An open-door policy refers to a business practice in which upper-level managers welcome personal, direct input from employees at any time. Employees are invited to bring questions, concerns and ideas to senior managers. While the practice originated with the intent of encouraging collaboration and inclusion, it does have disadvantages that can create tension in the workplace, especially in a small business.
One simple disadvantage of an open-door policy is that it can make it difficult for a manager to maintain a schedule if he never knows when an employee will stop by or how long a conversation has the potential to take. While this can be managed with an appointment system, if a significant amount of time is spent on employee issues, other important responsibilities can fall by the wayside. This can be especially detrimental to a small-business owner who has numerous responsibilities and limited time.
In companies with open-door policies, employees may opt to bypass their immediate supervisor and bring issues directly to an upper manager. This can create tension and animosity between employees and their immediate supervisors, especially if the issue is something that should be discussed first at a lower level in the chain of command. This approach can also waste the time of upper management, especially when asked to intervene with petty or trivial issues. In a small-business environment, going over someone's head is not an easily-kept secret, and hostility can disrupt the workplace dynamic.
When an employee bypasses an immediate supervisor or group leader with a new idea or suggestion, it has the potential disadvantage of a middle manager not vetting the concept beforehand. Disrupting the established workflow of a small business can create an environment where no one is quite sure of the status of projects or of who has the ultimate authority over how workplace practices are implemented. Any slowdown in productivity has the potential to have a negative financial impact on the operation.
Ideally, a company will have a formal process to follow if co-workers or managers have inner-office disputes with one another. When employees are free to go directly to top managers with problems, it eliminates the necessity for working through and resolving differences one-on-one. As such, the same issues are likely to arise repeatedly in the future. Small-business environments may be better suited to regular company-wide meetings and brainstorming sessions than to open-door policies.
Employment law is continually changing, and human resources representatives in large companies are charged with keeping pace with changing workplace liabilities. In a small-business environment, a fully-staffed human resources department may not exist. When an employee uses a small company's open-door policy to bring serious charges of harassment or discrimination, it must be appropriately documented, substantiated and addressed, or a legal liability could result.