A blog about business and economics.

July 25 2014 12:48 PM

Lyft Is Launching in New York City Tonight

Two weeks after regulators brought a screeching halt to Lyft's New York City launch, the ride-sharing service has reached an agreement with the attorney general's office to begin serving customers in all five of the city's boroughs. Starting at 7 p.m. this evening, you can expect to see Lyft's pink-mustachioed cars roaming the streets alongside New York's famous yellow cabs.

On its blog, Lyft is heralding the agreement as a victory for ride-sharing services and affordable transit. "This agreement is the first big step in finding a home for Lyft's peer-to-peer model in New York," the company writes. "Community-powered transportation—neighbors driving neighbors in their personal cars—ensures broader access to more affordable rides in places with limited transit options, like the outer boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens."

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As great as that sounds, it's not really a coup for community transportation. A statement on the attorney general's website puts things more bluntly: "In the agreement entered into today, Lyft has agreed to operate in New York State in full compliance with existing laws and regulations. The company will launch in New York City with commercial drivers only and will operate in a manner that is consistent with existing laws and regulations." Beginning Aug. 1, Lyft will also cease its current operations in Buffalo and Rochester.

The deal that the AG's office has reached with Lyft sounds a lot like one it settled on with Uber, the competing ride-sharing platform. Unlike in other cities, where Uber tends to offer a commercial service and a more casual ride-sharing option, its New York operations are purely commercial (their drivers are commercially licensed and their cars commercially insured) to comply with regulation.

Lyft resisted going this route initially because, as co-founder John Zimmer told me recently, asking Lyft to become a commercial car service would be like asking Airbnb to become Hilton or telling eBay to open up a storefront. "That's just not what we do," he says. But for now, it looks like Lyft is willing to bite the regulatory bullet to expand its market into New York.

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July 25 2014 12:23 PM

The Most Important Thing to Remember About Poverty: It’s Rarely Permanent

Paul Ryan, Republican action hero, finally unveiled his long-awaited anti-poverty plan yesterday. Ryan’s centerpiece proposal, which he calls “opportunity grants,” would require low-income Americans that wanted benefits to meet with case workers and craft “a customized life plan” to help them move from welfare to work.

Jeff Spross of ThinkProgress referred to the idea as “church basement paternalism,” which is appropriate given that it would all but require impoverished individuals to wear a promise ring reminding them of their vow to get a job.

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Other liberal-leaning writers have already raised plenty of objections to Ryan’s proposal, both from a humanitarian and practical perspective. Poverty is a psychologically stressful experience that has actually been found to reduce individuals’ mental bandwidth. Threatening to take away people’s food or housing assistance if they don’t hit a contractually stipulated life goal doesn’t seem like it would help their long-term well being, and the punishment could ultimately send them reeling deeper into poverty.

But here’s the fundamental issue with the plan: There’s not much evidence that the vast majority of the poor need this kind of hand-holding. As I’ve written before, for most Americans who experience it—and you’d be shocked how many do—actual poverty is a temporary detour through life. It happens, and you recover. Actual chronic poverty is relatively rare. 

In 2011, according to the Survey of Income and Program Participation, the annual U.S. poverty rate was 14 percent. But only 3.5 percent of Americans were chronically poor, meaning they had been impoverished for three straight years. According to research by Mark Rank of Washington University in St. Louis, 38.9 percent of Americans experience at least one year of poverty between the ages of 25 and 60; 11.6 percent experience five years or more. During those same years, 44.8 percent use a means-tested safety net program, such as food stamps, but only 16.4 take advantage of one for at least half a decade.

One take-away from these numbers is that, yes, chronic poverty is real, and we need to work toward fixing it. But another is that, by and large, most people don’t need a life contract to escape poverty; the existing safety net catches them and helps them back onto their feet.

To his credit, Ryan makes some of these distinctions. The animating idea of his plan is that our approach to poverty should be customized person by person. His plan even distinguishes between the sort of approach the government could take to help a woman facing “situational poverty” versus someone stuck in “generational poverty.” He clearly sees the poor as individuals, which is far better than many politicians.

