When an open-door policy goes awry

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

As an administrator or manager, do you have an open-door policy? Or an open office floor plan?

If you do, likely you've been told that it's important for staff to feel as if they can approach you. Open offices are supposed to allow the spread of ideas and foster communication.

But in many cases, it can go awry. People become frustrated. The next thing you know, you're Steve Harvey.

Harvey, who in many circles is famous for flubbing naming the winner of the Miss Universe pageant, is in season five of his show in Chicago. (Yes, this was news to me.) Before it began, he sent out a charged memo to this staff. It's really worth your time to read the whole thing, but some of the highlights include:

“There will be no meetings in my dressing room. No stopping by or popping in. NO ONE.

"Do not come to my dressing room unless invited.

"Do not open my dressing room door. IF YOU OPEN MY DOOR, EXPECT TO BE REMOVED.”

You get the idea. Harvey wants “all the ambushing to stop now.” He repeatedly reiterates the need to make an appointment.

Now, Harvey himself acknowledged that “in hindsight, I probably should've handled it a little bit differently.” But in that interview he also doubled down on his need for privacy, saying, “I've always had a policy where, you know, you can come and talk to me — so many people are great around here, but some of them just started taking advantage of it.”

Of course, Harvey does blow past the enormous privilege of being a celebrity and people wanting his autograph or to say hello. It's tempting to pull out the world's tiniest violin. But after that, you also realize: The man has a point.

How many of you have had days where it's 5 p.m. and there's a pile of undone work because of the number of people who needed to talk to you RIGHT NOW?

Part of the reason I tend to get more work done more efficiently at home is that when I'm at the office, I tend to knock on my colleagues' doors regularly. As much as I fight it, I'm an extrovert, and so when there's good or bad news to share, I want to share it — by talking. (Editor's note: Verified.) We also work in an office where what we think is a lightweight linen forms a wall barrier, so we all tend to hear when something is funny, bad or exciting.

It's even harder for those in open offices, and there are signs of a backlash. A January BBC news article said that while millennials reportedly enjoyed the collaboration of an open office, many others complained about the noise or inability to focus. One report found that we're likely 15% less productive. One solution: Steelcase, a furniture and design company, is marketing “quiet spaces” meant to help introverts.

For those in traditional facilities where they can close their doors but want to encourage communication, recognize that you can create a warm environment that doesn't require you to leave your door open every minute, literally and metaphorically.

First of all, many spontaneous conversations can happen during your morning and afternoon rounds. Outside of that, asking people to call ahead, to make an appointment or to ask if you can call them on your way home isn't a function of a backwards facility.

Don't “Harvey-ize” your employees, but also don't hesitate to set limits. If you don't, it's likely resident care, quality ratings and other necessary improvements could fall by the wayside.

Follow Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.