Many companies say they have an open door policy. It’s expected and often seen as part of the culture of workplaces today. But is it really true? If they don’t have the right avenues in place to report issues or concerns, then probably not.
It takes more to build a culture of accountability and openness than a few words in an employee handbook. And no matter what you say, your employees care what you do. One of the biggest things that can derail a company is creating a culture (intentionally or unintentionally) where people aren’t comfortable talking about concerns or issues.
If you want to intentionally create a culture where people are comfortable reporting issues, you need to offer three avenues for reporting: supervisor, a non-direct supervisor inside the organization, and an outside third party. And all of those people need to be adequately trained and held accountable for responding appropriately to employees who report an issue.
At minimum an employee should feel comfortable talking to their direct supervisor. That supervisor has to show them that they care about their well-being, that they’re open to feedback, and that they’re able to talk about issues without taking it personally.
Be careful that you don’t undermine this by how you’ve treated employees in the past. In any organization, there’s the official orientation that happens when a new employee starts—hello, how are you, here’s your position, here’s what you do, here’s what the company expects of you, and here’s what you should expect from the company.
There’s also a second orientation, though, and that happens in the break room when current employees tell the new employee their insider info. If they tell the new employee not to make waves by reporting any concerns because of how management will react, that’s an issue. You can say you have an open door policy, but if the second orientation contradicts it, you really don’t.
The second avenue for an employee to report an issue is a non-supervisor inside the organization. A lot of times this is where we run into trouble, because when employees talk to someone not in the direct chain of command, the focus becomes “Why didn’t they talk to me first? I’m their supervisor.”
That’s not where you should focus. Focus on the issue. It matters that the employee brought it up, not how they brought it up. We want to fix the problem. Employees should know that even if they go over their supervisor’s head or to someone else in the organization, they’ll be heard and not punished for skirting the chain of command. There are a lot of reasons an employee might feel more comfortable reporting an issue to someone else, and it’s important to recognize and support that.
Outside third party
An outside third party for reporting is fairly common, even though many people don’t realize it. Many nonprofits will have a compliance officer that sits on the board who serves as an outside third party for reporting concerns, and businesses may have an outside HR company to serve that purpose. So often things get held behind the curtain because employees are afraid of the response they’ll receive from their supervisor or someone else within the company. An outside third party might be a more comfortable option for that employee, whether it’s a consulting company like WhyHR or a reporting hotline that connects to an outside organization.
You want to make your company better. That means making people feel comfortable reporting issues and problems in whatever way suits them. Make it as easy as possible by providing these three avenues of reporting and ensuring your company culture supports employees who come forward with an issue.
Need help training your managers to properly handle employee concerns or want to add an outside third party option for reporting? Contact WhyHR to discuss your needs and how our services might help.