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Open-Door (?) Policy

Search the internet for Open-Door Policy (ODP), and you will find information on why such policies should exist and the benefits of having such a policy. Websites such as Forbes, VantageCircle, Recruitee, and BetterUp support creating and maintaining an ODP.

"An open-door policy creates a conducive environment for open communication. It effectively allows employees to be more forthcoming about the work-related challenges and concerns they face…As such, this policy helps you understand the attitudes and sentiments of your team. The best part is that you will capture some potentially problematic issues early enough before they interrupt day-to-day operations."

However. Those in upper management, do you feel it works as it should and best? Just having the policy with nothing to bolster trust and confidence from your team means nothing. In the SHRM article "Look Inside "Open-Door" Policies" (Gray, 2010), I find sentiments that mirror my own; there must be more to the policy than just words. In addition, not supporting the policy with accurate documentation can result in a financial loss to the company, as stated by Mark Ellis of Ellis, Coleman, Poirier, Lavoie & Steinheimer in Sacramento, California. Attorney Ellis stated;

"Informality can create a trap," according to employment lawyer Mark Ellis of Ellis, Coleman, Poirier, Lavoie & Steinheimer in Sacramento, Calif. He gives this example: "Someone goes into the supervisor and says, 'I'm having problems with co-worker X, and I don't feel comfortable with what's going on.' There is some sort of discussion; the employee feels better. The supervisor may or may not go to the person being complained about. It may, in the short run, seem that everything's OK. But three years later, the employee leaves and brings a wrongful discrimination lawsuit and says, 'I went repeatedly to supervisor X.'

Nothing previously stated says an ODP should be avoided for fear of being sued. On the contrary, an ODP may help prevent later issues that could become litigious. It is recommended that the policy be well written and that a system is in place to handle the situation effectively.

But again, that needs to address the most crucial aspect of an ODP: will the team members feel comfortable using it?

After an evaluation with a past client, I met with the upper-management members to include those in the C-Suite. During the meeting, I asked, "What are the issues you see among those on the front lines that may inhibit members from being successful?" I was met with mostly silence. I called on a few attendees to stimulate conversation and understand why they were silent. After all, I had looked at the varying reports that led me to understand a more profound issue that needed to be addressed. I knew this because I interviewed each front-line team member in every department along the revenue cycle and compiled anonymous feedback.

One attendee then stated there were no known issues and advised me, as other clients had previously done, they had an OPD, but no one was presenting any problems.

I smiled.

After a pause, I stated, "Your OPD will not work if it is perceived the "door" is closed."

Some curious expressions were spreading around the room. Then, finally, an HR team member told me they put together a well-written plan, passed it out, let all members know 'we are here for you,' then sat back and waited…and waited…and waited. They felt because no one came forward, there were no issues.

I then engaged in an hour-long conversation with the entire group of attendees. Our discussion ended with their admitted realization that they had not recognized hierarchal, social, or emotional hindrances but would now take steps to address and correct the issues I pointed out.

I told them first that having an OPD will not work if, among other things, 1. there is a fear of walking through the door, 2. the fear was founded according to the anonymous feedback when cross-referenced with what I found in team-member personnel folders, and 3. without immediate change, the company remains exposed to possible blind-sided litigation.

So, these few steps/changes will help an organization become more cohesive and build a trusting team with greater buy-in.

1. Be Empathetic and Objective: Remember what it was like to be on the front line and the issues you may have faced. Please focus on the message rather than how it is communicated. Sometimes, a team member must be allowed to "speak freely" to get the message out.

2. Be Seen: Come out of your office and get to know your TEAM. "Undercover Boss" is a beautiful testament to what happens when those who lead connect with those tasked to carry out the directives.

3. Listen: Make sure you leave your ego and any fragility outside. Listen, not just respond; listen to understand, open dialogue, and foster trust.

4. Ask for input: Give your TEAM a stake in the outcome; ask for recommendations. Siloed team members may need help understanding their actions' impact on departments they do not work in or have a connection with. By asking for a team member's input, you show you value their input. In addition, the pride a member may feel knowing their ideas were taken seriously and may result in positive change is a great way to start the buy-in process.

5. Provide a Secondary avenue of redress. Sometimes, a team member feels uncomfortable bringing an issue "up the chain," especially if the team member has a problem with the first link.

6. Act. Provide relevant, substantive, and timely feedback when a team member has trusted you with a concern.

"Don't keep things as they are; evaluate, decide, and act to foster an environment your TEAM wants to be." J. Mandell Carter.



4 reasons your workplace should have an open-door policy. Modern ATS & collaborative recruitment software. (2022, August 22).

Gray, K. (2010, June 9). Look Inside "Open-Door" Policies. SHRM.

Open Door Policy At The Workplace - Purpose, Pros and Cons. (2020, October 5). Nurture an Engaged and Satisfied Workforce | Vantage Circle HR Blog.

Quast, L. (n.d.). New Managers: 4 Reasons You Need An "Open Door"

Why you should have an open-door policy. (n.d.).

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