I remember hearing the term open door policy when I joined my first company after university. It was touted as a morale-booster because we are free to bring up any concerns we have with our managers, or even managers higher up the food chain. I remember being impressed by the concept when it was explained to me, but I'm beginning to question if the open door policy is doing more harm than good.
Let's quickly recap what the open door policy is. One common explanation is a communication policy where “employees are encouraged to stop by whenever they feel the need to meet and ask questions, discuss suggestions, and address problems or concerns with management”. It's “intended to foster an environment of collaboration, high performance, and mutual respect between upper management and employees”.
I think the main issue with having the open-door policy is some managers think that it is sufficient to encourage employees to come to them with their issues. My experience over the past 10 years in the industry have taught me otherwise. People are well aware of the policy, but few would actually take the leap to bring a real issue up until it's critical. And we as managers want to resolve issues before they become serious.
I believe a few of the common reasons why most team members don't speak up without being asked might include:
- Fear that the open door policy is just lip service, and that they will be ‘punished’ for bringing it up.
- There's an internalised message that managers do not want to hear about problems unless it's accompanied by a solution. Some problems, by nature, need a manager's help to solve.
- Unintended consequences of other communication policies like anonymous suggestion boxes and ombudsman processes give the impression that feedback should not be brought up in person, but should be kept hush-hush.
Therefore, an open door policy is insufficient by itself because it is a passive system. It must be accompanied by active systems such as regular one-on-ones where the supervisor is able to create a safe space for the employee to discuss their job satisfaction and air any grievances they have.