Is Google Going to the Dogs? The Benefits of Dogs in the Workplace

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Researchers have been telling us for years that dogs are good for us, even if they’re sometimes a little hard on our carpets, gardens, and shoes. Petting a dog can actually lower your blood pressure; having a canine companion may reduce depression and loneliness; and children raised with dogs less likely to have allergies.

A study conducted by the University of Missouri – Columbia has also demonstrated that petting a dog releases mood elevating hormones such as serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, while decreasing stress hormones.

Nursing Homes and Assisted Living centers have been catching on to the health and mental health benefits of canines and felines alike. For many residents, visits from Pet Therapy volunteers mark the highlight of their week and a growing number of facilities now come equipped with full-time resident cats.

A handful of universities have likewise discovered the benefits of allowing students to keep a dog in their dorms. Being allowed to keep a dog reduces homesickness and depression. Students are less likely to stay out all hours partying or to oversleep and miss a class if they have a dog that needs to be fed and taken out on a regular basis. College is supposed to be as much about learning self-discipline, time management, and responsibility as it is about mastering academic material. What better way to practice those skills than by being fully responsible for a pet, especially when Mom and Dad aren’t around to help?

Now businesses are starting to catch-up. If your company operates out of an office building in Manhattan and you don’t want your employees distracted by having to be home at a certain hour to take Fido out, what do you do? Make every day a Bring Your Dog to Work Day. And that’s exactly what Google has done.

According to Google, dogs play an important role in enhancing the quality of life and  boosting office morale.

When I worked at Montgomery County Government‘s Human Resources Offices, we originally occupied a suite in a small building across the street from the County Courthouse, a building we shared with an audiologist. Our building backed up to an alley and we began noticing a medium size dog knocking over garbage cans in search of food. The little fur this dog had left (most of it having been lost to mange), hung in thick knots. Rags, as we began calling him, was terrified of people. None of us could get near him, but we were able to leave dog food and water out for him. We even took turns running up to the office on Saturdays and Sundays to feed him. Before Rags showed up, we had been a loosely knit staff, each of us holed up in our respective cubby-hole-of-an-office. Now we grew closer, our audiologist-neighbor included, as we worked towards the common goal of taming and  saving Rags.

Weeks of food, water, and kindness slowly paid off. Rags no longer bolted the moment one of us set foot out the back door, but waited some thirty feet away while we put down his food and water. Over time, that distance was whittled down to ten feet, then five, and then, miracle of miracles, he accepted an especially tempting morsel of food (from someone’s lunch, no doubt) from a human hand. Another week passed and we were able to lay a gentle hand upon his head, then stroke his back and, finally, slip a collar on him.

Rags was far less traumatized than we expected when Dennis, our Safety Officer, loaded him into his car and drove him home to his girlfriend who was a professional dog groomer. A few medicated shampoos and couple of trips to the vet later, Rags began growing a lovely, silky black coat which fell in gentle ringlets much like a Labradoodle’s.

In the meantime the audiologist, a gentleman well into his sixties, whose children were all grown and gone, convinced his highly reluctant wife that the one thing their meticulous, expensively furnished two-story home with a spaciouse fenced yard needed was a dog. And so Rags went from  a back alley life of rags and dumpster diving to an upscale suburban life of riches: two square meals a day, frequent walks, a bed to call his own, and all the toys and rawhide bones a dog could want. Unfortunately, the latter did not prevent Rags from chewing the corner of the rug. Luckily for Rags, by then  the couple had grown far too attached to him to toss him back out onto the streets. He had filled the hole their children had left behind, even if he had left a hole in their luxurious rug.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to boost employee morale, consider allowing your staff to bring their dogs to work with them. Or maybe your office could commit to fostering a dog for a canine rescue organization, with one employee taking on the responsibility of taking the foster dog home nights and weekends. You could even pick a breed to serve as your company mascot.

My husband and I own an air conditioning and heating company  and we have adopted not one, not two, but four rescue dogs, three of whom accompany me to the office each day and head home with me each night. (One pictured here as a puppy, fresh out of the animal shelter).  I may not work for Google, but at least I enjoy one of the same perks as Google’s employees: my dogs by my side.

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Walmart Special: Free Knee Replacements. Is Patient-Bundling The Next Big Trend in Healthcare Coverage?

x-ray of kneeWalmart and Lowe’s have taken the notion of the super discount to a whole new level.  They have contracted with four medical centers across the United States to perform knee-replacement and hip-replacement surgeries at no-cost to their insured employees and their dependents (1.4 million eligible people in all). The program is strictly voluntary; employees are still free to use other surgeons and medical centers, if they don’t mind paying their usual deductible and coinsurance. However, those who have their surgeries performed at the contracted centers will not have to pay anything at all.  Nada.  Not only that, the patients’ and their caregivers’ travel expenses will also be covered.

This contractual agreement is part of a, “growing trend in which health care providers receive a negotiated bundled payment.”  (Beth Howard, “A New Ticket to FREE Joint Replacement”, AARP Bulletin, January-February 2014).

The contracted medical centers were reportedly selected based on their high volume of joint operations and their low rates of complications and repeat operations. These four facilities are:  John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center (Baltimore), Virginia Mason (Seattle), Kaiser Permanente (Irvine, California), and Mercy Hospital (Springfield, Missouri).

David Lansky, CEO of the Pacific Business Group Health Negotiating Alliance explains that Such arrangements are attractive to employers because they  “provide transparent and predictable costs.” 

No doubt, Walmart and Lowes are receiving steeply discounted prices based on sheer quantity. Organizations and corporations with substantially fewer employees may not be able to strike such a deal, unless, perhaps, they band together as a coop.

If you design and contract healthcare benefits for a large organization, could patient-bundling help you to predict and contain medical costs?  This strategy may be especially attractive if your organization offers a self-insured benefit plan.

On the flipside, given the publicity of Walmart’s and Lowe’s latest employee benefits, what’s to stop  individuals who have been considering hip or knee replacement surgery from inundating the two firms with job applications?

Lowe’s encourages us, in its ads, to “Never Stop Improving.”  So why not do a little hardware replacement on our bodies as well as on our homes?