An open-door policy refers to the practice of business or organizational leaders leaving their doors open so that employees feel welcome to stop by and meet informally, ask questions, or discuss matters that have been weighing on their minds.
These days, with open office environments, co-working spaces and remote team members working around the globe, the “open-door policy” is more metaphorical than ever before. The equivalent of walking through a physical open door in many organizations is now sending a text message, a direct message on Facebook or Slack, an instant message on Skype, or a ping on Basecamp.
Regardless of whether the interruption is through an actual door or a digital door, the theory is that an organization uses such openness to build a culture of trust, collaboration, communication, and respect regardless of an individual’s position in the hierarchy. Access to executives should reduce workplace gossip and rumors.
The goals of an open-door policy are admirable; who wouldn’t want that?
But I Don’t Want To Speak Up!
Do team members really want an open door?
More than a decade ago, University of Virginia professor James Detert and Harvard professor Amy Edmonson set out to discover why some employees bring ideas to their managers, and others don’t. They interviewed approximately 200 people in a high technology company and discovered that about half of them chose to hold back from sharing information that could be beneficial for the company. Why? In an article, the professors explain:
Detert and Edmonson found that some workers referenced company myths of individuals who publicly shared their ideas and were “suddenly gone from the company.”
In one phrase, self-preservation. While it’s obvious why employees fear bringing up certain issues, such as whistle-blowing, we found the innate protective instinct so powerful that it also inhibited speech that clearly would have been intended to help the organization. In our interviews, the perceived risks of speaking up felt very personal and immediate to employees, whereas the possible future benefit to the organization from sharing their ideas was uncertain. So people often instinctively played it safe by keeping quiet. Their frequent conclusion seemed to be, "When in doubt, keep your mouth shut."
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