But in order to make custom poverty prevention a reality, he wants to tear down a system that already works fairly well for the majority and has without question diminished material deprivation in this country. Step one of his plan involves taking 11 different anti-poverty programs—including food stamps, Section 8 housing vouchers, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families—and combining them into a single funding stream that would be block-granted to states. Then that money would be distributed through nonprofits and public agencies, with the help of caseworkers and life contracts. It’s a radical re-imagining of a massive chunk of the welfare state that entails all sorts of potential downsides. (For starters, he wants to do all this without adding spending. Would money for benefits instead go to fund an army of caseworkers? It’s unclear.) While Ryan has so far only proposed his idea as a pilot program to be deployed in a handful of states, you have to remember that we’re also experimenting with human lives.

Is our approach to poverty so deeply broken that any holes in the current safety net can’t be patched? Do we really have to tear down the entire apparatus and replace it with intrusive babysitting? The numbers suggest otherwise.

July 25 2014 11:56 AM

Rising Coffee Prices Spook Starbucks Investors

Some 16 months ago, Starbucks purchased its first farm, a 600-acre plot in a lush region of Costa Rica. The acquisition was a defensive one. With the help of local farmers and a team of researchers, Starbucks planned to develop new varieties of coffee beans that could better withstand Hemileia vastatrix, a parasitic fungus that is blighting coffee crops around the world. In its third-quarter earnings call on Thursday, chief executive Howard Schultz said that consumers will get a first taste of those agricultural efforts when the fall rolls around.

"In September, we'll be offering an extraordinary micro-lot reserve coffee, the first coffee developed on our own farm in Costa Rica," he said. "Expect to see an expanding and evolving portfolio of proprietary coffees under the 'Reserve' brand from our coffee farm in Costa Rica and around the world in the future."

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From the looks of things this morning, it will take more than the promise of a new bean variety to reassure investors about Starbucks' ability to maintain profits amid rising coffee prices. Shares are down about 2.5 percent after the company said that increased commodity and worker costs could weigh on its long-term earnings growth—bringing it in on the "lower end" of projections—in the following year.

In an effort to offset those increasing costs, Starbucks announced in June that it was hiking the price of ground and whole-bean coffees it sells in grocery stores by roughly 8 percent—an increase that kicked in early this week. The decision followed similar moves by Folgers, Kraft Food Groups, and J.M. Smucker Co., the distributor of Dunkin' Donuts packaged coffee. Starbucks has also hedged its bets on the coffee market and locked in about 60 percent of its coffee purchases for the coming fiscal year, its chief financial officer said on the earnings call.

While coffee might be a source of continued worry, at least Starbucks has a new bright spot. Food options and particularly breakfast sandwiches are an "increasing driver" for midday and afternoon traffic in the chain's stores. That's a big reversal, as food for a long time was "a weakness and a challenge for us," Schultz said. Sales of breakfast sandwiches alone grew 40 percent over the previous year. Hear that, McDonald's? The breakfast wars clearly aren't over yet.

July 25 2014 7:00 AM

Six Reasons LinkedIn Is the Place to Find Love

This story originally appeared in Inc

Most of us are familiar with LinkedIn as the No. 1 social site for career networking. LinkedIn can help you get a job and show off your credentials and, unexpectedly, even help you find love. Here are six reasons LinkedIn is love's secret weapon.

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1. It has a huge network. With more than 300 million users across 200 countries and territories, LinkedIn boasts a significant number of targets for Cupid's arrows. And better yet, these are prime potential dates. LinkedIn is a network of driven, working professionals, not sketchy men taking shirtless selfies.

2. It offers the most important info about potential suitors. LinkedIn makes it easy to review possible matches based on the info that matters—where you're from, where you went to school, and what you do. While these elements are admittedly unromantic, they say a lot about an individual and are significant indicators of potential compatibility.

3. It shows who recently viewed your profile. LinkedIn may not label itself as a dating site, but it sure acts like one. LinkedIn will reveal other users who recently viewed your profile. To get the full info on your viewers, you'll need to dish out bucks for the premium service. This is common practice with dating sites like Match.com.

4. You can deduce a lot from the little info LinkedIn gathers. The data LinkedIn gathers about its users probably won't tell you Ted's favorite sports teams or that Jessica loves to Netflix-binge on Orange Is the New Black. Instead it will help you understand users in a way you'd be hard-pressed to do on normal dating sites. Do they have a lot of different jobs within a short time period? They may still be trying to find themselves or could lack commitment.

5. It shows trusted friends of friends. Most LinkedIn users have a broad network of connections, with most users liberally accepting connection requests. There isn't much personal information you need to keep hidden, as is the case with Facebook. No one is sharing bachelorette photos on LinkedIn, which means there's no need to be stingy with accepting connections.

