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 come to HR or a manager at any time to talk about anything I thought they ought to know. Looking back at whether that made a difference in when or how I brought up issues in the workplace, or whether I chose to bring an issue forward at all, I truly don’t think it did. This caused me to consider what may have made a difference, and how I would change the policy going forward.

Opinions on the “Open-door Policy” have waivered back and forth over the years. For example, Forbes Magazine has published for open-door policies (forbes.com/4-reasons-you-need-an-open-door-policy) and against them (forbes.com/why-successful-leaders-dont-have-an-open-door-policy).  And both sides have good points. Open-door policies can reduce manager performance as some employees see this as enabling them to just come in and shoot the breeze whenever they see fit. However, 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 explain:

“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 our previous blog post (#noretaliation), we provide helpful hints for HR professionals and 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 will define how we will treat each other, speak to each other and show respect to each other, in all levels of the company.
  2. Our open-door policy will be 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 will 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.

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