Having an open door policy at work, particularly for human resources, is very important—and that’s putting it mildly. The idea behind an open door policy is as simple as it sounds, where managers leave their doors open—perhaps literally, but definitely figuratively—to allow employees to come to them with any concerns or feedback.
According to Indeed: “Businesses use open-door policies to encourage freedom of expression, respect, and cooperation between management and employees. It can help solve problems between superiors and subordinates and curb bad behavior. An open-door policy can also be an effective tool for gathering feedback and gauging the staff’s perspective regarding job satisfaction and workplace perception”.
An open door policy at work can improve workplace relationships and boost morale.
A culture of transparency is essential to creating trusting relationships in the workplace. Employees are able to bring up issues as they’re occurring, allowing management to respond proactively rather than after the fact.
If your company has an open door policy, it should be across the organization to ensure there are no communication breakdowns. While a part of the policy should be to ensure that employees first speak with their direct supervisor, the supervisor may be a part of the problem so employees may prefer to speak with HR or another manager for support.
It’s important to ensure that all managers are trained by HR to handle employee concerns and conflicts. Managers should be confident about resolving the majority of issues on their own, but also know to connect with HR when there’s anything that’s potentially sensitive in nature such as issues of wage or harassment.
An essential part of an open door policy at work is also allowing employees to submit concerns anonymously. Whether you do this through a comment card box or use an anonymous Slack app, for example. Anonymous commenting is a good way for employees to share feedback without fear of retaliation. It’s then up to the discretion of management and HR if the feedback needs to be examined further.
Start by setting clear expectations and boundaries. These guidelines for what an open door actually means can make or break the policy.
In an HR Daily Advisor article, Cy Wakeman, President & Founder of Reality-Based Leadership, writes about their experience when she first became a manager. Cy fully embraced the idea of an open door policy at work, literally buying a door stop so her door could always stay open, inviting everyone to come to her with anything.
Much to her dismay, Cy found that “no one came through [the] open door to directly ask for coaching on handling sticky issues in a more effective, productive, and efficient way” but rather employees were using the policy as an opportunity to vent. Most of the time, people would end the meeting by saying something like: “Please don’t do anything about it. I just wanted you to be aware”.
Cy had the right idea with the doorstop, but was missing the framework created by setting expectations and boundaries. Although she had intended to create an open and positive dialogue, the open door actually created a negative work environment where people felt more empowered to vent rather than seek solutions. Cy re-evaluated her open door policy and started to ask these questions to their employees as a guide:
- What do you know for sure?
- What is your part in this?
- What are your ideas for resolving this issue?
- What are you doing to help?
A process-based open door policy at work empowers employees to shift their own narrative and evaluate both their feelings and their actions.
Here are some other considerations for an effective open door policy at work:
- Is there someone closer to the situation (direct supervisor, for example) that could better handle this?
- How can you best facilitate a discussion between all parties involved without it becoming a “he-said/she-said” situation?
- Do your employees understand the communication "chain of command" and know who they can reach out to?
- Are there any common themes with the issues being brought up that should be addressed on the larger scale?
An effective open door policy will a) set clear guidelines about what issues should be brought to HR or management (e.g. personal issues that occur outside of work are off-limits), b) outline the responsibilities of all parties involved, and c) help to facilitate better communication within your organization, generating extremely valuable feedback and promoting a culture of openness.