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Open Up! Creating An Open Door Policy For Your Workplace

Hey, is now a good time? We’d like to talk about defining the open door policy for your work.

Sure, you’ve heard of the policy — you may even be tossing the words around your office already. After all, it’s a quick fix, right? Just open up your doors, get some feedback, and get on with your day. 

Not so fast. An open door policy that’s just tossed together without thought can cause more problems than it fixes.

A bad open door policiy can undermine relationships between employees and supervisors. It can end up wasting valuable time. And, worst of all, it can actually create a culture of even more secrecy.

Open door policies aren’t new, but just because they’ve been around for ages doesn’t mean most companies are taking advantage of them — or are getting the best benefit out of them.

First, a definition.

An open door policy is business lingo for an office culture where any employee — no matter their job title — has access to senior management without going through their direct supervisor. In theory, this gives employees a sharp pair of scissors to cut through bureaucratic red tape.

Employees may want to talk about:

  • Suggestions and feedback
  • Process improvements
  • Questions and clarifications
  • Concerns with management
  • Concerns with safety
  • Complaints
  • Reporting a problem with a coworker

Why bother?

Companies reap tons of benefits from opening up the lines of communication:

  • Innovation: When employees feel free to make suggestions to department heads, some truly unique ideas can be unearthed.
  • Performance: When information flows freely, everyone can do a better job. Plus, less time is wasted worrying and speculating about what might be happening in the company.
  • Retention: Studies have shown that when employees have access to management, they feel like they have more say in their jobs — which ups engagement and decreases turnover.
  • Teamwork: Open door policies strengthen the bonds between employees and management, making everyone feel like part of one big, connected team.

The bottom line is that when employees feel like they can come to senior management with any idea or concern, it not only improves morale — you also end up with engaged employees who contribute more to the business as a whole.

Your company’s next big gem of an idea may be hidden in the rank-and-file — but if no one feels comfortable stepping forward, you’ll never hear it. 

Defining your open door policy

Step 1: Start with your purpose

Why is your organization implementing an open door policy? Is it to create more transparency? Build a tighter team? Deal with managerial problems?

Once you know what the goal is for your policy, you can start to craft wording that clearly explains the benefits and goals to your team.

Step 2: Define the procedure

The biggest benefit of an open door policy can also be one of its biggest pitfalls. Disrupting the supervisory chain to allow employees to bring up issues directly with the leadership can inadvertently lead to tension between employees and their direct supervisors. It can also end up swamping senior management with issues that are really better handled by a supervisor.

Keep this from happening by defining how employees should use the policy. Outline which problems are the realm of direct supervisors, which should be taken to upper management, and what the process is for resolving interpersonal issues with supervisors before contacting management.

Being clear about all this ahead of time will help keep your upper management from turning into referees.

(Looking for a good sample policy? Financial blog The Balance has a great open door policy on their site.)

Step 3: Shout it from the rooftops

Now that you’ve got your policy clearly laid out, it’s time to convey it to your employees.

Include a copy of your open door policy in the employee handbook and in your onboarding materials, post it in the break room, and remind everyone of it from time to time in internal communications. You may also want to invest some training hours in making sure advisors and management know how to handle open-door policy requests.

(Trying to communicate your policy to younger employees? Check out Managing The Great Expectations of Millennial Employees.)

Step 4: Walk the talk

You’ve posted your policy. Now you just sit back and wait for feedback to roll in, right? Not quite.

It doesn’t matter what your policy says. If employees aren’t sure how management will react — or if they think they'll react badly — they won’t take advantage of it. And that valuable feedback? It’ll stay locked in their heads.

Along with the physical act of opening doors, your management needs to feel receptive. Otherwise, employees will sense that it’s not actually safe to share their opinions.

Your company also needs to be willing to, you know, actually make changes. If you solicit opinions but never act on them, they’ll quickly dry up and you’ll be left with a disillusioned team.

An open door goes both ways

Don’t treat your open door policy as a one-way avenue — have management actually walk through that door and go talk to your employees where they are. Ask them questions. Practice actively listening to their responses. Then make some changes, if you can.

The best open door policies make feedback into a casual, equal exchange, rather than a formal exercise. If senior management is willing to reach out and be vulnerable in listening to responses, you’ll have it nailed.


Topics: HR
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