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Open Door Policy

By Daniel Schmitt

Your employee handbook probably includes a section on Open Door Policy, and perhaps your leadership team believes that the culture of the organization promotes and empowers transparent communication between the staff and the management team.  However, when was the last time you validated that your belief about what you implemented is actually current practices of the organization?

The concept of an open door policy is to allow candid and transparent communication between employees and the employer.  The policy and culture encourages employees to share their concerns, complaints, grievances, and ideas easily and without fear of retaliation from management.  From an employer perspective, an open door policy is also a strategic tool to enhance compliance and protect the risk and liability that exists in employment practices.  From an employee perspective it is a conduit to sharing perspectives and concerns easily and effectively without having to worry about losing your job or being treated unfairly by the employer.

The reality of the culture and workforce may be significantly different from the intended purpose of the policy, and your current practices are what drives the effectiveness of an open door policy.  Often when leaders or managers surround themselves with “yes” people and are closed minded about what is really going on by telling themselves a story about the culture, morale, and state of the workforce, there are serious employee relations issues taking place and a lack of effective communication.  The negative result of these behaviors and practices is an ultimate fear of speaking up, a fear of being honest, and a fear of getting in trouble or worse, losing one’s job.

Improving this situation take tremendous commitment to change, and a willingness to be honest with yourself and your management team about the impact of your action and behaviors has on the workforce.  Poor morale doesn’t happen by accident or overnight, it happens over time as a result of poor leadership and lack of honest communication causing a loss of trust between employees and employer.

If any of this resonates with you as a leader or manager, it is critical to seek out the guidance and support necessary to begin organizational change interventions to align the workforce on a common path again.  Fear to speak up for the employees will ultimately result in the workforce seeking alternative means to communicate their feelings about the employer, which can include resignation, poor productivity and performance, gossip, employee relations issues, and eventually law suits and litigation.

This can all be avoided by taking action today to begin enhancing your open door policy to really do what it says, to train all of your leaders and managers on what to do when complaints or concerns are received, how to communicate and document these issues up the chain of command, and how to build a culture where there is no fear of retaliation for speaking up and being honest.  Begin by holding yourself accountable to the open door policy, and then be proactive in ensuring every other manager and leader in the organization is doing the same.