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Why An Open Door Policy Is A Bad Policy

While many leaders and companies pride themselves on having an open door policy, this approach usually does more harm than good...

Have you ever worked for a company or for a leader who had an “open door policy?”

In such an environment, employees are encouraged to stop by whenever they have questions or suggestions or when they want to discuss an issue with management.

On the surface, such a policy would seem to be an effective way to build a culture of trust, openness, and respect. Being able to ask a question or speak your mind whenever you want is a good thing, right?

Well, actually, it’s not. In reality, an open door policy does more harm than good. There are two key reasons why:

  1. An open door policy encourages employees to be more impatient and less resourceful.

Earlier in my career, I worked in the front-office for the Washington Wizards, the professional basketball franchise in Washington, D.C. One of the organization’s senior vice presidents at that time was known for having an open door policy.

One day, I was meeting with this man to discuss a project that we were working on together. Midway through our meeting, an entry-level sales rep poked his head into the SVP’s office to ask for his help with a client issue.

Apparently, one of the rep’s clients had misplaced his tickets for the game that evening, and the rep wanted to know what he should do.

The SVP asked the sales rep if he had asked the ticket office to reprint the client’s tickets. (Note: This was over 10 years ago- before the advent of digital tickets.)

“Oh, I didn’t think of that,” the rep replied. He thanked the SVP for his help and went on his way.

Then, the SVP looked at me and rolled his eyes. What this man didn’t seem to realize, however, was that his open door policy was largely to blame for this exchange. If he had not made himself so accessible, the rep would have had to solve this simple problem on his own.

An open door policy doesn’t empower employees. It encourages them to be more impatient and less resourceful. If someone knows that he can interrupt you whenever he has a question, there is less of a need or incentive to try to solve problems on his own.

  1. An open door policy makes it harder for leaders to focus.

In order to follow-through on an open door policy, leaders need to be willing to drop whatever they are doing any time someone wants to speak with them. How can a leader possibly concentrate if people are interrupting him/her all day long with unexpected visits?

It’s already difficult enough to focus in today’s world- thanks to smartphones, email, instant messaging, texting, and so on. Adding an open door policy to the list of potential interruptions just makes matters much worse.

Yet, many organizations and leaders do this. In fact, some organizations even extend their open door policy outside of standard work hours. I recently stumbled upon a company that proudly declares on its web site that “senior management is available at all times, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week” for employees.

Not only does senior management at this company have an open door policy during work hours. Employees can even contact senior management during the middle of the night or on weekends if they want.

What kind of message is this company sending to its people? Apparently, if you want to be part of senior management one day, you need to be willing to break focus whenever someone wants to speak with you, and you also need to be available for unexpected questions at night and during weekends, too.

What should you do instead of an open door policy?

An open door policy is a phony, ineffective way to try to build a strong corporate culture. Trust is not built by leaving your door open or by being accessible 24-7. Trust is built by following-through on commitments and by treating people with respect.

Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to how accessible a company’s leaders are. More accessibility is not always better. In fact, it’s often worse. Too much accessibility disempowers employees and makes it harder for leaders to focus and set boundaries. Of course, too little inaccessibility is dangerous as well. You don’t want to create an environment in which people feel like they can never ask a question or speak their mind.

Instead of implementing an open door policy, set clear boundaries about when and how you will be available. Then, when you are with someone during those times, give them your 100% attention and respect. That’s more important than how often your door is open.

P.S. Have you taken the free habits assessment at StrongerHabits.com?

This assessment measures your current habits in four key areas that impact your energy, your stress, and your performance. You can click here to take the assessment for free. It takes less than 3 minutes, and you get your results immediately. 

About the author: Pete Leibman is the creator of StrongerHabits.com, the founder of Work Stronger Consulting, and the bestselling author of Work Stronger; Habits for More Energy, Less Stress, and Higher Performance at Work. His work has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and CNNMoney.com.

Author Pete Leibman at work (left) and competing in a fitness challenge (middle)

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