This results in large networks of various connections—maybe the new girl at your workplace went to college with a high school buddy of yours. The world is smaller than you think, and it shows on LinkedIn. Having even a remote connection between two users increases credibility and helps users feel safe meeting one another in the real world.

6. LinkedUp proves love isn't so far away. LinkedUp is a Tinder-style app that syncs up with a user's LinkedIn account. LinkedUp shows users in close GPS proximity with their profession, hometown, and connections through other LinkedIn users. The app also lets users filter potential mates by job, industry, age, and gender. As so with Tinder, if two users give each other the thumbs up, they are encouraged to chat. While it's not uncommon for dating apps to use Facebook data to match two lovebirds up, LinkedUp is the first that uses LinkedIn data.

The love lesson here is clear—if you're on the market, keep those LinkedIn profiles up to date and upload your most flattering headshot. LinkedIn isn't just for job searching—it could be where you meet the love of your life. Watch out world, Cupid is wearing a tie!

See also: How to be Happy

July 24 2014 5:37 PM

Chocolate Is the Latest Foodstuff to Become Super-Expensive

Sure, most food is expensive these days, but chocolate is on a tear. On Thursday, Mars, the company behind the likes of M&M's and 3 Musketeers, said it was raising prices for chocolate products in the U.S. by about 7 percent to make up for higher ingredient costs. The decision followed a similar move from Hershey a week ago, which announced an increase of roughly 8 percent in wholesale prices to offset increased commodity, transportation, and manufacturing costs.

The hike in chocolate prices is being driven by the soaring cost of cocoa beans, which has risen 18 percent this year alone. On the one hand, poor yields from major cocoa producers (68 percent of the world's cocoa comes from Africa, according to the World Cocoa Foundation) have limited supply of the beans. On the other, demand has soared as part of a trend for higher cocoa content in chocolate candies and products. The New York Times reported in late 2013 that chocolate prices in certain markets had gained 40 percent or more from the previous year.

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In an April report on the global cocoa market, the World Cocoa Foundation noted that the rate of increase in cocoa production "may slow in the coming years, as cocoa trees are sensitive to changing weather patterns"—aka climate change. Should that forecast prove true, we can likely expect to see other chocolate manufacturers bumping up their prices for sugary confections. In the meantime, we can only hope agricultural organizations will find a fix for the sensitive plants, lest cocoa beans become as endangered as the drought- and blight-stricken arabica beans that are a staple of coffee.

July 24 2014 2:49 PM

A Few Weeks Shy of Earnings, Walmart Reshuffles Its U.S. Operations

Walmart is three weeks away from reporting its second-quarter earnings, but it's not holding back on big announcements. The retailer said today that U.S. chief Bill Simon is out and will be replaced in early August by Greg Foran, the former head of Walmart's Asia division.

The shake-up comes at a "very, very odd time," as Belus Capital Advisors' Brian Sozzi wrote. Companies usually don't make major changes that risk getting investors anxious so close to reporting their quarterly results. But Walmart has been through some tough times recently. Same-store sales have declined in each of the past five quarters. In February, leaked meeting notes revealed that the company was struggling to keep its shelves stocked even as sales growth continued to slow. And just a few weeks ago, Simon set off alarm bells by suggesting in an interview with Reuters that improvements in the labor market were not actually translating to increased consumer spending at Walmart.

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"Bottom line: a decision to replace a high-ranking leader of a major retailer BEFORE back to school and BEFORE holidays is no laughing matter, and speaks volumes as to the current trends in the U.S. business," Sozzi wrote. "At least Walmart will be able to blame Simon for its financial challenges for the remainder of 2014, with Foran looking to pitch a better story to investors in 2015 and at the hoopla filled annual meeting."

That said, it's not as though Walmart has been short on excuses for its shoddy U.S. performance. For the first quarter, Walmart followed the lead of every other business and blamed its poor results on "unseasonably cold and disruptive weather." The quarter before that, Walmart cited cuts to government benefits and higher taxes as tightening its customers' belts. Go back one more and the excuse was a "challenging global economy and negative currency exchange rate fluctuations." If Simon is supposed to be the last in this string of excuses, Foran will presumably be under a lot of pressure to turn Walmart's U.S. operation around.

