An Alternative to Open Door Policy

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April 8, 2017
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Let's talk about open door policy at the work place

Open door policies can be seen as positives. Some believe such a policy encourages employees to offer suggestions and ideas, provide or solicit feedback, or address concerns within the company. As K.A. Francis writes, “Open door policies foster communication between employees and management. The policy offers an alternative discussion forum for employees with supervisors who lack managerial skills or are prone to acts of intimidation.”

Yet, while an open door policy may seem like the perfect way to put employees at ease, it can actually hinder productivity for all parties involved. When open door policies are in place, not only will employees feel as if they now have an added responsibility to reach out to managers for any and all problems, but it can also lead to managers neglecting employees.

A manager instituting an open door policy may erroneously believe that any employee with a problem will simply come forward and make that problem known, therefore absolving the manager of any duty to check in with his or her employees personally. Yet some employees may be hesitant to come forward with certain issues, resulting in these issues going entirely unaddressed. This is a sure-fire way to lower engagement, in turn leading to lower productivity and morale.

Then we have those on the opposite end of the spectrum: employees that feel no hesitation to take full advantage of such a policy -- so much so that they become dependent on external help for any issue they may have, leading to a lack of personal growth and the chance of a potential disaster in the event a manager is unavailable.

With these dangers of an open door policy and the stigma that comes with closed doors in mind, here are the two alternative approaches to an open door policy.

“Open door policies foster communication between employees and management.”

 

Scheduling

Schedule an open door period. Whether you schedule a set period in your day to open the door or schedule one-on-one meetings, setting a specific time during the work day for the potential of interruption is key to making your policy work. Matthew Toren of Business.com says: “Consider scheduling an open-door policy that is posted somewhere public with your ‘door is open’ specific dates and times. This allows for communication and access between you and your staff, but during times when that activity is scheduled for and budgeted into your calendar. This has the additional side effect of forcing your team to more seriously consider whether the questions they are bringing to you during open door time are really important, or if they have to wait until the open door time, if they can instead solve problems themselves sooner and without interrupting you.”

Knowing exactly when you’re going to have employees coming to you is the perfect solution for being interrupted at inopportune times. Scheduling of time communicates the following to your employees:

  1. We have a set time for communication
  2. Our time is important
  3. You can compile a list of things needed to be discussed and bring it up at this time (unless it’s an emergency; In the case of a true emergency, we may need to act even when our doors are closed -- but these times should be few and far in between).

However, scheduling alone doesn’t give us the full benefits of a closed door policy.

Setting the Rules

Simply scheduling for when we can leave the door open can just as easily lead to employees coming to us for unimportant reasons. To combat time vampires, it’s best to set rules for open door sessions.

I personally have a single rule when it comes to my direct employees coming to me with questions or problems: whenever a problem is presented to me, the presenter of that problem is required to propose 2 or 3 viable solutions. Not only does this requirement promote growth for the individual, but it also cuts down on wasted time while eliminating most interruptions altogether.

A simple rule that you may personally adopt is that under no circumstances are you to be interrupted when your door is closed. It’s important to show employees that you are available to them, but it’s just important that they respect your time. A mutually shared understanding of these elements is ideal to creating a productive work space.