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Simply put, an open-door policy means that the "boss" and all of management, in general, keeps a door that's "open" to every employee. It encourages employees to go straight to any manager to express any sort of questions, concerns, or even suggestions without going to a supervisor first.
There are many benefits to maintaining an open-door policy, but it's not as simple as telling your employees the door is open. The door needs to swing in both directions! Unfortunately, we've seen many companies perpetuate an open-door policy that still end up succumbing to union organizing efforts. It mustn't be simply a policy, but a real thing. Leaders need to invite interaction, proactively ask employees what their thoughts are, and build a deep level of employee trust that solicits feedback and addresses any potential concerns.
We'll cover the benefits of an open-door policy in the workplace, but not simply that. We will discuss how to keep the lines of communication open between leaders and employees at all levels. Your organization must take the initiative to start conversations and take the first steps to develop a true connection to avoid a union in your workplace and strengthen the bonds between leaders and their teams and increase employee retention and engagement overall!
The risk of not having an open-door policy in your organization could potentially be disastrous. It could affect your workplace's authenticity, company culture, and the relationships your leaders and team members have as a whole. Considering that workplace culture plays a major factor in employee engagement and employee retention, you'll want to consider changing your policies if you don't have open communication. You need to be actively seeking feedback from employees at every level, every chance you get.
It's always a good idea to hold employee engagement surveys regularly with your team members so that you can receive anonymous feedback. Of course, this is just one way to measure the temperature of your employees. Since these surveys only occur during certain times of the year, like semi-annually, or maybe even only once annually, that means that they're not enough. This should not diminish the importance of your surveys, and those are still absolutely critical to your organization. However, it's equally important to give your employees multiple opportunities and channels to voice their opinions, give valuable feedback, and deepen the relationships between them and their leaders. Relationships are more important than ever -- and not just because they can help you avoid a union.
By enacting an open-door policy and making sure that door swings in both directions, you can encourage your entire organization's communication and feedback. Having this system and procedure in place will drive a culture of engagement that retains employees and a purpose-driven organization. Positive, two-way communication is critical for any workplace that wishes to create or maintain a productive work culture. We will cover how leaders can initiate conversations and take the first step so that their team members don't have to feel "vulnerable" by coming to management with any of their concerns. Part of the problem with companies that claim they have an open-door policy, but still succumb to a union, is that there isn't sufficient two-way communication.
If you don't already have a real open-door policy, it's not too late to change. It cannot be stated enough that it starts with leadership. Employees may be told that they can come to management to voice any opinions they have or deliver feedback, but if they don't have trust and a connection within leadership, they simply won't. This can lead to employees talking amongst one another, expressing grievances to each other, and potentially talking to union organizers when they feel they can't walk into their boss's office to discuss it instead.
As a manager, perhaps you've held meetings and told employees in a group setting that "your door is always open," but you don't have any individual relationships with them. You've done it all right in your eyes, but employee engagement is low, and no one has sat down one-on-one to talk about what may be going on. Set up a direct communication line and follow through when it comes to whatever feedback you have received. These simple actions will develop trust and strengthen the relationship between leaders and employees. If you're wondering how to improve communication, or where to begin, we've got you covered!
Regardless of where your organization stands in terms of communication, there's always room for improvement. Maintaining an open-door policy is not accomplished by simply stating that your door is open. If you are regularly conducting engagement surveys and checking the temperature of your workplace, it's important that you take it a step further to ensure relationships are strengthened between leaders and employees at all levels. Keep lines of communication open, and take the initiative to start the conversation. If you've struggled with developing leaders that feel confident doing so, the professionals at Projections and A Better Leader are here to help. We've had decades of experience helping employers navigate union organizing, implement labor relations training for supervisors, strengthen workplace culture, and ensuring leaders can work well with their team members. Becoming an employer of choice is just around the corner!
Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.