Foran comes to the U.S. leadership from a brief stint as president and CEO of Walmart Asia. Before that, he headed up Walmart China, where he was credited with improving store operations and making strategic investments in the supply chain, a company release said. Simon, for his part, had worked at Walmart for eight years and will stay on with the company for six months as a consultant during the transition. His retirement package could be worth as much as $9 million.

July 24 2014 11:28 AM

Initial Jobless Claims Fall to 284,000, Hitting Eight-Year Low

Economics writers dipped into their word banks this morning in search of the right verb for the dive initial jobless claims took last week. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits "fell," "plunged," "tumbled," and "swooned" 19,000 down to 284,000, instead of posting an expected uptick to 308,000. That's the lowest figure since February 2006, and it brought claims below the important psychological milestone of 300,000.

The headline figure certainly sounds good—an eight-year low!—but there are a few reasons to take the report with a grain of salt. Claims often fluctuate in the summer and especially this time of year, when auto plants temporarily halt production to retool. "Even so, the downward trend in claims is evident and very positive for the labor market and the overall economy," Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services, told the Wall Street Journal.

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On the other hand, Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities USA, argues that the 284,000 figure is not as rosy as it seems. "It amazes me that at this point in the business cycle there are still this many people who are getting laid off and filing for initial unemployment claims," he says. "The reality is that we've been running at 300,000-plus for an extended period of time." A healthier figure would be around 200,000 claims.

"I think what you're really seeing is that long-term unemployment is still definitely a problem," Ricchiuto adds, "and there's a lot of short-term turnover as well." We'll get a better sense of where those two measures stand when the July payrolls report hits next Friday.

July 24 2014 10:21 AM

The Kim Kardashian Game Is So Good I Had to Stop Playing It

It’s not surprising that the mobile game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is expected to generate $200 million in annual revenue, because Kim Kardashian generates money the way that most people generate carbon dioxide. She earned $28 million in the past 12 months simply by showing up at events, showing up on TV, and showing up (albeit in name only) in Sears and CVS via various Kardashian-branded consumer products. One time, she made $500,000 by going to a party. Another time, she made $500,000 for turning 30.

It is surprising, however, that Glu Mobile’s Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, the top free title in Apple’s App Store as of this writing, has been so warmly received by critics and the general public. The game—in which players trace a celebutante’s ascent from anonymous retail drone to name-brand shower-upper—has tens of thousands of five-star reviews; it’s the only five-star-rated game in the current top 10. On Vulture, Lindsey Weber called KK:Hlegitimately good,” a “funny and well-written parody” of Planet Kardashian. Charlotte Alter of Time praised “Kim Kardashian’s genius new game,” hailing Kim as “a Virgil for our time.” Jezebel’s Tracie Egan Morrissey blew nearly $500 on in-app purchases to make KK:H’s version of the A-list and proclaimed it “so fucking fun”—although “in a really terrible, anxiety-ridden, OCD-triggering kind of way.”

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I downloaded the app this past Monday evening, the same night that the Environmental Protection Agency bragged on Twitter that it’d made KK:H’s C-list. Having spent the better part of the workweek with it, I agree with the critics that the game is good, but good in such a way that I can’t bear to play it anymore. The latest Kardashian kash kow is utterly hypnotic until the moment that it becomes soul-shreddingly, skull-splittingly boring. That is, weirdly enough, to its credit. The game is a remarkable feat of verisimilitude.

To recap: The journey begins as Kim herself spots you at work in a Los Angeles boutique and offers to set you up with an agent. For the rest of the game, you will pinball between appointments all over L.A., with occasional jaunts to Miami (where Kim may enlist your clothes-folding skills at one of her own shops) or Las Vegas (where you may discover that you don’t have enough money to book the club that Kim recommended for your birthday party). By completing a litany of commands—e.g., “Flirt,” “Check your makeup,” “Get a drink,” “Hold that pose,” “Dazzle the crowd”—you earn money and stars, which in turn you can use to pay for transportation, clothing, and “charm,” i.e., forcing people in higher social echelons to talk to you. (The dollars and stars pour out onto the ground as you earn them, conjuring the appropriately abject image of your avatar crawling around to collect her wages.) To accomplish all this, you need energy, which the game parcels out in lightning bolts. (Jezebel’s Morrissey assumed that the lightning bolts were stand-ins for cocaine; I thought of them as custom-designed Adderall tablets.) You can also purchase units of currency in packages starting at $4.99, which is how this game is going to end up with $200 million in revenue.

