City of Boulder: It’s All Going to the Dogs

Posted on December 2, 2019

Cute dog from City of Boulder

This guest blog is brought to you by Tanya Ange, Deputy City Manager of the City of Boulder. The City of Boulder, Colorado is one of our winners for the 2019 Meagle Award. The Meagle Award recognizes the best places to work in local government.

On behalf of everyone at the City of Boulder, we’re so excited to be a Meagle Award winner for Best Local Government Workplace in a Mid-Size City!

As deputy city manager, I’m fortunate to work with more than 2,000 diverse and talented individuals, who bring Boulder’s vision of “Service excellence for an inspired future” to life. Each day, our employees humble, inspire, and remind me that they are the foundation of our commitment to our community and the beating heart of our success.

As city leaders, we continually challenge ourselves to do right by our community members. That requires asking if we’re doing all we can to help them feel seen and heard; do their best work; maintain good health and wellness; and thrive in their careers. While we’re proud of our progress, we know there’s ample room for improvement.

We also have an obligation to make smart decisions about every dollar of theirs we spend. As the costs of competitive wages, quality health benefits, new and improved facilities, better equipment, and faster technologies continue to rise, the “right” way is almost never simple. Until one day, it is.

Right this way (to the jar of treats)

Bring your Dog to Work

While many have contributed over many years to build Boulder into the incredible and eclectic place it is, special credit this year goes to Chanté, Hank, Sir Otis Asher the 1st, Stewie, Rocket, and dozens of other dogs. They infiltrated our city in search of treats and belly rubs after we introduced new Dogs at Work Guidelines this past spring.

Of course, we didn’t pioneer the idea of bringing dogs to work. Employers like Amazon and Google have been doing it for years, and other private and public sector organizations have followed. But it’s a fitting example of why local governments sometimes need to wiggle out of their comfort zones and make a leap to get past the safety of “why not” and embrace the more compelling reasons of why.

Here’s why it made sense

  • Reading into the Research: A joint report issued by Accenture, NEOGOV, and NASCA this year stated very bluntly what had been becoming increasingly apparent: “As the public and private sectors battle for talent, government is falling too far behind in preparing for the workforce of the future. To close the gap—and attract the best talent—they must start making bold moves today.”
  • Tapping into Trends: The Washington Post found millennials, who are quickly becoming the largest employee demographics worldwide, “…are half as likely to be married or living with a partner than they were 50 years ago. They are also delaying parenthood and demanding flexible work arrangements—all of which has translated to higher rates of pet ownership.” With 90% of our 155 miles of trails open to dogs, a dog-friendly workplace felt like a natural extension.
  • Listening and Learning: Through our employee engagement surveys, Benefits Advisory Committee, and speaking with employees and prospective new hires, what we heard was loud and clear. More flexibility at work isn’t just a nice-to-have, for many, it’s a need, and increasingly, a deal-breaker.
  • Crunching the Numbers: SHRM found replacing an employee can cost between 50-60% of that employee’s salary, with overall costs ranging anywhere from 90-200%. We invest so much in training and supporting our staff, and they invest even more of themselves into building relationships with our library and recreation center patrons, open space visitors, bus riders, climate experts and countless others who live in and shape our community. Could we really afford to keep losing them to other employers, who have been more progressive about embracing change?

By allowing employees to bring their dogs to work, we created the potential for increased joy and job satisfaction, while providing tremendous value in the form of work-life balance, with little or no monetary impact to the city.

Employees have since told us having their dogs with them helps keep normal work stress in check and reminds them to take breaks and get outside during their workday.

Studies have also shown that bringing dogs to work can increase productivity and motivationit can even encourage collaboration among coworkers!

Here in Boulder, colleagues in one particular office worked together to draft “neighborhood rules” (or informal agreements) to remind one another how to be respectful when dogs and other guests are present.

Finding new opportunities all around

Allowing dogs at work wasn’t the only change we made this yearwe’re embracing other opportunities to be more flexible, inclusive and equitable.

  • We piloted and then approved an Infants at Work policy that allows employees who are new parents or legal guardians to bring their naturally born, adopted, or foster infant to work with them until the child is mobile or nine months of age. This provides more opportunities for bonding and breastfeeding support while decreasing their associated childcare costs.
  • Based on feedback from our Working Parents Committee, we updated our Paid Parental Leave policy. Employees become eligible to use the benefit earlier in their tenure with the city and can extend their time off by using it on an intermittent basis instead of in one continuous block. The overall cost to the city is the same, but parents can stagger their leaves or find a routine that feels more manageable to them.

We’ve received tremendously positive feedback about the changes from employees, who are eager to help us explore what could come next.

Like all organizations, we will always grapple with finding the right answers and providing equitable solutions in the midst of change. But by demonstrating our willingness to listen, learn, and evolve with our employees, we’re becoming better at working together to solve even tougher problems.

Top Photo: Chanté is a three-year-old red tricolor Australian Shepherd rescue. According to her owner, Assistant City Attorney JB Cannafax, Boulder employees and residents can observe Chanté disarming and de-escalating potentially adversarial conversations with defendants and defense attorneys alike. Her presence can turn a moment of confrontation into a positive outcome for both the city and those who live here.

Side Photo: Public Works HR Business Partner Amy Crede and coworker Michele Weitzen’s dog Kira, trying her very best to be a lap dog.

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