Implementing an open-door policy sounds like such a good and positive shift in company culture. After all, the intent is that employees are free to share their concerns and needs whenever they want.
But when it comes to the reality of open-door policies, we’ve found they tend to be better in theory than in practice. In fact, open-door policies for feedback can actually be a hindrance for both employees and their employers.
Let’s examine three main pitfalls of the open-door policy:
When a company is touting itself as having an open-door policy, it’s meant to be positive, representing the fact that an employee always has access to a manager or HR representative to share feedback.
But an open-door policy can really be perceived as a negative, particularly by employees who have had negative experiences with similar policies at previous places of employment. That’s because the onus for sharing feedback is on the employee — he or she is required to make an effort to go to the manager and share.
“Saying you have an open-door policy is really lip service to imply your company is a transparent communicator,” says Dick Prall, a former HR Leader, and current Client Development at WorkHound. “But it creates a hierarchy between the worker and the HR person or manager he or she needs to talk to — sort of like being called into the principal’s office, but in reverse.”
In an ideal scenario, an employee could simply walk into an office at any time and meet with a manager. But in many cases, employees don’t feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and perspective in such an environment.
“If a company hasn’t established trust with each worker, an open-door policy just won’t be effective,” Prall says. “And in large companies, building the required level of trust is simply not possible. If you have a company with 1,000 workers and one HR person, you won’t be able to realistically collect the insights of every single worker.”
Now let’s consider what happens to an open-door policy when there are no doors in sight.
Many workplaces in today’s world are remote or involve workers being on the road. Workforces are often spread out into multiple locations, maybe even in multiple cities. That’s been magnified even further in the last few months as more employees work from home due to COVID-19.
The open-door policy simply doesn’t translate when the “door” is virtual.
“For those in a dispersed environment, like truckers and healthcare workers, an open-door policy is really intangible, because they might not even know where the door is,” Prall says. “During this time, with many workers operating outside of a central location, it’s not even a possibility.”
Both of the items listed above relate to employees and their needs, but an open-door policy really isn’t a positive for businesses either. Unlike a continuous feedback mechanism that gathers everyday insights from employees, an open-door policy leaves companies without consistent input. That’s a negative for companies and a negative for employees.
“The concept of an open-door policy is a company in waiting — it’s a company that’s not actively seeking what’s important or on the minds of their workers,” Prall says.
During that waiting period, all sorts of barriers can emerge.
“In theory, an HR director/retention leader is waiting in his or her office for someone to come to the office and talk about problems,” Prall adds. “But realistically, what’s going to happen is that someone will show up and have an issue to discuss, and the HR person may not be equipped or ready to talk through the issue, or the door may be closed. If any of those barriers prevent the worker from sharing, that breaks trust.”
The Better Option
Instead of operating on an open-door policy, use a continuous feedback tool like WorkHound to remove the door altogether.
“A feedback mechanism lets the employees know that a business is seeking feedback and actively looking for ways to improve,” Prall says. “Workers can feel secure in knowing that their feedback can be shared at any time — and that they don’t have to worry about showing up to a door that’s actually closed.”
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