With 21st-century shades of Pygmalion and Fitzgerald’s Bernice Bobs Her Hair, KK:H allows Kim to enshrine the lessons of her climb to the top without having to write a memoir. That KK:H has achieved its success by mimicking another Glu Mobile game, Stardom Hollywood, also maps neatly onto Kim’s biography, which itself mimics the template set by her onetime employer Paris Hilton: a voyage from L.A. socialite to sex-tape protagonist to reality-TV star to generalized stander-in-front-of-things. (Unfortunately, there is no sex-tape challenge in KK:H.) What seem at first to be the game’s technical limitations are in fact effective simulations of Kim’s Kim-ness. Your avatar may have no discernible talents and an extremely constricted repertoire of responses (her go-to conversation starter is “Hi!”) and movements (even when “walking” in a fashion show, she hangs around warily at the back of the stage), but damn if she can’t stand up straight for hours, maybe days, in five-inch heels with a blank expression on her impeccably made-up face.

That is the genius of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood: It perfectly captures the hollow-eyed compliant monotony of the very lifestyle it’s espousing. You absorb its value system into your bloodstream on contact. The first big dilemma my avatar faced was deciding whether or not to spend precious Adderall-bolts of energy flirting with a D-list social worker at an overlit and underpopulated party (I didn’t, and shall therefore never know if he was the nephew of a TV executive). Her first major regret was leaving a big tip for a bartender on the hunch that he had “information” (he did not, because he was just a lowly bartender). After a few hours of play, you start to understand how, if you’d been forged in this crucible like Kim and her sisters, you, too, might have turned out just like these sad, tiny people inside your phone. In miniaturizing and cartoon-izing Kim Kardashian and her brethren, KK:H renders them as less cartoonish and more empathetic than they seem in real life. Making millions to stand around doing nothing, saying nothing, thinking nothing—it’s harder than it looks.

July 23 2014 5:52 PM

Which Quarter Is It, Anyway?

As is usual for late July, summer earnings season is in full swing. But for which quarter? Well, Facebook trounced second-quarter expectations this afternoon with revenue that increased 61 percent. On Tuesday, Apple announced its third-quarter results and Microsoft reported results for its fourth quarter. Third-quarter figures are expected from Starbucks and Visa on Thursday, along with second-quarter numbers for various U.S. airlines. Needless to say, there isn't much of a consensus.

Why can't companies agree on which quarter it is? For starters, because no one is telling them what dates to use. "Companies get to choose their year-end," Harvard Business School professor V.G. Narayanan explained via email. Their selections are often industry-specific. "Retailers typically pick January" as their end-of-year, Narayanan said. "That way, they include the Christmas sales and also the post-Christmas returns, payment of bills to suppliers, etc. It's probably the time of the year when they have the most cash on their hands." Other companies run on fiscal calendars that he describes as "historical accidents," such as a firm that started in one industry but migrated to another without tweaking its fiscal year accordingly.

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Brandon Hurst, an analyst at investment research firm Morningstar, said companies like to schedule their fiscal year so that they can report their strongest quarterly results during the fourth fiscal quarter. Tying a neat bow on the last earnings report of the fiscal year sends positive signals to investors and can provide a boost to stock prices, Hurst explains. So while retailers generally opt to end their years right after the winter holidays, travel and leisure companies might choose to close out in the spring or fall to reflect peak travel seasons.

Tax considerations come into the mix as well, but across industries, the main goal is to pick dates that are strategically best for the company. So long as that means different things for different firms and industries, we'll probably be resigned to discussing earnings with a sort of Einsteinian relativity.

July 23 2014 5:30 PM

In Praise of Puppy-Filled Workplaces

This article originally appeared in Inc

Catching a glimpse of a wagging tail skittering around the office isn’t just cute. It may just save your life and the lives of employees.

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Allowing pets in the workplace has long been seen as key employee benefit, as well as an amusement (depending on whether you’re an animal lover). But for some employers, an open door policy toward pets—particularly, man’s best friend—has a raft of other business-enhancing benefits, which include improved morale and reduced employee absenteeism and stress-related ailments like heart disease and diabetes.

In a 2012 study, employees who were around dogs in the workplace reported feeling less stressed than employees who have dogs but left them at home, according to researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University. The study also found that pets triggered workplace interactions that would not normally take place.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also cited similar stress-reducing benefits.

Not all dogs are exactly St. Bernards. Naturally, some animals might hew closer to Cujo than Fido and barking—even among the sweetest puppies can get annoying.

