Managers: An Open Door Policy Is Not Enough

Open office door

Waiting for your people to reach out may not get you the feedback you need

Many managers have an open door policy for employee feedback. They say that employees can always bring them their concerns, whether it is literally by coming to their office or more metaphorically through email.

Unfortunately, a lot of managers stop there. They think that because their door is “open,” they are hearing all of the concerns. The issue is that this relies on employees to come forward and be proactive. It counts on them to bring their concerns to the manager. It also, in most cases, means they have to be willing to be identified.

So, what can managers do to ensure that they are actually hearing what their employees really think. Here are some tips.

Employee Surveys

Employee surveys take this one step further by reaching out with explicit and specific questions for your employees. Just asking has the same issue as waiting for people to come forward; most employees feel they will not be rewarded for speaking the truth—in fact, quite the opposite. Anonymous surveys can help you get a pulse on their opinions about a matter.

Surveys are most useful when you have a specific issue you want to solicit opinions on, although microsurveys, with only one or two questions, can help with ongoing issues. Surveys should be kept fairly short, to encourage employees to actually answer them. However, not all employees trust the anonymity promise and some may find them a waste of time.

Open the Door Both Ways

We’ve already said that sitting in your office and waiting for people to come to you is not effective. Some managers have found it works better to go to the employee.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean you should be hovering over your employees when they are trying to work. Nobody likes a helicopter boss. However, coming out of your office and walking the halls, hanging out in work areas, or joining people for lunch can give you opportunities to engage people in conversation in a relaxed manner. Make sure to listen to everything they might say, without being rude and eavesdropping.

Play With Your People

By which we mean engaging in non-work activities that cut across the hierarchy. This is something you don’t want to overdo, because you don’t want to cut in on activities where people are glad to be out from under your eye. But if the office book club would welcome your insights, join. By talking about stuff other than work, you can get a good idea of how people are feeling and maybe they will tell you something they might not otherwise have let slip.

Consider Reverse Mentoring

Reverse mentoring is when a young, junior employee is mentoring an older manager. Often, reverse mentoring is about bringing people up to speed on developments in technology, but it also helps managers understand what their young employees need and want. In some cases this can be quite different.

Traditional mentoring is very one way and top down, but reverse mentoring often builds a more informal relationship that can then result in the mentee being able to trust the mentor to talk about issues in the company.

Have a Suggestion Box

Suggestion boxes are huge. Because they are anonymous, employees are more likely to be willing to speak out without fear of retaliation. No matter how much you might reiterate that you won’t do anything to somebody for complaining, many employees are going to be unsure whether they can believe you.

An anonymous digital suggestion box such as Suggestion Ox is the answer for today’s distributed office and remote workforce.

Having an open door policy helps, but on its own it’s not enough to improve employee engagement and get the employee feedback you need to really run your company well. Consider some of these other options to help increase communication and establish what they are really thinking.

Suggestion Ox has turbocharged the suggestion box. Over 60,000 companies, associations and government agencies use their anonymous online suggestion box to gather actionable employee feedback, gain customer insights or empower whistleblowing and reporting.

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