The Unwritten Workplace Door-Holding Etiquette

There are many of us who work in offices, factories and building that you often think have too many doors.
Too many doors is a problem, especially if your workplace has many employees.

How many times have you held a door for someone?
How many times has someone held one for you?
Between my desk and the sweet outside there are 4 doors, and about 80 people and it’s even worse if I have to actually go anywhere within the building itself.
This leads to much door holding.

Therefore to clarify what is and is not acceptable, I shall write the unwritten, I shall declare the rules of the door hold.

Well I would, if it were that simple.

Why hold doors?

The aim of door holding is two-fold, the first principle it is to reduce the collective effort required for everyone to get around, and holding a door momentarily is less effort than opening a closed door. The second principle is common courtesy, letting a door shut on someone is rude and shows you think little of them.

This leads to the first note, that you shouldn’t really go out of your way to hold a door as this contradicts the first principle.


Door Holding Situations

The problem is there is an almost infinite number of combinations of situations in which doors are held. I shall break these permutations down into several distinct categories:

  1. Situation A: You reach the door first, are on the pull side and the person is within range.
  2. Situation B: You reach the door first, but on the push side.
  3. Situation C: A person is carrying an object that would increase the difficulty of opening a door, or is likely to find the act of opening a door more difficult than a normal person, or the door itself makes opening it more difficult (i.e. self locks)

Situation A:

Nice, you have landed a text book door hold. You simply hold the door from the Pull side and let the other person through, simple as that!
Holding from the pull side is preferred as it puts you in a beneficial, non-awkward door holding position.

Situation B:

Things could get awkward here, hold the door from the Push side often leads to the awkward ‘arm through the door with body in the way.’
It is best to proceed through the door first and hold from the Pull Side.

This situation can often be avoided, if you see someone approaching the other side of the door slow your pace so that they open the door first from the Pull side.

What you look like holding a door from the ‘Push’ side

Situation C:

This is exactly the same as Situation A and B except the zone when you should definitely hold the door are increased, as shown by Zone A in the Figure below. When the person following you is in this zone you should definitely hold the door, and this will be the best for both of you and cause minimal delay.

This is especially applicable to where I work as the majority of doors have electronic locks that take a second or so to open, meaning holding the door is more important as it saves even more time than a normal door hold.



OK well that describes the situations, but it’s not that simple, as mentioned above there are various Zones which are used to decide if you should hold the door. These cannot be easily described and are best learnt through practice.

There are three zones as shown by the image below. Zone A is where someone is very close to the door and it is clear you should hold the door for them. Zone B is a bit more awkward, where the person is a reasonable distance from the door and you are not sure if you should hold the door. Finally, Zone C is where someone is sufficiently far behind you that you can let the door shut without feeling bad or awkward.

Door Holding Zones (Source

Typically Zone A would be anyone who is right behind you, or right on the other side of the door and this Zone is normally easily identified.

Zone B is hard to identify as it depends on the situation, if someone is walking much faster than you then Zone B would be extended, likewise if someone is carrying something or might find it hard to open a door the zone can be extended. You can always play it safe and hold the door, but you might end up in an awkward wait as you realize the person is a good 10 seconds away from the door, and once you start holding you can’t stop!
Another option is to do the ‘in a rush/ too busy’ walk, walking briskly through doors and only holding them if the person is right behind you. This allows you some freedom from judgement as you could claim you didn’t know there was a person behind you,  but you must be sure not to look back or acknowledge anyone!
A good way of judging how long Zone B should be is to take the time taken for the door to close and add a few seconds. No one wants to get to a door just as it shuts.


Groups have slightly different rules to a single person, when the yourself and the group are walking in the same direction it is perfectly acceptable to only hold until the next person reaches the door, at which point they will take over the door hold from you, and it is passed along the group until all people are through.

When walking in opposite directions you will normally find yourself holding the door as multiple people come through, you may get trapped holding the door until everyone is through, although normally a person from the group should take over the door hold for you, and likewise if you are in a group and you see that someone is holding the door for a large group it is good manners to take over the door hold if you are in the middle of the group, say 4 people into an 8 person group. This avoids any single person having to hold the door for an extended time.


It is good manners to thank the person holding the door, a simple ‘cheers,’ ‘thanks’ or ‘thank you’ will suffice, you normally try to say a different thanks for each door if the person holds multiple doors in a row, often leaking to awkward moments when you run out of ways to say thanks!
More awkwardness arises when you are holding the door, what do you say in response? I normally resort to a ‘No problem’ although I have been known to simply make awkward grunting noises or just smile and nod when caught unawares.

Closing Notes

By now you might have a better understanding of the awkward door hold but remember that you are likely to be very close to the person once you have both made it through the door, so if it is someone you would would like to avoid or the walk after the door could be particularly awkward you are best to shorten Zone B to ensure you don’t get stuck in an awkward situation. Likewise if a friend is following, you may want to wait at the door a little longer to ensure you can have a chat while walking.

Also this was written very tongue in cheek and is not law although it does touch upon the depth of the simple door hold and its place in the modern workplace.

Also for the sake of completeness and to put any notions to bed, I will mention gender: gender doesn’t matter. You should apply the etiquette to both men and women equally. Men and Women are just as capable of opening and holding doors as each other and it is not sexist to hold a door, regardless of what anyone says.


6 thoughts on “The Unwritten Workplace Door-Holding Etiquette

  1. When is a door not a door? When its Jar Jar Binks. But seriously – funny stuff. How to hold a door outward with arm extended, while at the same time allow passerby space in the opposite direction? Most institutional doors are equipped with a hydrolic “door close” mechanism which can be adjusted.
    The distance for one to be in the zone is directrly proportional to the setting on the door close mechanism.

    again, funny stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

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