Death to exit interviews: Why employers and employees should aim to abolish them

I recently had an exit interview. I didn’t leave Red Gate; I just moved to a different part of the company. But my (former) boss thought it would be a good idea to have me do an exit interview anyway in case I wanted to impart some wisdom in confidence before I cruelly abandoned his team.

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What’s an exit interview?

In case you haven’t heard of the term before, an exit interview usually happens when somebody leaves an organisation; typically an employee leaving a company. The theory is that once somebody has handed in their notice they have nothing to lose any more and are likely to give their employer some home truths or useful feedback that can be used to improve the company.

So what happened?

Nothing. I had a pleasant chat with the HR rep assigned to our part of the company and rehashed a few key points that we’d been over a few times before.

Is that because I couldn’t care less?

No. Absolutely not. The reason my exit interview was of little note was because there was nothing for me to say that I hadn’t brought up before. My view is that if there’s some burning issue for me to bring up during an exit interview that I haven’t voiced before, its too late. I’ve missed the opportunity to take responsibility for improving things for my team, for my boss and for myself. It should never be the case – in my view – that I don’t attempt to fix something I perceive to be broken when I’m in a position to do so. Lashing out in an exit interview because “I have nothing to lose” is cowardly and ultimately disloyal to my employer.

So, from the employee: death to the exit interview

As an employee and team member you should always attempt to be in a position where should you find yourself in an exit interview nothing you say will come as a surprise. Your boss is not infallible and he or she deserves to get your honest opinion, support and best efforts while they have the opportunity of making things better for you. A good boss will recognise your honesty for loyalty (even if they disagree) and if they don’t, well, then you’d probably be talking with your feet anyway at some point but with the knowledge that you avoided the coward’s route.

And, from the employer: death to the exit interview

As an employer and team leader you should create an environment where your team members are comfortable voicing their honest opinion. If you discover surprising things from exit interviews, by all means take action, but also take note that you failed in giving that person a voice. (Or possibly made a wrong hire but that’s a slightly different topic.) As a boss try to do two things. First make sure your team have the channels and confidence to make themselves heard. Second, when they do, don’t put them down or ignore them. Either give them credit and recognition for their suggestions or make the time to have a debate and explain why you disagree.

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