Open Door Policy

What does having an open door policy at work mean for employees?

An open door policy allows any employee to talk with any other employee in an organization.


filadendron/E+/Getty Images 

An open door policy means, literally, that every manager's door is open to every employee. The purpose of an open door policy is to encourage open communication, feedback, and discussion about any matter of importance to an employee.

When a company has this open door policy, employees are free to talk with any manager at any time. They are also free to approach or meet with the senior leadership of the organization. They do not need to worry about only discussing concerns, asking questions, or making suggestions in their own chain of command.

Companies adopt an open door policy to develop employee trust and to make certain that important information and feedback reach managers who can utilize the information to make changes in the workplace. An open door policy is normally a part of the employee handbook.

Companies are wise to train their managers and executive staff about how an open door policy ought to work. Otherwise, it can begin to feel as if employees are encouraged to go around their bosses and to tattle on other employees. Further, if you are not careful, an open door policy can encourage employees to believe that only the senior leaders have the ability to make decisions and solve problems.

How an open door policy ought to work

So, executives need to listen to employee observations and input when the employee comes to their door or schedules a meeting. But, if the discussion turns to the employee's boss and problems best solved by the immediate supervisor, the executive needs to ask the employee if he or she has taken the matter up with their direct boss.

Sometimes employees build imaginary barriers with their immediate boss and make assumptions about how he or she will handle the situation. This is not fair to their boss, and it may not reflect the boss's actual behavior, but it happens with employees. As Tom Peters famously said, "Perception is all there is." 

If the manager or senior leader solve the employee's problem or fails to give the immediate manager an opportunity to respond, it undermines responsible decision-making and problem-solving. If an open door policy circumvents the relationship an employee needs to build with their immediate manager, it is not functioning properly.

This relationship includes the fact that most problem-solving should take place where the solution is needed—closest to the job.

Executives do well when they ask the employee if the employee has taken up their complaint with their boss before coming to them. If not, after you have listened, you need to suggest that the employee speaks with his or her own manager, too.

Otherwise, you train employees that they can do an end run around their own manager to see if they can get what they want from their manager's boss. Once referred back to their own manager, the manager's boss should set up an action step with the employee that confirms the employee took the problem to his boss. This avoids the proverbial mom vs. dad dance.

This step is often to set up another meeting following the employee's discussion with his boss. In this way, you can make sure the discussion happened. Depending on the nature of the issue, you may want to include the employee's boss and make the meeting a three-person discussion. This ensures that you are all on the same page.

By taking these steps, you have facilitated communication between the employee and their direct supervisor. You have reinforced the fact that they don't need you to handle problems or deal with suggestions or complaints.

The complaint Is about the employee's boss

If the complaint is about the employee's immediate boss, the executive should determine how he or she can facilitate a discussion between the two parties. This should be one of the most common outcomes of an employee's open door discussion.

Open door discussions are a significant contributor to employees feeling as if they have somewhere to go when they don't want to speak to their immediate manager. You must manage open-door discussions, however, so that the conversation with the manager's boss or a senior manager doesn't circumvent the times when the employee really needs to speak to their direct manager.

Finally, an open door policy provides a vehicle for more senior managers to understand what is on the minds of employees with whom they don't regularly interact. Open door meetings give employees alternatives to speaking with their direct manager. They are an idea generation and problem-solving tool for organizations to utilize in positive and productive ways. 

More About an Open Door Policy

Create your own open door policy that is customized to your organization's needs and culture using this sample open door policy as a guide. 

Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality. The site is read by a world-wide audience and ​employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country. Please seek legal assistance, or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct for your location. This information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance.