When the managers of your company are 17 floors away in a biometrically accessed glass cage, it’s impossible for employees to contact or connect with management. With an ‘Open-Door Policy,’ managers allow employees into the glass cage at (almost) any time and about (almost) everything. It’s the organizational version of ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ – minus that pesky stairway to heaven nonsense. The idea is that, by having an open door, employees can share workplace questions, issues and feedback directly with management – without going through their chain of command. An ‘Open-Door Policy – if implemented correctly – has numerous benefits, including:
- Dealing with employee issues quickly
- Diffusing tension before it escalates
- Gaining access to information that would otherwise be hidden
- Finding novel and creative solutions to problems as suggested by employees
- Creating relationships with employees that are based on trust
While there are compelling arguments about the advantages of an ‘Open-Door Policy,’ there are things that need to be considered and disadvantages that need to be mitigated.
Don’t be a Doormat
It may sound like a contradiction, but an ‘Open-Door Policy’ does need rules. If not, you not only run the risk of becoming a therapist, it will suck up all your time. You need to ensure that you are reachable, but that you don’t provide a free life-coaching course.
SOLUTION: Communicate – clearly – what the rules are for when and how you are approached. For example: Tell employees that you are available for open-door talks at specific hours, where they can freely come and approach you. You don’t need to lose the freedom of the open-door idea – inform staff that they can set up appointments outside of those times too.
A Foot in the Door(ish)
With an ‘Open-Door Policy,’ there’s the potential for creating dependence where an employee relies too heavily on the manager to solve their issues. This prevents them from growing in their roles and leeches time and energy out of managers.
SOLUTION: Require that anyone who has an issue can bring it to you, but that they must also have one or two ideas on how to solve it.
Shutting the Door on the ‘Chain of Command’
While an ‘Open-Door Policy’ allows employees to have closer working relationships with the ‘higher-ups’ that would otherwise be unreachable, there is a chance that an employee will bypass their immediate managers, going over their heads to higher management.
SOLUTION: Allow an employee to express their thoughts, but when it’s relevant, ask them if they have spoken to their direct manager about it.
The Boss Next Door
An ‘Open-Door Policy’ is, by nature, an informal management policy. The point is to allow employees to speak freely. This requires that they develop some kind of familiarity with the manager they’re approaching. There is a fine line to tread here – You want the employee to feel comfortable enough to express themselves, but not so comfortable that the relationship becomes friendly; negating the authority of the manager.
SOLUTION: Keep personal life discussions to information that is relevant to the conversation in question. It’s important to find out about your employees’ lives so that you can understand their motives and behaviour, but it doesn’t need to go much further than that.