should I tell the truth in my exit interview?

A reader writes:

I’ve gotten a new job offer and have put in notice at my company that I’ve worked at for 10 years now. HR has contacted me saying they will be doing an exit interview. I already know the format will be a list of questions rating the company 1-5 on how they do things (like pay, communication, etc.), with the potential for comments to be passed along to management.

I’ve only ever had one exit interview, over 10 years ago at my first “adult” job, and it was with the manager I had the most problems with so I didn’t have enough confidence to tell them the truth of the issues and why I decided to leave.

Now with this current job, there’s no issue of worrying about potential references blowback since the company I work with laid off all management that directly worked with me, and a ton of coworkers who would be useful references (I’m one of seven on a team that was 30 strong pre-layoffs, and which needs at least double our current amount to function). My managers are all new and we’ve spoken maybe 100 words since the last layoff, so they wouldn’t really be valuable references in the future beyond “yes, she worked here, I worked with her for three weeks, her previous manager said XYZ.”

My reasons for leaving are extensive, ranging from being underpaid according to industry standards, horrible corporate decisions that punish staff and get us yelled at by clients constantly, removing medical benefits, constant layoffs (while also bragging days later about getting prime seats for massive sporting events for potential clients and sales staff) and forcing in-office work despite our contracts stating we would be remote (even pre-Covid).

I’m wondering if it’s worth speaking my mind and bringing up the issues that caused me to decide to leave (for a lower paying job, no less!) or if it would be wasting my breath. Friends and family are all saying I need to speak up since anything I say may help my current coworkers. But the pessimist in me thinks nothing will change since it’s a big company and things have only gotten worse over the years, never better, even with complaints from staff and clients alike.

Additionally, I know the remaining staff are all looking for jobs too and are ready to jump ship, so there might not even be any coworkers left if they all get job offers, which makes me wonder if it’s even worth speaking up about the issues I see.

It’s almost certainly not worth telling the truth in your exit interview.

The reasons you’re considering it are noble — after all, if there’s a chance that you can make things better for your co-workers by speaking up now that you have nothing to lose and when your feedback is being actively solicited, why shouldn’t you? And there’s also just the principle of it; you have profound concerns about how the company operates, and what better opportunity to share those than when they’re inviting your candid opinions?

The thing is, though, it’s highly unlikely to make any difference.

Companies that truly want to hear employees’ input will solicit that input while you’re still working there, not just once you’re walking out the door. Respect for employees’ opinions will be woven into the fabric of how they operate; they’ll make a point of making it safe for people to speak up, even when voicing criticism, and you’ll see changes result from workers’ feedback. When a company doesn’t operate that way, it’s telling you it doesn’t really value honest evaluation, and the exit interviews are more likely to be an exercise in bureaucracy than anything resembling meaningful dialogue. Your candid feedback is likely to go nowhere, and you might even be written off as disgruntled or someone with an ax to grind.

Plus, the issues you’re thinking about raising are deeply entrenched ones; they’re about the culture and leadership of the organization, and those don’t get solved unless someone at the top with actual authority is committed to investing significant energy into changing the culture (and even then, it often takes years or doesn’t work at all). It would be different if you were thinking of providing easily addressed feedback like “We need a more streamlined expense-approval system” or “The parking lot needs better signage” or even “Our salaries and benefits aren’t competitive for the field.” That last one might not be easily addressed, but it’s more in line with the kind of info companies are typically interested in collecting through exit interviews, especially if they hear it from multiple people.

That’s not to say that genuine change never results from exit interviews that delve into tougher or more substantive issues. Occasionally it does. But it’s rare enough that, as a general rule, you shouldn’t look at exit interviews as an effective avenue for driving culture change.

Moreover, while it can feel like being forthcoming in an exit interview is low risk since you’re leaving and can’t be penalized for what you say, that’s not always true in practice. When someone’s exit-interview feedback is particularly frank in an office where management bristles at unpleasant truths, it can burn bridges and affect what kind of references that person gets in the future. That doesn’t mean that an A+ reference will suddenly turn into an F, but it can affect the way you’re talked about when potential employers inquire about you. A reference that would have been glowingly enthusiastic can become significantly less so, and that matters.

Now, that’s less of a worry for you than it would be generally; since the managers who you’ll turn to for references in the future have already left, your chances of negative repercussions are lower. But that doesn’t insulate you entirely, because you don’t always get to choose your references. If a hiring manager happens to know someone at your old company personally, for example, they might call them to ask about you regardless of whether they’re listed as an official reference or not. So it’s still something to keep in mind as a possibility, even though it doesn’t carry as much risk as it could.

