Your boss says he has an open door policy. The company line is that employees should feel free to approach higher-ups with suggestions, comments, and complaints in order to foster an open and transparent workplace. But should you take your boss at her word? Many workers don’t.
Even if an open door policy exists, some employees may fear taking advantage of it, worrying that voicing complaints will get them labeled a troublemaker or that they’ll annoy their boss with their questions. Skeptical or cynical employees assume that even if managers say their doors are open, they don’t really mean it.
“In the eyes of … employees, [an open door policy] is one of those throwaway buzzwords that management uses all the time, but never means,” Logan Chierotti, the co-founder of InternetReputation.com wrote in an article for Inc. magazine.
It’s true that “open door” means different things at different companies. But if you work somewhere where your manager (and your manager’s managers) are genuine in their desire to hear from the rank-and-file, you shouldn’t overlook the opportunity it offers. Though taking advantage of your boss’s open door policy to share all your work-related gripes is a sure-fire way to get yourself labeled the office nuisance, that doesn’t mean you should never pop in for an unscheduled chat with your manager. Here are three times when you should use your job’s open door policy.
1. When you have a great idea
Say you have a good idea for streamlining some procedures in your department, or have discovered new software that could make everyone’s lives easier in your office. An open door policy gives you an opportunity to pitch your ideas to your boss, but don’t expect to just drop in, explain your incredibly awesome proposal, and expect him to go for it.
Even if the meeting with your boss is informal, take the time to do your research (is this idea really feasible, how much will it cost) and explain how it can benefit your organization, Don Mroz, president of Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut, told The Street. To be successful, you need to find out what’s troubling your boss, and pitch your solution in a way that shows how it will make his life easier. Finally, time your pitch correctly. Ambushing him at the end of the day or when he’s in the middle of a big project isn’t likely to be successful. Instead, try to get his ear when he’s relaxed and possibly more open to a new way of doing things.
2. When you have a problem with your co-worker
When you and a co-worker clash, your first step should be to try to resolve the issue yourselves. Your boss is busy, and she doesn’t want to spend her time mediating playground spats between employees. But if your best efforts to make peace with your colleague have yielded disappointing results, it may be time to appeal to a higher authority.
If you’re going to use your boss’s open door policy to voice your concerns, make sure you don’t treat it as an opportunity to vent. Instead, explain the problem to your boss (without getting too emotional), discuss what you’ve already done to try to solve it, and clarify that you’re looking for guidance on what you can do to resolve the conflict, Alexandra Franzen, an author and communication expert, suggested in an article for The Muse. What you shouldn’t do is treat your boss’s willingness to listen as an excuse to dump your problems on his desk and expect her to solve them.
3. When you have a problem with your boss
In an ideal world, you’d be able to work directly with your boss to resolve any conflicts, and an open door policy may make it easier to do that. In reality, there may be times when you feel you can’t go to your boss with a problem (perhaps because he’s the problem), or your efforts to address your concerns have hit a brick wall. In these situations, you may want to take advantage of your company’s open door policy and raise the issue with your boss’s boss. But even in an organization with open doors, such a move is risky. Circumventing the traditional chain of command should be reserved for only the most serious situations.
“The company would have to be in jeopardy or an ethical issue would have to be involved,” psychologist and executive adviser Mortimer Feinberg, told the Wall Street Journal. Cases of embezzlement, clearly illegal behavior, or harassment all merit a conversation with someone in a position of authority, though even then you should be prepared for the possibility of retaliation. For more minor problems, you’re likely better off trying to find another solution before you take the drastic step of dropping in on the company CEO.