A reader writes:
I’ve been at my new company, a 15-person firm a little over a year old, for about six months now. I generally enjoy the work and my colleagues but find myself increasing stressed and agitated at work because of the presence of a misbehaved puppy who is there every day. We have an open office plan, so I can’t avoid her. She barks, whines, plays with loud toys, steals food, chews other people’s personal belongings, and rummages through trash in ways that are incredibly distracting for much of the work day. Even worse are the days where the boss brings in his dog, which is about once a week. Then much of the day the office becomes a complete circus with both dogs barking and chasing each other and roughhousing.
I know a lot of people at the office like the dogs, but I absolutely cannot stand the distractions they cause and am becoming pretty demoralized over the diminished productivity in an already overworked office. When I was interviewed, they mentioned to me that the boss sometimes brings his dog to the office and I said I was fine with that, as I assumed it was an occasional thing and the dog was well behaved. The biggest problem is with the new puppy, who belongs to a mid-level employee and started coming to the office every day about two weeks after I was hired. He is now nearly a young adult dog and his owner has made no effort to improve his office behavior.
I’ve gotten the sense that the firm’s most senior boss, who is only in the office about a week, is also not pleased with the zoo environment. But he is about the only one with real power to change it, and he hasn’t done anything. I also don’t know him all that well. He’s only in the office once or twice a week and deals primarily with finances and our out-of-town operations as opposed to the day-to-day operations of this office.
Do you have any suggestions for dealing with this? I’m reaching wit’s end and would be seriously looking for another job if I didn’t think it’d be bad for my career at this point (I’m still relatively entry-level and have not had a solid employment history).
Well, you could develop a dog allergy.
Offices that allow dogs but don’t lay out expectations for the behavior of said dogs (and their humans) are asking for this kind of thing. Responsible dog-allowing offices have clear policies that specify how often dogs can come in, what behavior isn’t acceptable while they’re there (such as making lots of noise, damaging property, roaming unattended, or being aggressive toward humans or other dogs), and what happens if those rules are violated (generally, the dog can’t come to the office anymore).
In any case, a few options for you:
1. Talk directly to the owner of the misbehaving puppy. Say something like this: “Jane, I’m finding it hard to focus when Xavier is barking and whining, and I’ve noticed she’s sometimes stealing food and chewing on people’s stuff. Is there a way for you to keep a closer eye on her?”
Of course, it’s probably true that if Jane is going to be receptive to this, she probably would have already been on top of the problem without you saying anything. But it’s possible that speaking up will help, and even if it doesn’t, you want to be able to say that you tried talking to her directly.
2. With a 15-person office, I’m guessing you don’t have HR. But is there a second-in-command or someone else who has some responsibility for the day-to-day functioning of the office? If so, I’d talk to that person and explain the issue, focusing on the impact on your work. If there isn’t someone like that, you could try having this conversation with your manager.
3. Feel out other coworkers to see if anyone else is feeling the same way as you. There’s greater power in groups, and if a group of you says “hey, this is too much,” it will be harder to ignore.
4. Suggest implementing formal dog guidelines for the office. This is admittedly a little tricky to do as someone new. If you were in a more senior role, you could probably pull it off, but it sounds like you’re pretty junior so your chances of success with this will depend on what kind of standing you’ve established in the office so far. But if people generally like you and you’ve built up some credibility, you might have some capital to spend on this. (It’s not like it’s an outrageous suggestion, after all.) You could simply say, “I’ve found the dogs pretty distracting lately. I’ve read that companies that allow dogs often have guidelines in place to make it work smoothly — could we consider something like that?” (There are samples here and here.)
If nothing else, this might at least start what sounds like a badly needed conversation.
5. There’s always that dog allergy.
You should not really fake an allergy. That is a joke.