Gaining Perspective on Open Door Policies


In today’s corporate culture, the idea that a workforce management organization should have an “open door policy” is widely recognized and theoretically rewarded. But, what does adopting such a seemingly affirmative policy mean to the everyday manager, employee and organization? Is it right for your organization? Read on for the pros and cons of the “open door policy.”

 By definition, an open door policy is one in which open discussion between management, executives and employees is encouraged without conditions.  This “filter free” approach to the employer/employee relationship promotes engagement and honest dialogue on any business related topic. Such policies are encouraged for the perceived growth and betterment of the organization as a whole. The term “open door” is applied to convey transparency in management and to combat the perception that management and leadership operate in an autocratic fashion, meeting behind closed doors to make decisions about the business without input from or regard to employees.

The concept of an open door policy is attractive because it provides employees with some degree of influence over the purpose of their roles and insight into the objectives, priorities and challenges the business is facing. It fosters a sense of “in-this-togetherness” that might otherwise be lacking. Moreover, these policies create opportunities for improved knowledge transfer among the members of the team by providing a stake in critical decision making and determining strategy and direction. Proponents of the open door policy say this cross-sharing of challenges or problems through more open communication creates the foundations for stronger relationships beyond just task completion.

However, others note the implementation of such policies can be challenging for a few reasons. For example, some employees could interpret the open door as an invitation to air personal workplace grievances which are challenging, if not impossible, to resolve. Some organizations report that misunderstanding the purpose of an open door policy results in time wasted as management responds to gossip and is forced to mediate in inappropriate ways.

Other detractors point to ways the open door policy can produce adverse effects when employees repeatedly use the open door to do an end run around unpopular directives. Managers can begin to feel undermined when their reports go over the heads of middle management to express their displeasure to the managers’ superiors. This risk is exacerbated when such conversations aren’t shared across the levels of hierarchy. This can breed resentment and retribution leading to poor morale.  Employees (particularly managers) from more traditional corporate environments may have an emotional conflict with the concept of open door, thus behave in a way that is counter to the intention of the policy.

It should be understood that there are elements of communication that occur in an organization at times will need to be kept confidential at times – whether due to personal reasons or professional. Outlining some general guidelines and the scope of an open door policy in a company employee handbook is a good idea. It should provide clarity and sometimes even examples of what is considered relevant for open communication.

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