Is Your Door Really Open to Staff?
In the spirit of creating a healthy practice, communication is the keystone; it is imperative to the process. The practice has to set up policies and encourage open communication throughout the entire team. These days we hear a lot about “open door” policies. What exactly does that mean?
About.com Human Resources answers:
So your company has adopted an Open Door Policy for all employees. This means, literally, that every manager's door is open to every employee. The purpose of our open door policy is to encourage open communication, feedback, and discussion about any matter of importance to an employee. Our open door policy means that employees are free to talk with any manager at any time.
Seems simple enough. But how does this translate into the “real world” of veterinary medicine? Let’s take a look as we examine the seventh of the Eight Laws Governing a Healthy Workplace, which is to encourage “open door” policies to promote good communication between team members.
While the “open door” policy means an employee can talk to any member of management at any time, it is best to try the person immediately responsible for you and your position. According to About.com:
Before You Pursue the Open Door Policy: Most problems can and should be solved in discussion with your immediate supervisor; this is encouraged as your first effort to solve a problem.
This is an important point, to be sure. Team members should be informed of the policy, and this first place to start. Their immediate supervisor is usually the one who knows enough about the nature of the complaint, problem, or solution, and they should be given the chance to help. However, if the problem IS your immediate supervisor, then it is allowed and encouraged that you go “above” to the person who is your supervisor’s immediate supervisor. Yet there are times when the upper management unnecessarily allows this jump of hierarchy, and this can undermine the supervisor’s authority with their team.
The employee may find that they can play “mother and father” against each other; the supervisor says no, the employee runs to the manager, who then says yes not knowing that the supervisor directly responsible for this person has already made a decision. That’s not to say all decisions made by management are good, but if anyone senses that this employee is playing the parent game, then all three involved need to sit down and talk. At this time, the manager also needs to verbally enforce the supervisor’s role in supervising the team and addressing issues. If the manager needs to tell the supervisor to handle this type of situation differently in the future, that conversation should be behind closed doors and out of ear shot of the employees.
It’s also important that the implementation of the “open door” policy does not allow people to always seek management help to solve problems. Team members should be taught how to address each other in the moment when an incident occurs. If the team members involved cannot resolve the issue between them, then the supervisor can step in and mediate a discussion between the two. What you do NOT want happening is one employee telling their story in private, then the other employee tell their side, until the supervisor or manager is bouncing from one to the other. Set them BOTH down and get to the bottom of the issue.
The other more obvious issue, at least for the upper management, is how to get work done if your door is always swinging back and forth with people in and out of your office. The nature of veterinary medicine is typically multi-tasking with many different activities within the framework of the front office or back medical area. For management, however, there are times when they need a stretch of time to concentrate on one large project and make progress. There are a few ways to help make this happen. The manager can come in early, stay late, or work in the office on days when the team is not scheduled, such as weekends in a general practice. Another idea is to block out certain times during certain days when the manager can have a “do not disturb, except in an emergency” protocol. If the team knows this period of time, and it falls consistently at the same time on the same days, this can work well. However, during the times when this “do not disturb” protocol is not in effect, the manager needs to be all the more open and responsive.
It would seem that an “open door” policy would be straightforward and simple, yet nothing is so simple when it involves communication between people. There are always two sides to a story, emotions that get wrapped up in the event, and levels of authority that need to be reinforced. We want “open door” policies to work in a way that they do not come back and slam anyone!
Healthy Caregiving: A Guide to Recognizing & Managing Compassion Fatigue, Patricia Smith, 2008