April 4, 2023

Your business might say it has an open-door policy, but what does that really mean? Have you established a policy with guidelines and actively encouraged employees to take advantage of it?

And are they using it? If not, your team may be nervous or uncomfortable sharing thoughts and ideas with leadership.

Or are staff constantly messaging or popping into their managers’ offices, disrupting efficiency and productivity? Then your policy may not be clear enough or contain sufficient boundaries.

Below, we’ll discuss why you need a workplace open-door policy and how to create an effective one.

What is an Open-Door Policy?

An open-door policy is a communication policy stating that leadership and management must keep their office doors open so employees can easily share feedback, ideas, questions, or concerns.

A workplace open-door policy is meant to foster transparent and efficient communication through which every team member can be heard. 

For in-office teams, this could mean literally leaving doors open for employees. On the other hand, remote companies might require managers to leave their virtual doors open so their reports can message them at any time. Either way, an open-door policy conveys to employees that leadership is receptive to their input.

Pros of an Open-Door Policy

When outlined and handled correctly, an open-door policy will have a powerful ripple effect on your company by: 

  • Promoting transparent communication between managers and employees
  • Building trust by making employees feel valued and heard
  • Increasing employee retention—as we know, valued employees stay engaged and loyal!
  • Preventing work disruptions and miscommunications, thanks to quick access to honest information
  • Speeding up workplace conflict resolutions
  • Improving productivity and efficiency by bringing obstacles and inefficiencies to light
  • Identifying employees with performance issues and taking corrective action

Cons of an Open-Door Policy

Of course, an open-door policy is not just a matter of managers slapping a sign on their doors telling employees to come in—they must set expectations with their teams! If it’s not well-defined, an open-door policy could:

  • Take up even more of managers’ time due to impromptu meetings
  • Cause employees to rely too heavily on supervisors
  • Lack the desired effect if employees don’t feel comfortable using it
  • Blur boundaries between business and personal and turn meetings into complaint sessions
  • Spur employees to go over their direct manager’s head

Fortunately, you can avoid these potential drawbacks with a solid open-door policy communicated clearly company-wide. 

5 Ways to Make Your Workplace Open-Door Policy Successful

Be Approachable & Encouraging

Leaders can make their staff feel more comfortable talking to them by showing genuine interest in their ideas and feedback. Remember, employees may feel intimidated approaching you—especially if they have a concern or idea to share. 

Consider ways you can consistently encourage your team to speak honestly with you. You may use a combination of feedback methods, such as surveys, 360 performance appraisals, and project debriefs. These regular conversations allow managers to show employees they value their thoughts and foster a culture of open communication.

Set Clear Open-Door Policy Rules

Establishing a clear workplace open-door policy will make employees more comfortable and likely to use it and prevent others from abusing it. Your company’s policy should outline: 

  • Which issues can be discussed and which are not acceptable use of this time
  • Who to address first (e.g., their direct supervisor), and who to turn to if the first point of contact is unavailable or can’t help
  • Communication methods based on the topic/issue
  • Specific days and/or office hours for this purpose OR how to schedule a meeting

Be specific by listing different matters and advising employees on when and how to bring them to a manager and who to go to. For example, who should they approach to voice complaints or concerns? Which subject matter experts can answer their questions? What if they have a personal issue affecting their work? Consider creating a list of contacts for each type of concern and distributing it to all employees.

Don’t just post your open-door policy on the company intranet. Include it in your employee handbook (which should be updated and reissued annually!) and pin it in your team chat app, such as Slack or Teams, for easy access. 

Create a Positive & Compassionate Environment

Nervous and uncertain employees may feel they must always ensure they do everything right, afraid to make mistakes. But staff members dependent on their managers could consume a large chunk of your time.

You can prevent this by showing employees it’s ok to make mistakes. Let them know this is essential to growth and learning, and taking responsibility for their errors is crucial. They need to know they won’t get in trouble for every mishap. 

Develop a Conflict Resolution Process

When you create a workplace open-door policy, you and your leadership team should expect occasional workplace conflicts—which means you must have a conflict resolution process.

An employee may approach their direct manager with a complaint about a peer. Or, an employee may even go over their immediate supervisor if they have a concern or conflict with them. If this happens, the responding leader should take a mediator role, encourage the team member to talk to their manager, and sit down with both parties for a conversation to help resolve the problem. 

Many conflicts can be resolved with early intervention and good communication. However, some issues can grow and require more hands-on solutions, such as a performance improvement plan. Be sure to document everything and have a disciplinary action plan in place.

Train Leaders on the Open-Door Policy

Even if your company has a well-thought-out open-door policy, it won’t go far if your executives and managers don’t know how or aren’t willing to handle it appropriately. This will negatively impact morale and trust between managers and employees.

Instead, gain buy-in from your leadership team by holding a separate training session on the process. Highlight its importance and how it can benefit them and their teams. Guide management on:

  • How to take an empathetic approach to employees’ feedback and ideas 
  • Setting boundaries and expectations to help them protect their time and maintain productivity
  • Handle specific situations, particularly delicate ones like conflicts and harassment claims

People and leadership skills don’t come naturally to everyone. Some managers may need additional training on soft skills to help them become better listeners, more emotionally intelligent, and more approachable overall. 

Final Thoughts on Open-Door Policies for Businesses

Do you have a small growing business? Or are you hiring your first employee? Introducing an open-door policy early will help foster a positive workplace culture from the start! 

Or maybe your company is established and doesn’t currently have a transparent culture, but you want to change that. Now is the perfect time to build trust and improve morale, and an open-door policy is a great first step. However, employees may need more work and encouragement to use it. 

Either way, an open-door policy shows employees that you value their ideas, opinions, and concerns. If you need assistance creating or updating your company’s policy, contact BlueLion today at 603-818-4131 or info@bluelionllc.com to learn more about our outsourced HR services and projects!

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.