Why your open door policy may not be working

Daphne Kakonge of  Human Capital Business Solutions says in an open door policy, leaders should be ready to listen attentively. Photo | Source

What you need to know:

  • Comfort at work: Many leaders are quick to point out how they have an open door policy, especially for new entrants in the organisation, but what does this really mean and how open are these doors?

In the modern workplace where employee feedback is part of the company values, many leaders are quick to point out how they have an open door policy, especially for new entrants in the organisation. This is because they want to be as genuine and available as possible to anyone on their team.

According to Daphne Kakonge, the managing partner – Human Capital Business Solutions (Uganda, Tanzania), operating an open door policy improves communication across all levels of the business while solving problems between supervisors and their team members by addressing issues proactively before they get out of proportion.

Open door policies embody accessibility and transparency, fostering an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their concerns, ideas, feedback and suggestions with higher-ups without fear of reprisal or judgment.

However, even with the good intentions leaders have for an open door policy at workplaces, sometimes it fails to work or works against them.

Ronald Mayanja Omugalanda, a consultant and researcher at Ability Uganda, explains that for some organisations, the open-door policy may be a little more of a symbolic gesture, lacking genuine commitment to meaningful dialogue and action. If managers merely pay lip service to the concept without actively encouraging and responding to employee feedback, the policy becomes an empty promise rather than a catalyst for positive change.

“Some leaders say it just to tick a box – they do not mean it and results in ineffectiveness,” Mayanja says, adding that some issues are even more private for employees, which explains why organisations set up a private room where they feel comfortable sharing challenges.

Implementation barriers

The objective of introducing an open door policy remains undoubtedly crucial but even with the widely known intention, implementing such an idea comes with challenges.

For example, he alludes to organisations with international affiliations whose policies are drafted and approved abroad. Those organisations find it hard to cascade policies down to the last cadre because they feel the policies do not concern them.

Job security

Another big threat against open door policy is job security. World over, employees are more mindful of the security of their jobs before anything else. Unfortunately, because of the nature of managing an open door policy, it acts as an exposé of the character that many would not feel comfortable dealing with.

‘’Some people fear opening an office because fellow staff will judge them as being wiseacre or even management using their revelations against them, say during an opportunity for a job promotion or salary increment,’’ Mayanja adds.


While an open-door policy is good, boundaries must be set early enough to avoid unnecessary chit-chat that can result in rumours.

Workplace gossip is key in eroding your company culture, and an open-door policy can be a beehive of rumours if not handled well.

Kakonge says there is a need to explain to staff the dos and don’ts of an open door policy during its establishment.

“Let staff know that an open door policy does not exist to spread gossip or rumours. The focus is always on exploring obstacles or opportunities and coming up with practical solutions and next steps. This way the rumour will be killed,” she says.

In addition, she says in the process of establishing an open door policy, leaders should be ready to listen attentively as they do not have a monopoly of knowledge and perspectives.

“One of the bad experiences I have had with open door policy is leaders thinking it is an end itself,’’ Kakonge shares, noting that open door policy is more believable if leaders act on issues raised and provide feedback whether positive or negative.

Meanwhile, an open door policy can also flatten levels of hierarchy in the organisation as employees will rush straight to top management without seeking assistance from immediate supervisors. 


To establish a working policy leaders and employees should always bear in mind the objective behind its formulation and leaders go the extra mile in devising new approaches to achieving the goal.

“For example, sometimes it is also important to solicit ideas and feedback from employees by taking a stroll around the office and randomly pausing a question that seeks to get their feedback on a particular idea,” Mayanja says.

He says this is because some employees do not realise they have ideas on a specific question until they asked a specific question.

In addition, Mayanga says there is a need for mechanisms for generating feedback from employees such as having online feedback forms.

It is also important to conduct refresher trainings to remind people about the importance of an open door policy.