Is It Enough that Your Company Has an Open-Door Policy?

Contributed by Dana Barbato, HR West 2018 Speaker

Is it enough that your company has an open-door policy?At almost every job I have ever had, I was told during orientation or in the handbook that HR (and in some cases, management) had an open-door policy. And yes, the policies that I wrote as an HR professional contained that verbiage as well. But what does it mean?

As an employee, I suppose I thought that meant that I could go to HR or a manager, at any time, to talk about anything I thought they ought to know. Looking back at whether or not that would’ve made a difference in when or how I brought up issues in the workplace or if I would’ve chose to bring an issue forward at all, I truly don’t think it would have! This has caused me to consider what could have actually made a difference, and how I would change an open-door policy going forward.

Opinions on the “Open-door Policy” have waivered back and forth over the years. For example, Forbes Magazine has published an article for open-door policies: 4 Reasons You Need an Open-Door Policy and another one, against open-door policies: Why Successful Leaders Don’t Have an Open-Door Policy.

Both sides have good points:

  1. Open-door policies reduce manager performance, as some employees see this as enabling them to just come in and shoot the breeze whenever they see fit.
  2. The policies also allow employees to come forward when they have a suggestion or complaint that really needs to be heard.

When business professors James R. Detert (Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University) and Amy Edmonson (Harvard Business School) set out to analyze the reasons behind fear of coming forward with information at work, their study found that having an open-door policy did not reduce the fear of coming forward. Why? Self-preservation. The professors explained:

“In our interviews, the perceived risks of speaking up felt very personal and immediate to employees, whereas the possible future benefit to the organization from sharing their ideas was uncertain. So people often instinctively played it safe by keeping quiet.”

It is time to ask ourselves if our open-door policies are enough to drive the type of change we need to see in our organizations?

In my opinion, the answer is NO.

In my previous blog post (#noretaliation), I provide helpful hints for HR professionals as well as company managers, to encourage workers to come forward. We need to demonstrate and invite open communication and reiterate our policies that prevent retaliation when employees speak up.

At InvestiPro, we have chosen to move forward with three steps to help employees bring their voices forward:

  1. Our Code of Civility will be prominently posted in the office for all to see. It defines how we will treat each other, speak to each other and show respect to each other, within all levels of the company.
  2. Our Open-Door Policy has changed to an Open-Communications Policy that will define how we approach each other in both positive and challenging situations, and will include strong statements against retaliation and accountability.
  3. We now provide training to employees on communication skills that will help build confidence in raising issues that drive toward a constructive outcome.

As with everything in business, we don’t always know the impact that changes will have in the long run. But we have to start somewhere, and I am feeling optimistic!

Dana Barbato,SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CEO/Founder, InvestiPro has spent over 25 years working to tame the chaos in the human side of human resources. With a strong belief in respectful employee relations, strong leadership and consistent practices, she has proven in her HR roles that accountability=trust=engagement. Dana will present, The Bright Side: Investigations Can Improve Company Culture at HR West 2018 – March 7th at 11:40 a.m.  InvestiPro is also a 2-time instant winner in the #HRWest18 Social Media Challenge!

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