how can I give my company feedback after I leave?

A reader writes:

I just left my company, but they did not give me an exit interview. I had planned on telling them some things which could have benefited management (such as, “most people have incredibly low morale”), but obviously I did not have the opportunity. Is there a way that I can broach the topic as an ex-employee?

The deal with exit interviews (formal or informal) is that their usefulness depends 100% on the company culture and the person you’re talking with. There are some companies that truly welcome feedback from departing employees, that will be grateful to receive your candid thoughts, and that will give you a sort of immunity from negative repercussions. (These are the smart companies.) But there are also employers that will bristle or worse, and there are some that will hold it against you when it comes to future references and future employment eligibility.

So you need to really know your company and who you’re dealing with.

I’d ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do you want to give feedback in order to genuinely help the company (as opposed to wanting to make a point or have grievances heard)?

2. Do you have reason to believe that the company is open and receptive to feedback, even when it’s critical, and doesn’t tend to shoot the messenger?

3. Is the person you’d be approaching there someone who you have a good relationship with, or at least not a tense or bad relationship?

You should only proceed if the answer to all three of these questions is yes. In that case, you could certainly reach out and make the offer. But it should be an offer that you wait to have accepted before proceeding further — something like, “If it would be welcome, I have some feedback that might be useful to the company that I’d be glad to talk with someone about.”

But if the answer to any of those questions is no, or if you’re not sure, I’d proceed with extreme caution, or not at all.

I know that a bunch of people are going to tell you not to bother, and that you’d be doing a favor that’s risky to yourself and that you don’t owe the company, but the reality is that there are some workplaces that do make it safe for people to give candid feedback.  You just need to know if your company is one of them or not.

As a real-life example, I once got feedback in a series of exit interviews that ended up leading to the departure of a horribly tyrannical and jerky manager. This guy had done a great job of hiding his behavior from me and others above him, but thanks to a couple of departing employees who were willing to tell me the truth about how he was covertly treating his staff, I was able to investigate and put a stop to it. I’d like to think that the truth would have come out on its own even without those exit interviews, but I’m honestly not sure that it would have (the manager was engaged in some fairly elaborate deception to keep it hidden). Those departing employees did a huge favor to the organization and to future employees who otherwise would have worked under this guy.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are also plenty of real-life stories about people who get penalized and ostracized for speaking difficult truths. So again, know who you’re dealing with.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. Wilton Businessman*

    IMHO, if you didn’t have the opportunity on the way out, the probably would not take it as constructive.

    1. Long Time Admin*

      That’s the first thing I thought of, too.

      If they don’t have exit interviews, it’s pretty apparent they don’t care what you think, or might have to say.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think that could go either way. Some places just aren’t super organized about this kind of thing, but could still be interested in the feedback, especially if the OP is someone who the management respected. (If not, it won’t matter anyway.)

  2. Anonymous*

    In anything in life, do not give unsolicited advice. Like the commenter wrote above, “they probably would not take it as constructive.”

  3. Josh S*

    I’m curious to know more about your tyrannical manager. How can you keep that sort of behavior secret? I have a hard time believing it…
    Whatever you can share (I know some stuff will be private still).

    Glad the jerk was “separated” though.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      He managed an off-site office, so no one above him was able to witness the way he treated his staff day-to-day. When site visits were done, he cleaned his behavior up temporarily. He was willing to lie when I talked with him about his management practices. And he directly forbade his staffers to ever initiate conversation with me about anything, which infuriated me to no end when I found that out, since that makes it clear that he was well aware that what he was doing wouldn’t be allowed if it came to light.

      Basically, the behavior itself centered around being really verbally abusive of his staff, making unreasonable (and unneeded) demands (like calling people on Christmas Eve for work that could wait), and generally being a mean, condescending jerk who kept his people living in fear.

      1. Joe*

        I’m curious: after discovering and dealing with this guy, did the company make any changes to try to ensure that this couldn’t happen again? Any useful tips on how others can make positive changes in a workplace to prevent this kind of abuse of power? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. (Not because I have any kind of pressing need, but because I think it’s a really interesting topic, and the ideas that I have to try to prevent this kind of abuse of power don’t seem particularly feasible.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes. A big one was more checks and balances for remote managers, and also making sure that employees working under remote managers had clear, safe paths for raising issues and concerns (paths that didn’t require them to initiate the contact).

  4. Anonymous*

    Those departing employees did a huge favor to the organization and to future employees who otherwise would have worked under this guy.

    And what was the benefit to the departing employees?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I would imagine it was the satisfaction of blowing the whistle on some really bad behavior, bringing some justice to the situation, and ensuring that no one else would have to deal with what they had to deal with. For some people, that’s a powerful motivator.

      1. Anonymous*

        So plenty of benefits to the organization, but nothing for the departing employees beyond warm and fuzzy feelings.

          1. Mike C.*

            Seriously. People are not little rational actor robots that only think of maximizing their short term gains at all costs.

