[aa_subtitle_display]Open door policies are great in theory, but are they really great in practice for small and mid-sized businesses? Many managers and top executives use the open door policy as a way to open communication and make all employees comfortable going to top executives with issues or ideas. Still, there are disadvantages to following such a policy.

An open door policy often means literally keeping an office door open. Managers, supervisors, and executives are supposed to keep their office doors open so that employees (even those who do not answer directly to them) can come in and discuss any problems or bring up suggestions. In theory, any employee can go to any leader, anytime, with any issue. There are a lot of great things that can come along with this: there is open communication and managers are more aware of the things going on within the company quickly.

There are some drawbacks to the open door policy. Firstly, it can be difficult to get work done if employees are constantly walking in to chat. Also, some employees may not learn to solve their own small problems if they always go straight to a member of leadership. No matter how open your open door policy is, many employees still feel like they may be reprimanded for bringing a problem to light (no one wants to be a tattle-tale.) While an open door policy is meant to lower employee anxiety through great communication, it turns out that it might actually increase anxiety when an office door does have to be shut. If an office door is almost always open, it signals something bad is going on when the door is shut. Certain confidential conversations need to be done behind closed doors, but employees may view every closed-door conversation as a disciplinary one.

The idea of an open door policy is still a good one: employees should feel comfortable bringing up any issues they have. To reap the benefits of an open door policy without the disadvantages, you can implement a hybrid plan. Consider offering scheduled open door hours where employees can bring up issues so that you can schedule meetings and get work done during other hours. Post the schedule in the staff room or another space for all staff to see. You could also allow employees to bring up issues anonymously through an old-fashioned suggestion box. This will allow you to focus on work and take away the fear of repercussions for bringing up a problem. To alleviate the anxiety of closed-door meetings, try holding these confidential meetings in a conference room rather than the “safe space” of your office. Even better than waiting for employees to come to you is to go to them. Many employees may feel too nervous to start a conversation with a supervisor, so managers can help open communication lines by having friendly chats with employees as they pass. Take a walk around the office and say hello, it just might spark a needed conversation.

It is important that employees feel comfortable to bring issues and ideas to light, but giving everyone free reign to walk into any office at any time can be problematic. Try to strike a balance that will give your workplace the right level of comfort and communication so that it can run as smoothly as possible.

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