An open-door policy is one in which employees are encouraged to bring any concern to company leadership—whether it’s their direct supervisor or someone another level up in the organization.
Many organizations implement such a policy in order to encourage employees to bring issues out into the open, where they can be addressed in a timely manner and resolved before anything gets worse.
This policy also provides a way for employees to bring concerns with management to other levels in the organization. Here are some pros and cons to take into consideration when implementing an open-door policy at your organization.
Open-Door Policy Pros:
- This policy provides employees with an outlet for any concerns, even concerns with their direct supervisor.
- It may allow issues to be addressed sooner, often meaning the problem can be solved before it escalates.
- Employees know they can trust others to listen to their concerns.
- This type of policy creates a way for employees to bring up issues they don’t know what to do about, such as feedback for the organization or safety concerns.
- This type of policy can create more organizational transparency, which can foster trust.
Open-Door Policy Cons:
- This type of policy requires the culture to foster the idea—which, despite having a policy in place, is not a given and may take a lot of time and effort to change.
- Almost undoubtedly, some managers will be more receptive than others to listening to employee concerns; this may create a situation in which some managers are bombarded with issues while others are not. Employees who don’t feel they can reach out to their supervisor as easily may feel slighted.
- Some employees may take concerns to a level beyond where they should be addressed, which can create frustration and waste time among higher-level managers. Some people assume they need to go as high as possible for the resolution of even simple issues.
- Sometimes, this type of policy encourages employees to bring up problems they could have either dealt with or resolved on their own, which can be tedious for those tasked with looking into things. Employees may assume managers want to hear about every little thing; they have no incentive to try to work it out.
- If too many employees go “over the head” of their supervisor, it can eliminate that component of the supervisor’s role and lessen his or her influence.
- Some unscrupulous people may use the policy as a way to complain frequently (to different people) about an individual to harm him or her.
To avoid some of the cons listed here, be clear about how and when the policy should be utilized. For example, it’s always appropriate to try to resolve an issue, then go to the immediate supervisor (if that person is not involved with the problem and is available) first. Only escalate when necessary, not simply because it’s possible.
It’s also helpful to train all levels of management in how to handle employee concerns consistently and fairly.
Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.