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How to Write a Complaint Email to Your Boss

From rude customers to overwhelming assignments to long hours, work can be filled with all sorts of frustrations. It’s your job as a professional to find productive ways to deal with these challenges. When something goes beyond a temporary frustration and becomes an ongoing issue that’s negatively affecting your work, however, it’s time to bring it to your boss’ attention. You can do this by writing a complaint email to your boss.

What is a complaint email?

A complaint email is a formal statement of your concerns to your boss. It outlines the problem you’re dealing with and provides examples of how the issue is impacting you, the team or the company. A complaint email may also suggest a resolution or request action on your boss’ part in response to the problem.

Why it’s important to send an email expressing your concerns

Even the best managers don’t know 100% of the things that happen on their teams. In fact, the better your manager is, the more freedom they may give you to handle challenges as you see fit. So, this means your boss may not be aware of the problem you’re facing. A complaint email flags the issue so your manager can decide the appropriate action to take. 

Sending an email also creates a paper trail of your concerns. If the problem becomes bigger in the future, you’ll have documentation of the steps you took to get your manager involved. Unfortunately, this may be necessary if your job is in jeopardy or the situation becomes more serious in another way, like becoming a legal issue. 

When should you send complaint email

When an issue affects your work

There are plenty of people who are difficult or tedious to work with. In most cases, this behavior doesn’t rise to the level of making a formal complaint. The exception is when the actions of a coworker or client start to have a negative impact on your ability to do your job. 

Let’s say you have a coworker, Tim, who arrives for work 10 to 15 minutes late every day. While this may be irritating, it’s not your job to report Tim’s tardiness. 

However, if you and Tim are responsible for collaborating on projects and his lateness is consistently holding up your portion of the work, causing you to miss deadlines, this would be a legitimate concern to raise for your superior. 

When you’ve taken steps yourself to address the problem

Before sending a complaint up the chain of command, you should do what you can to resolve the problem on your own first. In the example above, you might have a sit-down conversation with Tim explaining how his lateness is making it impossible for you to uphold your agreed-upon schedule. This way, when you do bring an issue to your boss’ attention, they can feel confident it’s truly an issue and you’re not just taking up their time with petty workplace drama.

When there’s a safety, legal, or ethical concern

If it’s a situation where someone could get hurt, is breaking the law or is doing something unethical, bring the issue to your boss’ attention immediately. 

What to include in a complaint email to your boss

A statement of your concern

Open by communicating the reason for your email with a phrase like “I’m writing to express my concern about X…”

The impacts you’re experiencing

Share examples of how the problem affects you, your work, or your team. Giving a chronological play-by-play can be helpful for events that have unfolded over several weeks or months.

The steps you’ve already taken to resolve it

Tell your boss what solutions you’ve already tried and the outcome.

What you’re asking for

You may or may not know what this is. Sometimes the purpose of the email is to make your manager aware there’s an issue. Other times you might ask them to do something to arrive at a resolution.

A formal closing

End the email with a closing salutation like ‘warmly’ or ‘sincerely’ and include your contact information if further details are needed.

What you should omit

  • Your emotions. Keep your email professional and use an objective tone. Don’t send it when you’re angry or upset. 
  • Personal grievances. Stick to the facts that are relevant to your work rather than getting caught up in your feelings about the situation. Focus on how the problem is affecting your work or the company.

Sample complaint email to your boss

Mr. Davidson,

I’m writing to express my concerns about the performance of my colleague, Shauna Lowe.

Shauna and I frequently work on the same projects, with her reports coming to me for design and branding adjustments before being sent to our clients. Although Shauna is pleasant to work with, her reports are frequently filled with errors to the point where they are unacceptable to send to a client.

The first few times I noticed mistakes, I flagged them for Shauna and sent the report back to her for revisions before completing my portion of the work. However, this has caused us to deliver reports later than promised on several occasions, and the mistakes have not become any less frequent.

Moreover, my job is meant to be focused on design, not content; however, I no longer feel comfortable working on reports that Shauna has compiled without first scanning them for inaccurate information. This is compounding my already heavy workload. If I continue to have to proofread Shauna’s work before completing my own, I will no longer be able to keep up with the pace we’re currently using for client reports.

I wanted to flag this issue since it’s affecting my work and could cause negative repercussions for our clientele. I understand that your time is valuable, so I appreciate your attention to this matter. I am attaching one of the reports in question for your review. The inaccurate portions are highlighted.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions at 212-321-4321.


Joseph White

Sending a fact-based complaint email expressing your concerns professionally is the first step in getting your boss involved in a workplace issue that obstructs your ability to do your job or otherwise negatively imparts the company.