            I’ve been a whistle blower before and I’ll gladly do it again. I did it because what I saw going on was wrong and no one else was willing to stand up to it. As the news tells us, the attitude of “well it’s not my problem” leads to terrible, terrible things happening to the innocent.

        1. Kim Stiens*

          You’d be amazed at how powerful “warm and fuzzy feelings” are. Not to mention that in the case AAM puts forward (or others like it), it could well be that the two employees were awesome, and that it was the tyrannical jerk who was making them look bad. If there’s at least an attempt to put situations like that in the open, it could change many things… those employees would probably get much better references once the jerk was gone, and heck, maybe even be hired back down the road. Or be kept on the radar of people working there still, increasing networking opportunities… More information is seldom bad for any party!

          1. Anonymous*

            those employees would probably get much better references once the jerk was gone, and heck, maybe even be hired back down the road

            Well, that’s for AAM to comment on, isn’t it? I think it would be most interesting to hear what has been done for these ex-employees, which has not been done for those who left without ‘blowing the whistle.’

            It would be quite interesting to know the actual (rather than imputed) motivations of the departing employees. After all, since they were obviously not in a culture where such feedback was welcomed (or they would have raised the issue without leaving), why did they think it would be welcome when they were leaving?

            1. KellyK*

              Dude, they were working for a tyrranical manager who went to extremes to lie about his behavior. The company as a whole could be as open and welcoming about feedback as anybody out there, and those employees would still have to deal with the very likely possibility that he would a) make it look like they were the ones who were lying and b) retaliate.

              When you’re dealing with someone that abusive and irrational, and they’re your *boss,* you have to think first and foremost about protecting yourself. That fact doesn’t reflect badly on the larger organization, just on the abusive boss.

              1. Anonymous*

                Don’t the actions of a company’s employees reflect on it? I believe there have been a number of postings explaining to posters that their behavior outside work hours can be grounds for firing, if it diminishes the reputation of the organization. This was stuff done during time at work.

              2. KellyK*

                Sure, but it only reflects on the larger organization once they knowingly allow it to continue. Hard to fault someone for not being clairvoyant.

            2. Anonymous*

              The employees were in a remote office. They had no direct contact with AAM at the time, and had been told specifically not to contact her. It’s not that the culture didn’t support “blowing the whistle” but rather the physical location and limitations of being in a remote office made it much more difficult to do so.

          1. Anonymous*

            Well, I’m certain AAM wrote them a nice email afterwards, letting them know that the situation had been resolved. For more practical benefits…. there was a good example above, in that those who ratted out the manager in question might get better references in future than those who left without mentioning his behavior. However, since the anecdote hasn’t been completed yet, we don’t know.

            1. fposte*

              Sure. But I was rather sardonically questioning the poster who intimated that something else should have been in it for the departing employee, and I was a little hard-pressed to figure what actually the poster actually thought should have been done. Given the person’s distaste for intangible benefits, I’m guessing they felt it was a situation for tangible benefits. I’m not real crazy about a workplace that offers financial bonuses for complaining about colleagues, so I’m going with “fruit basket.”

          2. KellyK*

            Even though it’s inappropriate as all get out, I’m amused by the idea of a fruit basket with a handwritten note that said “Thank you for letting us know there was a problem! Jerkface no longer works for us.”

      2. Dawn*

        Why do people always have to do something that will get them something in return? Some people just want to help. There are plenty of things I do without expecting something in return.

        1. Mike C.*

          Because some are obsessed with the idea that people are rational actors without understanding that such an idea is a model, and all models have limits.

          Either that, or they have the emotional development of a toddler and are simply motivated by rewards and punishments.

  5. Anonymous*

    On leaving my previous job, a meeting with the HR Manager was scheduled on the afternoon of my last day at that sorting out stage.
    There were various forms to sign and I was given a 10 page (at least!) exit questionnaire to fill in for the meeting. Feeling that the answers to the questions (“How did you get on with your line manager?” etc.) would benefit from reflexion on my part, I politely proposed to hand in the completed form at a later date, which I did.

    I have no idea if my comments were analysed, but I felt that it was important to close that stage in my career.

  6. Anonymous*

    Be VERY careful about feedback. I was asked two very pointed questions by a manager about a coworker. I answered honestly. Then I was quoted directly when the coworker was later “written up”.
    I felt I had a responsibility to be honest. How could I have imagined the manager would actually quote me?!
    Thank Heavens I was no longer working there.

    1. KellyK*

      Gah! I think quoting someone in that situation is going way over the line. Even if they didn’t mention names, writing style and quirks of phrasing can be really distinctive.

  7. ruby*

    If they wanted feedback, they would have asked for it. It would be incredibly rare for a party who does not want feedback to get unsolicited negative feedback, and then be thankful for it and think kindly of the person who offered it. That’s just highly unlikely to be the way this would play out.

    Hopefully the reason they are your ex-employer is that you have gone on to a new and better job so I’d let it go — if you feel the need to vent your frustration, write up a scathing letter to them telling them everything you think they are doing wrong…then delete and move on.

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