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Employee complaints can take several forms; from complaints about working conditions such as toilets, water, and air conditioning, to more grave complaints about health, safety and harassment.  As emails have become one of the most effective means organizations use to communicate internally, knowing how to respond to an employee’s complaint by email is in your best interest.

How employee complaints are handled will vary based on the size and complexity of the organization. What may be appropriate for a small business may cause serious internal conflict in a multinational organization.  Therefore, business owners and Human Resource Management staff must be deliberate in responding to employee complaints by email.

Did Your Employee Complain By Email? Please Take it Seriously

The way an employee chooses to communicate a complaint is very symbolic.  An email is a written complaint, which is significantly more official than a verbal complaint.  The employee sending an email complaint feels so strongly about the issue he has reacted in an official way, documented the complaint and expects an appropriate reaction and response from the HR department or management.

Handling of employee complaints can have profound legal implications for an organization.  Therefore, take time out and review the issues carefully.  Consult your company policies and the legal team if you need clarification before firing off a response.   If completing these processes will take a few days, employ best practice in email etiquette and send an acknowledgment email.

The acknowledgment email to an employee complaint should simply communicate that the complaint has been received and is being reviewed.   This is essential to reassure the employee that the complaint is not being ignored and buttress that the HR team/management cares enough to investigate the issues raised.

Best Practices for Handling Employee Complaints by Email

If your organization doesn’t already have clear documented guidelines for filing complaints, sit down with your management/leadership team to set out such terms.  It is important to set guidelines that will guide employees in voicing grievances in order to create a safe working environment for all employees.

Improper handling of complaints can quickly lead to infighting, bad blood, bitterness, and loss of productivity in an organization.  Therefore, set out terms for complaint handling with your unique organizational needs in mind.  Some key issues to address in handling employees’ complaints by email are:

1. Confidentiality

The complaining employee should be assured of their privacy when making a complaint to the HR department/management.  Organizations must also ensure employees understand that while their anonymity is maintained, they must also keep the complaint confidential by not discussing the complaint with other employees.


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2. Reporting Lines

Existing reporting lines and escalation of complaints to higher authority should be properly outlined within every organization.  Should complaints be handled by supervising personnel or by the HR department? What sort of complaints should supervisors receive and which complaints should be filed directly with HR?  Properly articulating these issues and communicating your organization’s preference through internal policies or staff handbooks will ensure that complaints are properly handled and negative outcomes minimized.

3. Feedback Mechanism

How does an employee receive feedback on their complaint?  And when can feedback be expected?  While some HR professionals suggest details are not provided to employees when investigations are carried out, your organizational culture will best guide the most effective strategy for responding to employee complaints by email.  The absolute error would be to fail to respond to the complaint.

Complaints About Issues

Complaints about working conditions, schedules or requirements are individual complaints from the employee and often have nothing to do with another employee.  Complaints about issues are easier to handle than complaints about people. Simply focus on objective criteria such as company policies and requirements to provide an answer to these sort of complaints.

Complaints About People

Complaints about other employees such as colleagues, co-workers, and supervisors – are of a more sensitive nature and must be handled delicately.  Workplace issues such as harassment, bullying or misconduct must be handled with tact as these issues can cause serious internal strife and have legal implications for employees and organizations.

A proper assessment of issues and investigations are often required before responses to these complaints can be made.  Complaints of a serious nature will often require the consultation of legal experts and senior management.  While an email confirmation or communication of a decision will often still be present, the actual handling of such serious issues usually involves physical meetings, staff movements, and topmost confidentiality.

Writing Your Email Response to an Employee Complaint

Before responding to an employee complaint by email, ensure that the proper process has been followed in filling the complaint. The best judge of due process is your company policy and organizational structure.  Based on the issues raised in the email – have required steps been taken? Are you the appropriate person to receive the complaint?

If the employee has properly filed the complaint with you, then evaluate each issue objectively and jot down your findings before you start composing the email response.  If this assessment will take some time and you wouldn’t be responding to the employee immediately, send a simple email receipt confirmation.

Once you have all the required information to provide a response to the Employee, here are some tips for writing your email response to an employee’s complaint by email:

State Your Handling Policy

The tone of your email when responding to an employee’s complaint is crucial to maintaining good working relationships in your organization.  Use good email writing techniques to open your email response, with proper email salutations to create a warm and welcoming tone.

Reassure the employee filing the complaint and restate your organizational standards.  By letting employees know that they are in a safe space and complaints are welcome you can create a healthy working environment and prevent the victimization of the complainant.

Cover the Facts of the Complaint

When responding to an employee complaint by email – list out all issues individually.  A summary response risks giving the impression that the complaint wasn’t properly understood or handled, so break down your response to cover every issue.  This will communicate to the employee that you gave some thought to their complaints.

Use bullets or tables to organize your response in a way that is easy to understand and visually appealing to the receiver.

Let Your Response Be Objective

When responding to an email complaint, approach all issues based on the objective application of your organizational policies and procedures.  Avoid using the first person when responding to complaints to communicate your objectivity and impartiality in the process.  This will go a long way in maintaining a good working relationship after the complaints are settled.

Conclusion

Writing emails to respond to Employee complaints requires more skills and thought than other forms of email due to the sensitive nature of employee complaints.   Remember to take time out and assess the issues before writing the email response.  Assess and address all issues clearly and maintain a neutral and objective tone in your email response.  These guidelines will help you handle complaints effectively to maintain a healthy work environment.

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