Despite all this, if you really feel strongly about speaking up, your best shot at making an impact is to pick one clear issue and give feedback on that. Choose something that you think has a realistic chance of being changed (so not “all the new managers suck” or “what’s with all the terrible decision-making?”) and focus on that as unemotionally as you can. It still might not get through to anyone, but it’ll have better odds than a long list of complaints would.

Beyond that, though, focus on moving on. You’ve found a new job, you’re escaping this bad one, and you no longer have a professional obligation to help this company find solutions to its problems.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 83 comments… read them below }

  1. Exeunt*

    Another reason not to participate in exit interviews for dysfunctional companies: some of them use the exit interview as a way to create a CYA paper trail.

      1. Addison DeWitt*

        Yes, I assume the main point is to sniff out if this person is thinking of suing you after they leave.

        I always felt, if they wouldn’t listen to me when they were paying for my thinking, why would they listen now? Answer of course is, they won’t.

      2. Antilles*

        Yeah, I don’t really get the CYA paper trail concern here. I don’t think there’s anything to be gained from exit interviews either, but I’m not really sure what “CYA Paper Trail” is supposed to mean.

        It’s presumably at-will employment so it’s not like you have to worry about a potential lawsuit from the company over the departure.

        And while I could see being cautious about a paper trail if you were let go (will the company try to misrepresent something you said in the exit interview to claim you left voluntarily so they don’t owe unemployment), that’s not really an item for someone like OP who actually is leaving voluntarily and starting a new job.

        1. Antilles*

          I guess if you’re planning on filing a lawsuit at the company over your departure, then that might be the only scenario where a “paper trail” might be of concern…but (a) there’s no indication OP is considering that and (b) if you’re considering it, you should really be getting situation-specific advice from your employment lawyer.

          1. Happy meal with extra happy*

            Yeah, exactly. If OP is thinking in any way about litigation, she shouldn’t talk to the company, but that’s a broader thought OP should have beyond just an exit interview.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          The only thing I can think of – and not saying it makes sense – but generally you only exit interview someone who resigned. If you laid off or fired someone you know why they’re leaving. So if someone filed for unemployment and the company was like “um, no” then I guess, maybe? But it still seems roundabout and kinda silly way to make a paper trail for that scenario.

  2. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    It’s always encouraging when people write in trying to find ways to help out the people they’re leaving behind. It’s reassuring to see that instinct of experiencing something bad and trying to keep other people from experiencing it instead of acting like it’s not fair if everyone doesn’t suffer as much as you did.

    I one day hope to read about one of these people actually succeeding at leaving a positive impact on a bad workplace, despite the odds.

    1. linger*

      Since OP has so little to lose, OP is in a position to collect together suggestions from her coworkers as a group and present those, suitably aggregated, and either anonymised or cosigned (depending on coworkers’ wishes): “The department has already lost too many staff to function. If you really want to know, and you actually want to retain staff, these are the issues affecting all of us; fix them or fail”. That might be more effective than limiting responses to OP personally through an exit interview. Though, agreed, the chance of any real action in response is microscopically small. Management clearly doesn’t know or care that OP’s department is too small NOW to perform its function, so retention doesn’t seem to register as a high priority for them.

  3. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    Companies like this will never take on valuable feedback as a sign that they need to change. It will always be a game of deflection and other blame-dodging. Just leave with your head high on your way to the next, hopefully MUCH better, opportunity. Don’t waste any more of your time and energy trying to fix something that isn’t your responsibility.

    1. Constance Lloyd*

      I did this leaving my last job! It was a federally funded nonprofit with a presence in every state. I loved the work but couldn’t afford to stay there, so I gushed about everything I loved and made it very clear I was only leaving because of money. Management listened and implemented a major raise within a month. They also went to the board to try for a larger increase, which was granted. And then, after a national conference, they realized their employees were still wildly underpaid and implemented another significant raise. All within 12 months of my departure.

      I don’t think my feedback alone resulted in this much change, but apparently my boss had been lobbying to promote me when I left so I think my exit was a bit of a shock. I’m just thrilled they listened!

      1. Constance Lloyd*

        This was a weird beating fail, meant to be a standalone rather than a reply! Apologies!

