Dogs boost morale for Columbia REA employees in Walla Walla | Lifestyles

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The Columbia Rural Electric Association building in Walla Walla is like any other workplace. It contains offices, a conference room, friendly people, playful dogs and…wait, dogs?

“Yes, there are dogs here,” said Jennifer Aichele, Columbia REA’s human resources manager.

The dogs are owned by employees of the utility co-op and have been going to work with their owners – when the building has not been closed due to the pandemic – since 2019.

Aichele developed the ‘bring your dog to work’ policy after REA had a new CEO in 2018.

“It all started when our CEO, Scott Peters, on his very first day as CEO, brought his dog,” Aichele said. “He said to me, ‘I want a ‘take your dog to work’ program.”

She didn’t know how to react at first.

“I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s never gonna work,'” she said. “I love dogs, but I’m an HR person, so I also love guidelines.”

However, Peters said the idea was important to him.

“I’ve been to offices in the past that had office dogs,” Peters said. “I’m a dog, an animal, so I always thought it was positive. People react to dogs. Dogs calm people down. I’ve read studies that say places where there are animals have happier people at work.

And so, he continued to urge Aichele to develop a program.

“He kept suggesting he’d like to see something like this,” Aichele said.

So she contacted two friends who also work in human resources.

“One works in Boston and the other in Portland,” she said. “They were allowed to take their dogs to work. So I asked them what kind of program or rules they had.

Having a clear set of rules is important to Aichele.

“From an HR perspective, it’s so much easier to set expectations up front than to let them go,” she said. “Once I started writing the plan, it was super easy. In fact, he kind of wrote himself.

Among the guidelines is a rule that each employee can bring a dog once a week. This limits the number of dogs in the office on any given day. There is a calendar that employees can use to register and choose their day.

Some employees participated in the program before the pandemic, but the number has increased significantly since the building closed and reopened during COVID-19 spikes, Aichele said.

“It’s probably doubled in participation.”

Communications specialist Steve Owens said working from home with his dog, Buddy, played a big part in his desire to bring his “buddy” to work with him after the building reopened.

“When we were first sent to work from home, my dog ​​was about 5 months old,” Owens said. “He loved life. He had me and my wife at home. My two daughters came home… This little puppy had the whole family at home.

When things started to reopen, he said, Buddy didn’t like being left behind. The new policy allows Owens to bring it with him once a week.

“I appreciate it,” he said. “My dog ​​is having fun. I like to bring him in just to hang out with people instead of being home alone with our cat…I do it more for him than for me, but it ended up being fun.

Now that the program is launched, Aichele no longer has any doubts about it. In fact, she participates in it herself.

“I have enough dogs that I could bring a different one each day of the week, if I wanted to,” she said.

When it comes to productivity, neither Peters nor Aichele have seen a major drop. Aichele said that if there is a small drop in productivity, the morale boost the program provides more than makes up for it.

And employee morale, Peters said, is the whole point.

“I want people to take the time to get to know their colleagues,” he said. “People talk regularly, whether it’s the TV show they binge-watch, the game they like to play, or a book they like to read. Now they can also talk about a dog and they can meet someone’s dog.

He said bringing in his own dogs — Pippin and Angus — helped him connect with his employees.

“If you’re the boss, you want to talk to your employees,” he said.

“When I started bringing Pippin in, it wasn’t just the people who normally came into my office to see me about something, but other people would come too. Just to see the dog and pet Pippin. It’s a good conversation to have.

Aichele said she contacted all employees to see if anyone had any concerns or concerns about the program before it started. She said no one did. She also said parts of the buildings had been deemed dog-free zones.

So, does the program make Columbia REA a better place to work, as Peters hoped?

Owens says yes.

“So far so good,” Owen said. “I love dogs. I love seeing dogs in the office. And my dog ​​loves going there and seeing everyone and getting treats. It’s great… Seeing a dog now is totally normal. someone is there most days which is fun.

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