So, You Think You Have an Open Door?!

In most of today’s companies and organizations it is likely that an “Open Door Policy” exists, either formally, or as a mantra of the culture the organization is trying to create. These policies or mantras usually mean that employees can come to you at any time with any concern they would like to address. And, if they happen to feel uncomfortable addressing their issue with you, they are encouraged to find a leader or manager in the organization that they trust, to address their concern. This is usually followed by a statement stating that any retaliation to a person who uses the Open Door is completely unacceptable.

After several years of counseling and coaching employees, executives, and being on both sides of that equation myself, I believe it is a good practice periodically conduct a thorough examination on the extent to which your Open Door is actually doing what you intended it to do.

I suggest this examination primarily because, it is actually far better not to have such a policy than it is for your policy to be a sham. Another reason for the examination is because of what I have heard and experienced over the years about the Open Door:

  • I am amazed at how many times I have heard employees tell me that their manager has strictly prohibited them from calling anyone at the “Home Office”, from calling the employee hotline, or from speaking to someone up the chain of command. Managers will often state something like, “We take care of our own problems here at home!” I don’t know if you realize it, but that sounds a lot like the words that come from an abusive or dysfunctional family in which parents tell their kids to keep our secrets to ourselves. (Sorry, the old family therapist creeping out there)
  • I am also amazed at how often people tell stories of being threatened or of actual retaliation having occurred when they have used the open door.
  • I am shocked at the number of managers who tell me an Open Door Policy exists in their workplace, but then tell me that they have never (and many would never) encouraged their employees to utilize the Open Door if they felt like they cannot come to them with an issue or concern.
  • I am stunned by how few managers or leaders spend time with the employees of their Direct Reports, to determine how effective their managers are in addressing employee issues, or how seldom they check in to learn, first hand, the kind of culture or working environment their managers are creating.
  • And, I am dumbfounded by how frequently managers fail to understand how vulnerable employees often are or feel when they used the Open Door.
  • And I am surprised by how frequently managers fail to follow up and check back with an employee who has taken great risk in using the Open Door, just to ensure their issue was appropriately and respectfully addressed. Some are so insensitive to the risk factor that they simply tell the manager of the employee who came to them about the incident, accept their version of what happened, and expect them to follow up with the employee, or to act on it appropriately!

I know. You’re probably right.  Maybe it’s just me!

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