        (Though, on a related note, the only reason I DID speak up in my exit was because my employer was otherwise wonderful. I’ve also left a really awful job, did not feel comfortable speaking up in the exit interview, and later watched them make national headlines and get slapped with millions in fines for all of the reasons I left and more. So there’s that.)

  4. Emma L*

    I had this very dilemma recently upon being laid off, only more urgent because there was a certain senior manager who was making working there miserable for more than me. I decided in the moment to give my HR person (who I know very well) the full lowdown on how hard this person is to work this and how much they have put my teammates and direct reports through, because dammit they deserve better.
    One of the reasons said senior guy didn’t like me is because I am not afraid to speak out so *shrug*.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I didn’t do this through a formal exit interview, but I provided (anonymous?) survey feedback that specifically called out one bad senior manager as the main reason I was leaving. I also had a couple of informal conversations with some senior employees (when they asked why I was leaving) who might have been in a position to lobby for change, and advocated for a revision of how hiring and promotions work.

      From what I’ve observed, they haven’t changed hiring or promotions structure although they have drastically staffed up (hiring, in many cases, people with the wrong background/training for the work). Oh well, at least the visible diversity of the team has improved so that’s some progress. Remains to be seen what the retention rate is like!

      1. ferrina*

        Glassdoor can be another way to do this. If you don’t have any faith in an exit interview, at least you can warn others away from the company.

  5. Sara without an H*

    Hi, Letter Writer: Based on your description, it doesn’t sound as though anything useful would be done with your feedback. Alison is right, your company has a very entrenched culture and bad exit interviews are unlikely to make them see the light. Besides, you’ve said they’ve already had massive layoffs — do you really have anything to tell them that other employees haven’t already said?

    If you want to say something besides polite platitudes, I’d suggest picking the salary and benefits issues. “Vile Employer’s salaries are generally below market for this industry. New, Good Employer offers higher salaries, plus medical benefits.” These issues might get addressed eventually. “Horrible corporate decisions” are considered features rather than bugs and mentioning them will just get you labeled a “disgruntled” employee.

    So don’t stress over the exit interview. Go forth and be wildly successful at your new job.

  6. Jane Bingley*

    When I left a toxic org, I didn’t say anything in my exit interview (though I was tempted!!) but I did make time to get 1-1s with everyone I worked closely with whose work I admired, to let them know I’d be happy to serve as a reference if they were ever applying elsewhere. For a couple of super close colleagues I also offered to help with resume/cover letter editing. Often the best thing you can do for teammates you leave behind at a toxic job is help them to get out, too.

    1. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

      This. +1,000,000

      If you want to help the people still there, make it easier for them to get out too.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Honestly this is probably far more productive use of time than an honest exit interview with the company as described.

    3. Varthema*

      I feel like I’ve seen at least a couple letters (or more likely updates) in AAM where the LW saw positive action taken after somebody ELSE’S exit interview. I believe it was generally in companies with overall good intentions, with the primary failing was overlooking a bad apple, and it was an exit interview that finally adds enough urgency to get the bad apple fired.

      I’m thinking of my own friend who works at my company but diff department. The overall morale in general at my smallish but fully remote company is pretty high, with people reporting their coworkers and team as their favorite things about it. Problem is, my friend’s grandboss (former VP now C suite) is mismanaging her team through a combination of neglect, misunderstanding what they do, and depriving them of resources as a result of the above (note: nobody should be reporting to the VP of Finance if their own dept has nothing to do with finance because they’ll never get any budget). Her whole team is miserable and most of them looking to leave. Their direct boss is also unhappy and really not cut out to be a manager but also not receiving tbe support she needs to be a good one. Everyone is unhappy but the grandboss generally only tells people both above and below what they want to hear, is super positive and sunny, and just wallpapers over all their problems – which works, because all remote means not a lot of passive observation or even gossip happening. My friend feels like she doesn’t really have much recourse except to the CEO, which would be a truly nuclear move, since it’s her grandboss who is the main problem and less her direct boss. But I also have a feeling that once her teammates start succeeding in finding new jobs and leaving brutally honest exit interviews, this might actually make everyone else go ‘oh s***.’ Idk.

  7. Chairman of the Bored*

    Do it if it will make you feel better and you’re OK with the potential downsides, but it almost certainly won’t change anything.

  8. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    I would not even attend the exit interview. After all they don’t really care and I don’t care to waste my time. I would offer to be a reference for those I respect and admire if they are trying to get out. That is really the only exit work I would do.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Exit interviews are more than just asking why you’re leaving. They are also for covering company benefits post employment, turning in equipment and keys, and generally closing things out.

