advice/perspective on jobs, work and management

My workplace has become a kennel

I work in a small office with five other people. A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues started bringing her dog to the office. She recently separated from a long-time partner, and probably can’t afford a dog sitter/walker right now – not to mention the comfort it undoubtedly provides in this difficult time for her. The dog is well behaved for the most part, if not a little “affectionate.”

     Last Friday, someone else in our team brought their dog in too: a small energetic terrier. Our boss tends to take a hands off approach to anything not strictly work-related, and seems to have decided to stay silent on the issue. I, on the other hand, find it all very distracting. The reception area feels like a kennel, complete with water bowls, pet beds, and two dogs wandering in and out of everyone’s office. What should I do? I’m generally a tolerant person, but my preference would be to not allow pets in the office. How can I bring this up without seemingly like an a**hole? – Name withheld

I like your question because it’s a nice reminder that a ‘job’ is never a static thing.

Instead, work—and the work environment—are in an almost constant state of change. Colleagues come and go, workloads wax and wane, priorities shift, and responsibilities evolve.

In that, a job is very much dynamic.

Sometimes these changes are for the good. For instance, the assumption of greater organizational responsibilities may be accompanied by some modification to the employment contract, such as a raise, or a promotion. And this makes sense. When more is asked (or expected) of you by your employer, more should be offered as compensation in return.

Many of the smaller ‘adjustments’ to our jobs, however, are not handled the same way. Instead, you’re simply expected to roll with punches.

A colleague quits, for example, and everyone is just expected to pitch in and pick up the slack until a replacement can be found, no questions asked. Or a new manager decides to do things a little differently – like choosing to meet more regularly, or is more hands on than you’d like. Not much you can do.

Something similar seems to have happened to you.

Your office has suddenly become ‘pet friendly,’ even though you’d prefer things as they were. It’s not a change you wanted, nor anticipated – nor is any effort being made to ‘compensate’ you in return.

This is unfortunate, because as you say, you find your canine colleagues distracting. This makes it more difficult for you to do you work, or be at your best. What you describe very much is a work-related issue, in other words, regardless of whether or not your apparently conflict-averse manager thinks it is.

So what can you do?

Well, you definitely don’t want to be known around the office as the person who ‘hates dogs’. A label like that could be tough to shake – and even come to overshadow the otherwise excellent work you undoubtedly do. You’re right to exercise some restraint here.

If you’re dead set on complete ban of all pets from the office, your best angle is probably the dander issue. I wouldn’t necessarily say you’re allergic (unless you actually are), but if you’re comfortable with a little obfuscation, you might claim to have a ‘sensitivity’ to dog hair. (I actually suffered from something similar as a child; I could be around dogs for short periods of time, but prolonged exposure risked triggering an asthma attack.) I should mention too that according to the HR professional I spoke with, your employer is not breaking any laws here. Nor are they in violation of any OSHA regulations.

The other option I think you should seriously consider involves ‘compensating’ yourself in some way for this unwelcome workplace development.

I’m not saying you should ask for a raise. What you could do, however, is ‘renegotiate’ the terms of your employment more in your favor.

Think about it: Your dog-loving coworkers have altered the workplace in a way that benefits them, but not you. They’re around the pets they love even more, and/or no longer have to pay for expensive dog walkers and/or daycare.

So now it’s your turn.

Ask to work remotely two or three days a week, if that’s what you’d like. Or request a more flexible schedule, like non-traditional hours, or a four-day workweek. (Either would certainly reduce your contact with the Hounds of the Cubicles.)

Or, don’t even ask. Just start doing something that you want to do, and wait for your manager to push back. If I understand you correctly, your colleagues didn’t get permission before bringing their pooches to the office. So use this precedent to your advantage. Adopt more casual attire around the office, if you wish (you know, because of the dog hair), or listen to your music without earphones (perhaps at a really high frequency?).

The bottom line is that your coworkers have just demonstrated that your work environment is more malleable than you perhaps realized. And if your manager is going to accommodate your colleagues in unexpected, and for you, unwelcome ways, let it be known that you have a few ‘adjustments’ to make of your own.

My guess is that one of two things will then happen: Either your manager will cave to your demand(s), in effect ‘paying’ you for the presence of the unwanted mutts. Or he’ll realize that managing an office in the absence of any baseline expectations regarding workplace decorum is going to be more trouble than it’s worth.

If that happens, I suspect the ‘no dogs’-policy will return faster than you can say Where’s Fido?

And you can still pretend to be animal lover. 😉

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