Exit interviews – is goodbye enough?

Q. I am thinking of leaving my job. Once I give my notice, is it really necessary during my exit interview with HR to list the real reasons I am going? (Tired of inefficient management, poor leadership, poor facilities issues, a personal conflict with an annoying employee that doesn’t do his share of the work, being lied to or treated rudely by other employees…) I like my boss and most of the people in my department, and would like to stay in touch with them even after I leave. I doubt if sharing my reasons for leaving would change things, but should I do it anyway? Is honesty the best policy, or is a tiny white lie such as “moving on for a bigger challenge” more professional?

A. It seems like you have lots to say about why you are thinking of leaving your job, and your instinct about being professional will really be important if you do decide to take part in an exit interview.

Companies use exit interviews or exit surveys to gather all sorts of information about the organization including the environment, the facilities, employee development, how you have been managed, the culture, what made you think about leaving, right up to why you finally took the plunge. Most companies truly want information that will help them become a better organization, and if you have constructive comments, they can prove very valuable.

But before we get to the exit, let’s look at your current situation. You say you like your manager and most of the people in your department. You didn’t address how you feel about the work, and you didn’t complain about it either, so let’s assume it is ok. Do you and your colleagues have the opportunity to affect the current organization? Can you make it better, and would that be well received? Inefficient management is a significantly different issue than rude co-workers. If you could affect some of these reasons for leaving would you stay?
People who seem driven to get away from things on the job, rather than being driven toward something else often find themselves unhappy on the new job, where similar problems are often found. I am not minimizing the issues you face – they are challenges, and can make the workplace an annoying place to be. Having a boss you like and people you would want to continue to be in touch sounds like it offers some positive work experience.
So if you decide to leave, and you want the organization to succeed, you might have an off the record conversation with your manager about the areas where you tried to have a positive impact but couldn’t, or areas you hope he/she might be able to change for the better for the next staff member.
For the human resources exit interview I would remember this might be an organization you may like to return to someday. Review the comments you’d like to make. Are they constructive? Are they “real” or just your perception? Does “everyone” think management is really inefficient, or could they do a better job communicating? There are ways to deliver feedback where you earn respect because of the efforts you put into the communication, and the message. Let human resources know that you remain committed to the success of the company and the colleagues who continue to work at the company. The world of work is a very small place, and most people have very long memories.

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