What Is an Open-Door Policy and Why Do Workers Want It

colleagues using open door policy

Structural changes to the workplace may have changed how, when, and where people work, but one thing hasn’t changed: employees want to feel heard. In this guide, we answer the question “What is an open door policy?” and explain why it could be the key to creating an environment of open communication between workers and managers.  

Study after study shows that one of the critical components of employee satisfaction is a workplace culture that makes workers feel heard. According to a 2021 report by The Workforce Institute:

  • “Highly engaged employees” are three times more likely to say they feel heard than high disengaged employees
  • Workers who feel a “very high level of belonging” are four times more likely to say they feel heard than those reporting a low level of belonging. 
  • In organisations that financially outperform their competitors, 88% of their employees say they feel heard. In contrast, only 62% of workers in financially underperforming organisations feel the same way. 

However, the study, which surveyed over 4,000 employees from around the world, also found that the vast majority (86%) of workers feel they aren’t heard equally or fairly. Nearly half (47%) said that their employers undervalue underrepresented voices.

Related Reading: How to Build an Employee Engagement Strategy for 2022

Many companies need to do better to ensure their people feel heard or listened to. One solution to this problem is an open door policy — a way for managers and executives to encourage workers to reach out to them.

What is an open-door policy?

An open door policy is a workplace communication standard that encourages employees to engage with managers and senior-level staff across the organisation. The idea is for managers and executives to leave their office doors “open,” creating a more open and transparent working environment. 

As the term suggests, leaving an open door means that employees can stop by whenever they have any questions, concerns, suggestions, and other kinds of feedback with management that may or not be affecting their performance. 

In the post-pandemic workplace, where more employees are now working remotely than ever, an open door policy means employees can DM senior-level staff or book a meeting room (for hybrid offices) for a one-on-one discussion. 

Related Reading: How to Enhance Workplace Culture in a Post-Covid Hybrid Environment

The 3 Benefits of an open door policy

colleagues talking to each other at workSource: Pexels

An open door policy is as much a statement as a communication guideline. It shows that the organisation isn’t bound by traditional attitudes around seniority and promotes an egalitarian culture. This can introduce several benefits to the workplace, such as:

1. It protects workers from retaliation for speaking out

Employees with problems and negative feedback may have second thoughts about facing repercussions for raising their concerns with management. According to an article about employee silence in the Harvard Business Review, 20% of employees say fear of consequences made them withhold suggestions for fixing problems.

An open-door policy can nip this problem in the bud by promoting fairness and equality in all types of feedback. For example, Saint Louis University’s open-door policy encourages workers to share any concerns or feedback so that they can resolve issues constructively with management. The policy also reiterates that retaliating against employees who raise their concerns in good faith directly violates university policy. 

2. It can address acute issues before they become chronic problems

An open door policy helps create a safe space that promotes proactive action, preventing minor issues that workers spot or deal with from turning into chronic problems. By outlining clear paths for escalating questions or requests for guidance, employees know they’re always one message away from their organisation’s leaders. 

If one employee sees a problem involving another department but indirectly affecting their work, they know they can always reach out to that department’s head. This is how Keka, an HR payroll software company, designed its open door policy: to work cross-level and cross-department. 

3. Open door policies can prevent echo chambers

We’ve all been at meetings where the loudest voices often get the most attention, leading to others hesitating to share their ideas and feedback. This natural occurrence often reflects differences in personality (e.g., shyness, fear of speaking in public) and can be mitigated through more structured meeting setups. 

Related Reading: The Cloudbooking Guide to Planning Productive Hybrid Meetings

An effective open-door policy is another way to give underrepresented voices a chance to speak up and be heard outside of meetings. It ensures that workers — particularly those who may be more comfortable in one-on-one settings — can raise their concerns with someone who has the authority to implement change. 

Common problems with open door policies

work colleagues discussing a campaign

Source: Unsplash

Open door policies are an established workplace communication concept that’s been tried, tested, and experimented with by countless employers worldwide. 

Naturally, the success of these policies can vary from one organisation to another, leading to the following criticisms of the effectiveness of open door policies.

Managers overestimate the effectiveness of an open door policy

Many managers mistake thinking that an open door policy is enough to encourage employees’ feedback. But researchers sharing their findings in the Harvard Business Review, say these policies can fail because they’re passive — they put the onus on workers to initiate the conversation. 

Cloudbooking Tip: The researchers found that employees are more likely to share their input when it’s solicited. In other words, managers still need to take a proactive approach to gather feedback from their teams, whether it’s by sitting down with them for lunch or making it clear — repeatedly, if necessary — that it’s okay for them to be forthcoming. 

Some employees don’t believe they work

Sometimes, withholding feedback has nothing to do with a fear of consequences. 

According to a Harvard Business Review article, 25% of employees don’t share their concerns about routine problems or ideas for process improvement because they think it’s a waste of time. 

Cloudbooking Tip: For employers, the challenge is ensuring the open door policy isn’t just about making people feel safe. It’s not enough for people to “feel heard” — they need to know that any feedback they share goes somewhere or does something. 

It discourages problem-solving

Another criticism of open door policies is that they can make employees too dependent on their managers. This causes them to fear taking risks and making decisions about their work. 

Cloudbooking Tip: As important as it is for employees to feel comfortable seeking guidance from senior-level staff, they should still be empowered to solve problems independently. Make it clear that turning to a manager or executive should happen for valid reasons, such as when an issue requires someone with authority to make changes or when process suggestions affect the entire team or department. 

Implement an open door policy the right way

The modern workplace is in a state of flux. As companies transition to hybrid working environments — where teams switch between working remotely and in-office — and embrace agile practices, you may struggle to maintain open communication and effective collaboration. 

An open-door culture allows you to promote transparency across all departments and levels of the organisation. But it has to be done strategically and according to your company’s needs and circumstances. 


Find more insights about employee engagement and satisfaction by following the Cloudbooking blog. If you’re looking for a software solution to encourage communication and collaboration in your workplace, let Cloudbooking help. Our desk and meeting room booking solutions are packed with features to help managers and employees maximise their effectiveness in hybrid workplaces. Get in touch with our team to schedule an obligation-free demo.

Like this article? Spread the word

Want to hear more? Never miss a Cloudbooking post

We promise not to pester so get the best of Cloudbooking straight to your inbox, once a month!

Try Cloudbooking today

Request a free, no-obligation demonstration and let us show you how our system can benefit your organization.