Open Door Policy

Here's How an Open Door Policy Ought to Work

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An open door policy means, literally, that every manager's door is open to every employee. The purpose of an open door policy is to encourage open communication, feedback, and discussion about any matter of importance to an employee.

When a company has this policy, employees are free to talk with any manager at any time. 

Companies adopt an open door policy to develop employee trust and to make certain that important information and feedback reach managers who can utilize the information to make changes in the workplace.

An open door policy is normally a part of the employee handbook.

Companies are wise to train their managers and executive staff about how an open door policy ought to work. Otherwise, it can begin to feel as if employees are encouraged to go around their bosses and to tattle on other employees. Further, it encourages employees to believe that only the senior leaders have the ability to make decisions and solve problems.

How an Open Door Ought to Work

So, executives need to listen to employee observations and input when the employee comes to their door or schedules a meeting. But, if the discussion turns to the employee's boss and problems best solved by the immediate supervisor, the executive needs to ask the employee if he or she has taken the matter up with their direct boss.

Sometimes employees build imaginary barriers with their immediate boss and make assumptions about how he or she will handle the situation.

This is not fair to their boss, and it may not reflect the boss's actual behavior, but it happens with employees. As Tom Peters famously said, "Perception is all there is." 

It undermines responsible decision-making and problem-solving if an open door policy circumvents the relationship an employee needs to build with the immediate supervisor.

This relationship includes the fact that most problem-solving should take place where the solution is needed - close to the job.

Executives do well to ask the employee if the employee has taken up their complaint with their boss before coming to them. If not, after you have listened, you need to suggest that the employee speak with his or her own manager, too.

Otherwise, employees are trained that they can do an end run around their own manager to see if they can get what they want from their manager's boss. Once referred back to their own manager, the manager's boss should set up an action step with the employee that confirms the employee took the problem to his boss

This step is often to set up another meeting following the employee's discussion with his boss. In this way, you can make sure the discussion happened. Depending on the nature of the issue, you may want to include the employee's boss.

The Complaint Is about the Employee's Boss

If the complaint is about their immediate boss, the executive should determine how he or she can facilitate a discussion between the two parties. This should be one of the most common outcomes from an employee's open door discussion.

Open door discussions are a significant contributor to employees feeling as if they have somewhere to go when they don't want to speak to their immediate manager.

They must be managed, though, so that the conversation with the manager's boss doesn't circumvent the times when the employee really needs to speak to their direct manager.

They are a vehicle for more senior managers to understand what is on the minds of employees with whom they don't regularly interact. Open door meetings give employees alternatives to speaking with their direct manager. They are an idea generation and problem-solving tool for organizations to utilize in positive, productive ways. 

More About an Open Door Policy

Here is a Sample Open Door Policy.

Here's how an open door policy is supposed to work.

Disclaimer: Susan Heathfield makes every effort to offer accurate, common-sense, ethical Human Resources management, employer, and workplace advice both on this website, and linked to from this website, but she is not an attorney, and the content on the site, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality, and is not to be construed as legal advice.

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