How to Implement Open Door Policies at Work

This guide offers insights into instituting open door policies for your organization. 


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What is an open door policy? 

An open door policy means that your employees can come directly to you at any time with thoughts about their duties, salaries, relationships with team members or perceptions about the company overall. An open door policy workplace eliminates the traditional communication barriers between employees and business owners and managers, improves morale and reduces workplace conflicts


Related: How to Motivate Your Employees


Where to start with open door policies

The first step in deciding how to institute an open door policy is determining what kind of relationship you want with your employees.


Businesses with open door policies may foster friendlier, more casual relationships among staff and management by treating all stakeholders as valued team members. Employees in an open door policy workplace may also be more invested in their work and the company because they feel like their input is valued.  


Another consideration is whether you want employee concerns to follow a chain of command, particularly if your company has one or more department managers or supervisors. 


For instance, if you prefer that employees first approach their immediate supervisor, then you may consider having a more traditional direct-report structure or a hybrid form of closed door policy. This could mean that employees would be welcome to come to you with their concerns after they’ve addressed the issue with their manager.  


Open door policy inclusions and exclusions

If you’ve decided you like the idea of being more accessible to your employees, there are a few other things to consider before launching your own open door policy.


The idea of open door policies is to improve communication, increase transparency and boost productivity. This doesn’t mean that you need to start micromanaging your employees or undermine the authority of your supervisors, however. 


Start by defining what types of issues, concerns and feedback will fall under your open door policies and what issues need to be dealt with under a closed door policy. Keep in mind that there are legal considerations when dealing with workplace safety issues, harassment and discrimination. 


Recognize the potential problems with open door policies

Enabling your employees to come directly to you with any questions, concerns or suggestions may be beneficial, but it also comes with some risks. 


In order for an open door policy workplace to function well, managers need to be available to all employees equally; otherwise, problems with perceived favoritism can quickly develop. 


Another potential pitfall of enacting an open door policy is that your employees may become too dependent on instant feedback from you and your management team, and that can lead to a loss in productivity. 


You’ll also want to be aware of employees who may use the opportunity to interact directly with you or your managers as a way to undermine other employees or to simply avoid their regular duties. 


While preventing the potential downfalls of an open door policy can be challenging, a clear open door policy definition can go a long way toward ensuring the policy reaps benefits for your business. 


Steps to developing an open door policy workplace 

Here are steps to take when instituting an open door policy for your business: 


  1. Define the open door policy meaning in your employee handbook
  2. Be an active listener
  3. Set clear parameters
  4. Bring in other parties when needed 
  5. Have a backup system for more private concerns

1. Add the policy to your employee handbook

Having a formal open door policy definition included in your handbook is a way of demonstrating your commitment to the idea of clear, barrier-free communication in your organization.


An open door policy may read, in part: 


We are committed to fostering open communication with senior management and the company owner. If you have a concern, complaint, dispute or a suggestion for helping the company run better, please feel free to come directly to the head office. Our door is always open, and we aim to provide quick and effective solutions to foster a cooperative and productive work environment. 


2. Be an active listener 

After the employee is in your office, you’ll still want to take some measures to ensure they’re comfortable and trusting. First, try to avoid using electronics like your phone or computer while they’re talking. Being attentive is an important way to let your employee know their input is important. Second, give verbal responses during the conversation. For instance, you may say “Yes, I hear you” or “I appreciate your input” throughout the discussion.  


3. Set clear parameters

Open door doesn’t mean that anything goes when it comes to strong communications between yourself, your management team and your employees. 


Your open door policies should clearly outline what is, and isn’t, acceptable when it comes to sharing information within the workplace. This might mean that your open door policy is only in effect when your office door is actually open. It’s also common for managers to set specific times when the open door policy is in effect; otherwise, you and your managers might find it difficult to maintain your regular duties. 


You should also encourage employees to problem-solve before approaching you with a question or concern. When it comes to running an open door policy workplace, there’s a fine line between promoting communication and creating dependency among employees. 


4. Bring in other parties when needed 

If workers come to you with a grievance regarding a specific department, employee or manager, you might ask other team members or that department’s manager to come into your office. Having the perspective of all parties involved in the matter ensures you make a well-informed and effective decision. 


Some sensitive matters may require human resources personnel. In these cases, let your employee know that you have to bring in other staff, explain the reasoning and address any concerns the employee may have.  


5. Have a backup system for more private matters

If an employee needs to report a private concern such as harassment, you’ll want to protect their privacy by enacting a closed door policy. In these instances, consider holding the meetings in a conference room or other neutral space. Doing so will help build comfort and trust with the employee you’re meeting with while also letting your other team members know you’re upholding the open door policy for your office.  


Related: Employee Satisfaction Surveys: What They Are and Why They’re Important for Your Business


FAQs about open door policies

Here are some frequently asked questions about open door policies:


Should I have employees set appointments for meetings with me?

Running a business requires a significant time investment, so you’ll want to make sure you fit employee discussions into your regular schedule.


Having employees choose times during the day when you don’t have other commitments can ensure your open door policy still allows for maximum productivity. Consider using a shared online calendar so your staff knows what times are available.   


How can I keep an open door policy but still encourage employees to think of their own solutions?

Asking your employees to come up with a few potential responses to their issues can be an effective way of building their confidence and helping your team function more cooperatively.


For instance, if you have a shipping department that falls behind on orders, an employee may suggest a different physical setup in the mailroom to increase efficiency. 


Will an open door policy hinder communication among my employees? 

Even though you want to maintain a consistent dialogue with your employees, setting up and maintaining solid working relationships among team members should also be a priority.


When employees come to you regarding disagreements with their coworkers, you can ask if they’ve attempted to work things out with the other party first. In these cases, try providing some tips for resolving their own disputes that the employee can use going forward.  





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