The Exit Interview Is The WrongTime To Ask For Feedback

Before I launch into today’s post, I want to take a moment to remind everyone that this is an interactive community.  I welcome and value any thoughts that you have even if they might be in direct opposition to any thoughts I may have. This is an educational opportunity for me as well. That being said, today’s post was requested by Jill (you should check her site out as it is quite amusing). She wanted to me to share my thoughts on exit interviews which I will share below, but I would also like to hear yours.

Let’s start with a definition. An exit interview is conducted by some companies when an employee has given their notice, but has not yet departed the company. The interviews are usually conducted by a Human Resources Manager, but sometimes they can also be outsourced to third party companies. During the interview the departing employee is asked questions around the reasons they are leaving, what things the company does well, and what things the company needs to improve upon. The questions are usually pretty open ended and designed to let the employee talk about anything that they feel strongly about. The thought process behind the exit interview is that is likely the most candid the employee will even be with you as they have nothing to lose by telling you the truth.

My background is in operations. I have always been in operations and likely always be. I have certainly hired and fired my share of people, but I have never worked in Human Resources. My thoughts are purely from an operational perspective. I am not an advocate of exit interviews. I think the theory that it is the point in time that you are most likely to get candid response is dangerously flawed. What’s in it for the employee? There is no way that being candid on an exit interview will benefit them. There are many employees that prove to be problematic for any number of reasons. As managers do their jobs effectively, these employees start to feel pressure to shape up or ship out. Many chose to ship out.  These employees are going to use the exit interview as an opportunity to personally attack any of the effective managers that helped to drive them from the company.  I do not like the idea of giving them a forum and an audience for their attack.

In the best case scenario, where you have a good employee that has worked in your organization for several years, I think the exit interview process is still flawed.  When you quit your old job and you are about to embark upon a new one, you will start to find a lot of things that you do not like with your old employer.  Things that you tolerated for years will suddenly become intolerable.  That old copier that you have to kick to get it work right has now become a beacon of everything that is wrong with your old employer.  The good employee is now going to rattle off a list of grievances in their exit interview that they did even know bothered them two weeks earlier.  They are not being malicious; in fact they are trying to give honest and sincere feedback.  It is just very biased feedback in my opinion.

The best time for an employee to discuss their concerns or suggestions is when they are committed employees that have no desire to leave the organization.  They are stakeholders at that point and I greatly value their opinions.  This is when I want to solicit feedback from them.  I like to catch my new employees after they have gone through training and ask them how the on boarding process went.   I get their feedback on how we can make training better and whether the company is living up to their expectations.  My company does 2-3 internal employee surveys a year to elicit feedback on what we can do to make our company an even better place to work.  A lot of good feedback has come from those surveys and a lot of suggestions have been implemented.

If your company uses exit interviews, and everyone (that’s everyone, not just the HR people) is happy with the process then you should absolutely continue that process.  If you are getting good feedback and that feedback is being disseminated in a constructive manner please comment below and share how your process works.

If you are an employee and you are ask to participate in an exit interview, then my advice is to not use it as a forum to list out every grievance that you have ever had.  If there has always been something that bothered you that you feel is a pretty important, then share it.  That is if you have confidence that the interviewer is going to use that information constructively and get it into the right people’s hands.  If you don’t have that confidence then you may want to reconsider sharing anything.

I am an extremely vocal person.  If I am unhappy then you will know it.  I will give you every chance to right the things that are bothering me.  If you chose not to, then at some point I will move on.  When I do, don’t expect me to list out my concerns yet again for you to ignore.  I will just go away quietly.

That’s my take on exit interviews.  I realize that this is a very controversial topic so I hope that all of you can at least respect my opinion even if you disagree.  I promise I will respect yours as well, so please share it below.  Have you even been involved in an exit interview?  If so, which side of the table were you on?  Do you think that they have value?  Would you give you employer candid feedback in an exit interview?  Why or why not?


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