When a manager is easily accessible and takes an active role in addressing their employees’ concerns, workers feel more valued and are better equipped to do a great job.
It’s well understood that employees don’t stay loyal to an employer because of their job alone. Many stay because their leaders inspire them, making them want to be better at their work.
The days of bosses sitting behind in their offices and locking their doors are long gone. Instead, businesses expect their leaders to keep their doors open to every employee. This trend isn’t solely office-based work environments, either. With many companies shifting to remote working due to the pandemic, employees expect their managers to be available via digital means.
What is an open door policy?
The term “open door” evokes the image of an office with a physical door that can be closed for privacy. While it can refer to that setup, it’s now a broader term. In recent years, senior leaders have realized that a strict hierarchy, reinforced with barriers to access, are not compatible with the way modern companies do business.
A company that has an open door policy encourages employees to approach their managers or senior leadership team with their concerns. These organisations likewise require managers to be available for such consultations and train their leaders to support and listen to their teams. A true open door policy implies that an employee go to any manager, even members of senior leadership and those who aren’t in their direct reporting structure, with work-related concerns.
Four reasons your workplace should implement an open door policy
It’s nice to have some privacy when you need it, of course. But an open door policy is much more than the physical act of limiting physical barriers. It is also a management style that values feedback, extends support generously., and constantly looks out for better ways to serve employees.
When a workplace has an open door policy, it can enjoy these benefits:
Better Understanding of Employee Sentiment
Managers who keep their (literal and figurative) office doors open tend to make employees more comfortable about coming in to discuss workplace issues, suggestions, and ideas. It tells employees that their bosses care about them and aren’t too busy to listen to them.
When leaders are willing and able to listen to and discuss concerns, this policy results in a better understanding of workplace sentiment, day to day office events, and any issues that might impact operations.
These quick visits are the workplace equivalent of a doctor taking a patient’s pulse – they take a few moments, but can give you a great indication of overall health. Why not pair your open door policy with the use of employee surveys to keep your finger on the pulse of how things are going in your team?
Higher Engagement Levels
While open-door discussions tend to be informal compared to scheduled meetings and performance reviews, these discussions can still lead to valuable new insights.
A good leader always wants to be aware of the things that are happening within their team. Keeping the door open sends the message that the manager wants to engage with their employees and are interested in what they have to say. The result? More forthcoming, engaged, and invested employees.
Higher employee engagement levels mean that no opinion goes unheard. It helps build confidence in management and dispels any notion that they are out of touch with what’s happening on the ground.
Quick Access to Vital Information and New Ideas
Many managers complain that they are left out of the loop when it comes to office news. However, these managers may have inadvertently closed themselves off to receiving that information by sending the signal that they are unavailable.
While office memos and company-wide email blasts are not reliable sources of information, there’s no substitute to getting information from the source – your employees. Since they run things on a day to day basis, they have a more intimate knowledge of the issues that affect operations.
This is even more apparent in fast-paced and ever-changing industries. In the years I’ve been running Lform Design, my custom web design agency, I’ve seen again and again how vital it is to listen to employees. My team has access to an extraordinary knowledge base and a wealth of fantastic ideas between them. Why wouldn’t I want to have access to that?
Learning in the workplace doesn’t go one way. If you keep your door – and your ears – open, you might be amazed what your team can teach you.
Better Working Relationships
Closed doors can imply secrecy, formality, and superiority, all of which can negatively impact the relationship between management and employees. In contrast, an open door policy promotes a culture of transparency and builds trust across the organisation. A manager who is available for a chat, whether in person or online, earns the respect of their employees and is thus in a better position to influence and inspire them.
When companies extend this openness all the way to senior leadership, employees at all levels start feeling trusted and valued. They see themselves as vital parts of the organisation, not merely individual cogs in a giant machine. An employee who sees themselves as an important part of a business is more conscientious, more productive, and more likely to stay with the organisation for the long haul.
Implementing an Open Door Policy in Three Steps
An open door policy at work has multiple benefits, but if you implement it incorrectly it can create more problems than it solves. As with any sort of change you implement in the workplace, an open door policy will only succeed if you roll it out deliberately and strategically.
Here are the three steps you should take as you transform your workplace into one with more free-flowing, open communication:
Set Clear Boundaries
While an open door policy is an invitation to employees to drop in (or pick up the phone) to discuss their workplace concerns, this can be abused. If you’re not careful, management could end up either serving as the office counselor, or else micromanaging situations. Therefore, you need to set clear parameters and boundaries.
Here are some ground rules you may wish to consider:
- before an employee approaches a manager with an issue, they should have considered possible solutions;
- managers should have a way to signal times when they are not available, such as when they’re in a meeting or working towards a big deadline;
- in a true emergency, anyone can be interrupted with the goal of solving the problem.
Managers should also continue to arrange one-to-one check ins and performance reviews with their direct reports periodically. An open door policy complements these, but does not replace them.
Listen with Intent
An open door policy won’t help if your listening skills aren’t up to the task. When you listen with intent, you let the person speak without interrupting them, then paraphrase what they said back to them to make sure you understood correctly.
You should also switch your phone to silent mode, close your laptop, and do whatever else you need to do to minimise interruptions and distractions during a conversation.
Listening with intent goes beyond each individual conversation, too. For example, you might notice a pattern – the same issues coming up again and again. This might lead to you taking action, with input from your team members, to address the root cause of a recurring issue.
The end goal of an open door policy is not to micromanage employees or make them dependent on you. Instead, you should encourage them to seek out your guidance while taking charge of their own concerns and proactively engaging in problem solving.
Respect the Value of Time
Many managers confuse an open door policy with 24/7 availability, especially given the erasure of normal workplace boundaries that remote working can cause. Widespread use of email and chat apps might mean you feel bombarded with messages all day, every day.
You and your employees should respect the time that’s involved in these interactions. If you are able to solve a problem right away, go ahead and solve it. However, you cannot expect to address everything immediately – or alone.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, from your own boss or from your HR department, if something is too big or complex for you to remedy by yourself.
Regardless of the industry you’re in, the ways that we do business have changed. Modern companies require a modern approach. That means managers who are aware of what’s happening on the ground and who listen to their employees’ concerns.
An open door policy makes all this possible by encouraging employees to discuss workplace issues, suggest solutions, and make their sentiments known. If you implement it properly, you’ll benefit from more engaged, loyal, and productive employees. How do you plan to use an open door policy to boost employee engagement?
Ian Loew is the Owner and Creative Director of Lform Design. He leads a team of creative professionals to deliver inspired online experiences via modern, responsive websites that reflect his clients’ core values.