations that can't fly everyone in can try holding a similar virtual holiday celebration, using Facebook, Google Hangouts or Zoom so employees can interact and get that crucial face-to-face contact that helps bring people together.

It's also important that all employees get the same holiday perks whether they make it to a holiday party or not. At Paylocity, for instance, remote employees who don't live close enough to one of the three office-hosted parties can choose from three end-of-year gifts. This year, those employees will also get in on their annual party raffles, too. "We created a virtual raffle. In order to get that virtual ticket we want them to answer a survey question: What are you grateful for? It's new this year, and it's about giving people one more way to feel connected," said Johnson, who says it's just another piece of the company's overall remote employee inclusion program.

This kind of commitment is important, say experts. While it's nice that remote employees feel included during December, such efforts should be part of a larger, year-long program. "It's not just about the holidays," Bullard said. "It's about sharing life events throughout the year so [the employee] feels like a part of the organization no matter what. That's why anything we offer [at the main headquarters], we are always asking, 'How do we bring it to our remote staff?'"

SOURCE: Bannan, K. (12 December 2019) "Inviting Remote Workers to the Holiday Party–Remote workers should get to celebrate with co-workers—in person or virtually" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from