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At my company we have flexible hours but sometimes, according to a schedule, we have to stay on till late to lock up and switch everything off. I've only done this a few times and normally I switch everything off, lock the office I am in and leave, I don't have the means to lock the building.

I did not realise until recently I'm supposed to leave with the other person as they lock up so last time a colleague came looking for me and realised they were in the building alone and got a bit confused, also was dark.

I didn't get into trouble or anything, I've done it before and it's never been brought up, simply wasn't explained to me properly, easy mistake.

What I'd like to do is email the colleague and just explain and apologise, what should and shouldn't I say?

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Here's a basic format for an apology to suit pretty much any given circumstance. Don't just copy my words - you need to express yourself with words that feel right for you and for the relationship you have with the person you are apologizing to.

There are some basic rules for a good apology letter:

  1. First, state upfront that your letter is an apology.

Example 1:

Hey. I just want to say I'm sorry about yesterday.

Example 2:

Dear Sir, I am writing to offer my sincere apology for my inconsiderate behaviour

  1. State exactly what you're apologizing for.

I'm sorry that I left without letting you know.

  1. Acknowledge that your mistake caused them problem/hurt/difficulties

I understand that it was very unpleasant for you to look through the dark building, and to realize that you'd been left alone there.

  1. Accept responsibility. You weren't aware of the rule, but you should have double-checked that you knew the rules, and you should have talked to them anyway before leaving because it's the courteous thing to do.

I should have made sure that I knew the rules about working late and not leaving someone alone - and even though I didn't, I should still have made the effort to check in with you before leaving.

  1. Let them know what you're doing to make sure that neither this nor something similar happens again..

I won't leave anybody alone in the office after hours again, and I'll spend some time today going [through the Official Binder of Rules/talking to my boss/some other fount of knowledge] to make sure there's nothing else I've missed.

  1. Some nice ending.

Again, sorry about this.

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I'd go with the simple approach. When you run into that person again, just explain it like you did here.

"Hey, sorry I left early the other day, I wasn't aware of the 'both stay' policy, next time I wont leave untill we're both ready to go"

When I started my job, I left 5:15 pm, 15 minutes after my (only) collegae went home, to show some enthusiasm. After about a month my employer approached me that I was leaving early a bit too much; I was suppose to work till 5:30 pm.

I explained that I wasn't aware of this rule, explained briefly why I was doing it (I thought I was doing good) and it never turned into a problem after that. I'm a fan of not making things overly formal. If a bigger problem occurs, you've set a base for a comfortable method of saying you're sorry - a bit of goodwill/empathy. However, do note that your working environment has to be able to allow for this approach. If not, you can try contacting them in some other manner.

These things happen. If someone comes to you and explains why (with sincerity), would you get angry? (the answer here should be no)

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First of all, an apology in person is almost always better than an apology by email. If you can both spare the time, make the effort to apologize face-to-face. If for any reason this will not work, an apology by e-mail is perfectly fine.

Second, like Martijn explained in his answer, mistakes will happen, and it's better to own up to it directly. As long as you are professional and courteous in your explanation (which should be true if you describe it the way you did to us in your question), you should be perfectly fine when offering your apology.

Of course, you should be very careful not to let the same situation happen again. The more often it happens, the less sincere your apology will seem. Over time, that will breed office tension and resentment. So do your best to try to make good on your apology.

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