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As Human Resource professionals, it is our job, our duty, to advise today’s employment landscape on ways to improve company’s culture, retain high performers and encourage our workforce to be tomorrow’s leaders.  One of our very favorite things to promote is the open door policy.  Why?  There are many reasons why an open door policy cultivates an organization where employees feel a sense of equality and ability to openly communicate.

But have we let this go too far?  These times, they are a changin’.  As a consultant, I am overwhelmed by the attitudes (bad attitudes) of today’s workforce.  Where is the respect?  What happened to hierarchy?  These elements seem to be a thing of the past and employees of today have gained an upper hand in so many of the employment relationships that exist.

Employers used to fire employees for a variety of reasons, including bad behavior, poor performance, unsatisfactory attendance or a combination of these attributes.  Now, the most beneficial termination situation for an employer occurs when documentation exists and the employee has received proper warning(s) as episodes happen.  I’ve received countless calls from employers detailing the events of the termination conversation that include negotiations, an argument, or a full on brawl, from the employee being terminated.  Terminations, unless an unusual circumstance exists, are decisions, not discussions, and certainly not arguments or negotiations!

These days, we hire employees and tell them, “…come talk to me anytime…my door is always open…,” but have we done ourselves a disservice by allowing our employees to speak so openly with us?  Do our employees tell us too much?  We know all about their personal lives, family, friends, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, what they did over the weekend, what they ate for dinner last night.  Has all of this knowledge made it difficult to function in a professional business environment?

I have an employee, whom I consider to be a friend.  We are relatively close on the business food chain, but I am still his superior.  Therefore, if he screws up (and he does occasionally), I get the unfortunate job of discussing it with him, or if things get really bad, it may one day (who knows what can happen?) be my job to terminate his position.  Now, I firmly believe that in a good employment situation, that employees fire themselves.  In other words, if you do everything right, you should (theoretically) have no worries, but if you consistently make mistakes and you know it, then you are essentially putting yourself on a path to the unemployment line.  So, in the example of my employee, we have worked very hard at knowing when to wear our friend hat and when to wear our business hat.  This has taken a lot of work and we are HR professionals who know how to recognize boundaries!! And that is exactly what I see as lacking in today’s open door work environments.  We have lost site of the boundaries that should exist between employee and employer.

Employers should consider employment relationships to be professional.  Open door policies/philosophies are for the purpose of discussing work related matters.  The chain of command should still exist.  When an employee has a problem, they should be encouraged to discuss the issue with their supervisor, not necessarily bang on the CEO’s office or call the president’s cell phone.

And what do we do when an employee becomes too personal in conversation? Redirect!  Encourage employees to keep conversations personal.  It’s not that you don’t care about their personal matters, but it’s important to keep on task while at work.  An easy way of doing that is keeping the culture more professional and less personal.  Consider closing the door from time to time.

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