Although not an official document, letters that communicate and document problems are a fact of life in all organizations whether civilian or military. And these kinds of letters are often the hardest to write. How do you describe the frustration encountered on a daily basis or the inability to do your job because of the actions or inaction of others? Below is some general guidance along with examples. As always, contributions are welcome and encouraged.
1. Is the letter really necessary? Letters of complaint can stir up a lot of emotion and controversy and even cause full-scale investigations. They can have long-lasting effects and poison a work environment. Sometimes it's better to keep quiet and let things ride. But if the irritant can't be escaped and it is causing problems for not only you but others as well or preventing mission accomplishment, then maybe it's necessary.
2. If a letter of complaint is necessary, it should not be anonymous. A signed letter automatically gains credibility. However, depending on the situation, it's sometimes not wise to send a signed letter. If the maturity of the receiver and his or her ability to maintain confidentiality is in question, an anonymous letter is the proper course of action. Leaders who care about their organization want to know about problems even if they can't know who is giving them the information.
3. Cool down before sending! Do not dash off a letter while fuming about the offense. Letters and e-mails are permanent! Think about the consequences of your statements. They cannot be forgotten or deleted once sent! Corrosive letters which somehow escape the custody of the recipient will be circulated and posted to dozens or hundreds of in-boxes and stored for later use. Think long and hard before sending.
4. Provide as much detail about the problem as possible. Give names and dates. Try to imagine what questions the receiver might ask about your assertions and answer them. Include suggestions or solutions to the problem and make sure everything stated is 100% factual. If you exaggerate the facts, it will immediately reduce your credibility.
5. Format. Format is not critical but, to be taken seriously, complaint letters should be written using the Air Force Official Memorandum format or the Personal Letter format, whichever is more appropriate. If in doubt, use the Official Memorandum format.
Lt Col Smith:
I am reluctant to bring this to your attention but I feel I have no other option to solve this problem. There is a problem with Sandra Smith who is the Commercial Services representative in the Plans and Programs office. For the past few months and actually, for as long as I have worked here, she talks excessively on a daily basis. She does little else but talk. If she isn't talking to her friends, she's chatting on the phone with her latest boyfriend.
Her constant loud talking and conversations make it very hard for me and others in our office to do our job. As far as I know she is a competent employee and takes care of her responsibilities as the Commercial Services representative. But the fact is that her job requires only a few minutes of attention a day to keep up with while the rest of us have more labor-intensive jobs which keep us busy almost all day. Her shrill and boisterous conversations make it hard to concentrate and I have found myself making errors due to my inability to focus.
My letter would just be the ramblings of another whiner if I didn't offer a solution. For that reason I suggest that Job Control absorb her responsibilities. Her job requires just a few minutes of work a day so the folks in Job Control shouldn't mind the additional workload. In addition, although the workload is light, it gives the Airmen opportunities to excel. They are a smart bunch and certainly capable of these new tasks.
I apologize for burdening you with this matter. I know you are a busy person with a lot of more important and immediate responsibilities but I don't know who else to turn to. Several of us have spoken informally to the Flight Chief, SMSgt Morgan, but she doesn't seem to mind Sandra's actions.
A concerned Airman