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The pitfalls of a template letter

I am sure that all who wear the HR hat will agree that we use template letters daily for various different tasks. Whether that be to make a job offer to an employee, to confirm an employee’s maternity entitlements, or to provide an outcome letter to a complex issue; just to name a few.  Those in HR roles will often spend time drafting and centralising company precedent letters for every possible instance, and there is no doubt that such templates come with benefits. However, have you ever considered that there may be drawbacks of using such rigid templates?

Having a stack of generic template letters for every situation can feel like a positive tool for Managers, enabling HR to have oversight over the format of all letters sent and increasing consistency across the board. However, no HR situation will be completely identical to the next, and therefore, trying to make a letter which covers every scenario can lead to inaccuracies.  When dealing with sensitive employee relation (ER) matters, employees can often sense when the letter they receive has been written with no personalisation.  This may result in the perception by the employee that the outcome provided is a “tick box exercise” for the company. Spending the additional time to draft a robust letter, with empathy and compassion to the situation will help to show that you have put thought and consideration into the outcome, whatever that might be. Additionally, in the event that the situation becomes litigious, your thought process will be clear to any third party viewing the letter.

This also raises the question of how well trained are your managers? Where management are only required to populate blanks in a letter, they may lack the required skills to draft and formulate a letter to the detail required. The devil is in the detail for such matters, this is especially relevant when dealing with complex or sensitive ER matters that would require a bespoke approach to the situation. HR should instead be ensuring that any managers, who will be responsible for dealing with such matters, are given adequate training on how to deal with the situation, including letter drafting, to give them the skills required to deal with it appropriately.

I am certainly not advocating for a mass deletion of all letter templates. Clearly the benefits of using them are high and when utilised correctly they will maximise efficiency for both HR and managers alike, however, consider when drafting your next letter if you can step away from rigid templates. Perhaps a middle ground for HR to consider, is a template letter which is stripped right down to the basics, to enable Companies the consistency they desire, whilst still ensuring the letter is drafted bespoke to the situation.

Here in the People Projects team at Napthens, we regularly provide training to managers on dealing with ER matters and can help upskill your team to be able to draft a thorough and robust outcome letter. Equally, we can run and chair any ER process on behalf of the business.  If you are interested in any more information on how we can help your business, please do get in touch.

Writing a letter