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Alison Kemp

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10 common email errors HR Professionals don’t want to make


Alison Kemp runs Switch Vision, where she and her team give training and coaching to technical teams and individuals on interpersonal communications.

When looking at improving communications in organisations, ignoring how we use email is like driving with flat tyres and wondering why the ride’s bumpy.

So that Human Resources professionals are seen as, well, human and resourceful, I’ve collated a list of 10 of the most common email communication complaints – the flies – that land in the otherwise perfect ointment that makes up what great HR people do to help maintain cohesive and productive teams.

1. The Fly: Beginning an email with ‘I hope you are well’, and then continuing with information which shows an almost callous disregard for the recipient’s welfare.

An example would be saying ‘We really appreciate your hard work’, then launching into a character assassination.

It’s seen as: insincere at best, nasty at worst.
The Ointment: giving personal and real examples of what you appreciate followed with any rationale (if this exists, which, ideally, it does), then ending with a solution-based/positive/consultative approach.

2. The Fly: the use of clichés such as ‘your opinion is important to us.’

It’s seen as: insincere again
The Ointment: using ‘Please let us know what you think about [specific issue]’. Be natural and, if possible, specific. Staff are more likely to share their opinion if HR don’t sound like the footer of a feedback form in a pizzeria.

3. The Fly: Unconstructive and problem based information

For example, HR emailing to tell someone that their contract terms haven’t been looked at this month because there was an interim HR Director who works only two days a week.

It’s seen as: a poor excuse.
The Ointment: telling staff what you’ll do and by when. So a more constructive – and consultative – approach would be:
I apologise, David, for the delay in responding to you. We realise that this is causing you concern and Carol is looking into this right now.
I know she has several queries. Can I ask her to get back to you this afternoon? Please let me know how and when we can get back to you.
Looking forward to hearing from you
Best regards,

4. The Fly: Not enough proactive communication with other departments

It’s seen as: any or all of the following: lazy, tribal, reactive
The Ointment: not hesitating to contact, say, Internal Communications if there’s a new starter so that other departments are kept in the loop about news that may have an impact on them.

5. The Fly: presumptuous wording such as ‘As you know…’ then adding totally new information that is unknown to everyone, but should have been known.

It’s seen as: HR covering their backs?
The Ointment: writing, ‘As you may know…’ and sticking to possibilities unless you can be certain.

6. The Fly: Describing mergers/takeovers/changes as ‘challenging’ and ‘exciting’.

It’s seen as: ‘terrifying’, ‘worrying’ and a cowardly cop-out by reframing potential redundancy in the language of Pollyanna.
The Ointment: telling us what these changes mean and sharing with us what arrangements have been put in place for help with the transition.

7. The Fly: The unsubstantiated use of the word ‘policy’ or ‘procedure’.

For example: ‘It is our policy for all staff working in xxxx to stay in xxxx hotel.’

It’s seen as:
lacking in justification as soon as you use the words policy or procedure. It’s also a great way to stifle innovative thinking (I mean, innovation? Do we have a procedure for that?)
The Ointment: replacing the words ‘policy or procedure’. For example in the example above, it would be best to say something like, “We cover accommodation costs in the Hotel xxxxx”. You don’t even have to mention the killer words.

8. The Fly: Lack of transparency.

A real example of this is an employee who had agreed a new salary with the Head of HR, only to realise that this had been reduced after checking her payslip.

It’s seen as: Duplicitous.
The Ointment: admitting to mistakes. For example:
“Dear Claire,
Thanks for taking the time to let us know of ….Personal intro of appreciation
Unfortunately, it seems that it wasn’t made clear that this payment was subject to review and has now been set at £…..nett. No naming names.
This still allows for xx% annual increase, which reflects the excellent work that you’ve been doing and the budget limits set in place for the meantime. You will be given another salary review on xxxxx, which will be dependent on the same criteria. This adjustment is not a slur on your work.
We apologise for any lack of clarity. . For the meantime, I have attached the renewed contract for signing by 11th May 2013. Should you have any queries or wish to discuss this, please contact me on ext 234.

9. The Fly: The random ‘Send’ button.

It’s seen as: irrelevant. Your emails will simply be ignored if you keep sending out untargeted emails: do staff in Vancouver care that you’re renovating the office in Malaysia. If this impacts on how to contact them, let them know that. We’re not interested in the new coat of paint.
The Ointment: selecting what information needs to be given and to whom.

10. The Fly: over-reliance on emails, especially when there’s a long-running issue.

It’s seen as: back to being impersonal again, tedious
The Ointment: picking up the phone or pushing the boat out and…speaking face to face. We’re more likely to agree to something with someone we’ve heard, and even better, seen rather than an email address.


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