Open Door Policy – Do It Right

Let’s talk about “Dan” and “Tessa” – clearly these are not their real names but this is a real situation.

Dan was a member of Tessa’s team. The company they worked for was experiencing some changes and there was a need to maximize the workspace. One solution, which would be temporary, was to request the part-time employees share a workspace. To do this, the morning part-timers would use the same workstations as the afternoon part-timers. Seems reasonable for a temporary solution.

Dan had been working for the company for years and had sat in the same workspace since being hired. After a few days of sharing a workspace with a newer employee, Dan noticed the workspace was not in the same condition he left it. In fact, some of his personal effects were being moved or relocated. Dan felt a bit violated and uncomfortable and took the matter to his supervisor, Tessa. He wanted to talk about what he was experiencing and what he should do.

A little about Dan: he was not your “go-getter” type. He’s a steady employee who doesn’t like change very well but will keep up and adjust. His attitude is generally positive and he smiles to greet everyone he sees. He’s not known for drama in the workplace and enjoys offering a helping hand. He liked his position so much that when a new employee he trained was offered a promotion within a team after only a few months, Dan was happy for that co-worker.

Tessa was new to being a leader. She was a bit sarcastic lacking empathy or compassion when it came to interacting with co-workers and her team. She was solutions-oriented so she didn’t like to hear problems but solutions. She, also, held an “open door policy”.

So, when Dan shared his feeling with Tessa he was surprised by her response. Tessa asked Dan,

“Are you resigning then?”

Dan didn’t know how to respond other than he was just venting. Dan was caught off-guard by Tessa’s response.

The next morning, Dan approached Tessa to apologize and stay he thought maybe he was being a bit petty. He said he could adjust to the situation. Tessa told him that was a good thing.

As the day rolled on, Dan heard a gossipy team member talking about this ridiculous co-worker “crying” about sharing his desk. The team member revealed the story came from their supervisor, Tessa, and how was “annoyed” by this person because he was being a crybaby. Dan recognized the gossip as his situation.

Eventually, Dan heard Tessa had been laughing with her manager, a member of upper leadership, about the ‘man-baby’. Dan realized the feelings he shared in confidence with Tessa had become the running joke.

Not too long after, Dan left the company.

Tessa betrayed Dan’s trust by talking about his situation and mocking him behind his back. As a leader with an open-door policy, Tessa had provided the expectation that she could be trusted. If Tessa was going to offer an open-door policy, she should have considered the following:

  1. Being vague. Offering an open-door policy does not spell out the boundaries or set any expectations. By not drawing a line in the sand for your employees you may find that you spend a lot of time on unnecessary matters. If you are a solutions-oriented leader let your team know that before you open your door. Tell your team what your door is open for.
  2. Cross your own threshold! If you open that door to your employees you should go through it yourself! Part of leading a team and influencing their productivity is gaining their trust by showing up for them. Don’t make them come after you consistently. Go and check on your team and show them you are available to them – and be sincere about it!
  3. Don’t violate the confidence your team has in you! There should be no reason for a leader to share confidential conversations with anyone unless policy dictates otherwise. When your team finds out you defied their trust you have discredited yourself and will have opened the door to passive-aggressive mutiny.

Tessa could have saved herself some stress and turnover if she had told her team the expectations for the open-door policy. Open-door policies are not window-dressing options for leaders. They are an avenue for relationship development and maintenance within your team.

Had Tessa clarified her policy, she might have kept her position as a people leader.