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Callie, a Westiepoo, can be found in the office of Replacements Ltd., offering a wagging tail and a smile to anyone who may be having an off day.

Courtesy of Sara D. Davis/Replacements Ltd.

Still, the benefits of a lower-stress workplace are too attractive for some business owners to ignore. Here are some companies throwing caution to the wind and welcoming pets into the workplace and the benefits they’ve seen as a result:

Catharsis and better communication

Replacements, a dinnerware retailer based in Greensboro, North Carolina, has been pro (well-behaved) puppies at the office for decades. The company’s pet policy started because its founder, Bob Page, didn’t want to leave his pet at home. But he always figured that having animals around was cathartic.

That suspicion was confirmed after the company participated in the VCU study. “The study proved what we always thought: Having dogs around leads to a more productive work environment, and people get to know each other through the pets,” says Lisa Conklin, Replacements’ public relations manager. “If you are in a position where something is stressful, seeing that wagging tail and puppy smile brightens the day—it can turn around the whole environment.”

The benefits of Replacements’ pet policy extend beyond employee health, says Conklin. Specifically, she reported improved interactions among staffers. “When I first took the job, I often learned the names of the pets before employees, and it helped me build a bond with everyone.” She added that some employees consider the peace of mind that comes from of having their pets within reach a key benefit. “It is a lot of fun to have dogs around the office,” says Conklin.

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Harvey, a boxer that can be found at Replacements Ltd., ensures that employees get outside, even in the rain.

Courtesy of Sara D. Davis/Replacements Ltd.

Exercise and convenience

We all know exercise can help reduce stress. But in lieu of going running with employees each day, Human Movement Management, a Louisville, Colorado, active entertainment company, is banking on its pet policy to amp up employees’ workouts.

“We work long days and long hours,” says Jen Chappell, a customer service representative at Human Movement. “Having dogs around the office makes it fun, and makes us get out of the office and exercise.”

HMM President Jeff Suffolk, who’s Golden Retriever’s name is Brady, adds that employees also value the convenience of being able to take their furry friends out for their midday walk themselves rather than having to hire a dog walker.

“I always felt like if we had the conveniences of our homes, that we would never dread coming to the office,” Suffolk says.

Work-life balance and mental breaks

As a custom application development company, employees at Indianapolis’ Inverse-Square often work long hours. Bringing pets to work makes the time pass more happily, says Bob Baird, the company’s president and founder. “With dogs around, it is too hard to get bent out of shape.”

Tack on the benefits associated with taking breaks and the policy pays for itself, adds Baird. “Our job requires us to solve complicated problems, and it is amazing what a four block walk with a dog will do.” When someone is getting stressed, they will grab a leash and head outside with a dog. This mental break they may not have taken without a dog in tow allows employees to come back refreshed.

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Miniature dachshunds Ernie and Kermit accompany the Huffington Post's executive blogs editor, Stuart Whatley, to work.

Courtesy of Stuart Whatley/Huffington Post

Comic relief and petting therapy

At the crafty marketplace Etsy, pets are welcome for a variety of reasons—not least of all for their comedic timing.

Sarah Starpoli, an employee experience manager, recalls a story when one tiny fur ball bit off more than he could chew. Once, she explains, a very small dog walked through a staff meeting dragging a stolen piece of pizza past the person who was speaking. The slice was same size as the dog, she adds.

The Brooklyn-based company has found that bringing dogs to work helps to keep employees’ spirits high and adds to the sense of community and connection. At Etsy, however, even the dogs have a community. The company keeps a doggie database, which features more than 50 nearby office dogs that are registered to come in. On any given day, about 4 to 10 pups are present.

Starpoli adds that stress levels naturally fall when pets are around. It's hard to be overwhelmed by work when a dog goes skittering by or comes over to say hello. And it’s not uncommon for folks to actively seek out their favorite pups when they need a break.

Culture benefits and setting the tone

At Huffington Posts offices in New York City and Los Angeles, the pet policy has been in force since 2011 when AOL acquired the media company. Besides traditional stress-relieving benefits, the pro-pet policy also sets the tone for the office: comfortable, open, and flexible, says Lena Auerbuch, HuffPo’s manager of lifestyle communications and partnerships.

There's an "understanding that everyone keeps their teeth to themselves and remembers where the fire hydrant is," says senior writer Ann Brenoff.

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