  9. Daisy-dog*

    This company is floundering. They are not in a position to make improvements for employees. Now there can be companies that are struggling and try to fix it by investing in their employees, but that is not this company’s game plan. Giving any feedback will probably not go beyond the HR person (who may not be staying for long either).

    1. NeedRain47*

      Are they floundering though? Many, many, many business run like this and their shareholders make gobs of money. I would not at all assume the company is floundering despite all the employees hating it.

  10. Justin*

    I had this same thought last year. And I would have done some petty stuff had the timing been slightly different – I was offered my current job four days after a really really condescending email from my boss, who was a main reason I left, and I considered including something she said in my notice email – but ultimately I decided, the best revenge for me would be to find peace, so I did.

    I would focus on looking for leads for your friends and passing them along, either at your new place or any similar ones. That’s what I do these days. I might be able to hire one this spring.

  11. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    I’ve had one official exit interview. And I was fully honest despite my own misgivings.

    And I was honest about my concerns being fully aware that I was also not a good cultural fit. One princess should not rule the work of others and once the princess decides she doesn’t like you beyond doing giving you what she didn’t want to do…

    It’s like I knew that I wouldn’t need their references later and I also knew that the department I was leaving was shutting down in 2 years. It wouldn’t matter anymore soon enough so I was honest.

    Interestingly, the HR person I was confiding in said, “Oh, yes, I heard that in the previous exit interview from the last person who left your department…” But was anything changed? Nope.

  12. DCLimey*

    When I left my last toxic job, I didn’t even acknowledge the exit interview request!
    I didn’t think there could possibly be anything of interest to me in that meeting.
    HR did not follow up, so I imagine I wasn’t the only one.

  13. Falling Diphthong*

    Beer run manager was fired in a process that started with an exit interview.

    I think those circumstances–dysfunction mostly within one small team, person leaving the team has a lot of capital, problem people are fired when upper management realizes what’s been happening–have recurred a few times. Rare, but not unheard of.

    Anyone have examples from their work where one or more bad exit interviews led to real change?

    1. Addison DeWitt*

      The first (small) ad agency I worked for– run by actually decent guys– announced on Friday that the #2 in media buying was leaving. On Monday she was still there but her boss was gone. Turns out that they did the exit interview and she told them what was really going on in her department, and they were sufficiently alarmed by it to act on it, fire her boss and put her in charge.

      Can’t say I ever saw another example of that. anywhere, though.

    2. RJ*

      At one of the last companies I worked at on-site, there was a particularly nasty finance manager who, aside from having a bad attitude and belittling those she considered ‘inferior’, was abysmal at her actual job. I left in 2017 and two other team members were planning on leaving shortly afterwards. We all agreed to tell the truth about how much of a part she played in our departures. Two others decided to leave as well and did the same. All of this happened within months – 70% of a department left because of one person.

      She was asked to leave. No one wished her luck. No one gave took her to lunch, said goodbye, etc. She was the Typhoid Mary of Finance and the remaining staff were glad to be rid of her. All of it came about thanks to being specifically mentioned in exit interviews.

    3. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I think it’s too soon to say whether or not there will be lasting change, but at my org two employees have recently left and their departures were noticeable enough to warrant exit interviews with the head of the organization. That person then spent a lot of time in my department and it’s my understanding that the boss is now receiving close counseling based on feedback from the departed as well as remaining employees.

    4. Just Another Cog*

      Yes, yes I do! I once had a terrible manager. She would grant time off then take it away at the last minute with some excuse about needing coverage….even if you had bought plane tickets. She would often schedule her reports on a split shift – working 8-10 AM and then 3-5PM. These jobs were in a bank and many of the people she did this to had little kids, so the employees would take them out of day care and then take them back for their afternoon shift. This was in the days when daycare was paid by the hour. Many of us moved on to much better jobs, but she was specifically mentioned as the number one reason for our departure. She was the first person they let go when they claimed they were “downsizing” management. Funnily enough, they hired a manager from another bank a week later to take her place.

  14. Fikly*

    To quote my toxic building management: “We love feedback!”

    Too bad they don’t love actually acting on feedback.

    There’s no actual point. They are doing exit interviews to look like they care, not to actually care or take any action.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Just because someone asks for feedback does not mean they actually WANT any. Especially in situations where people leave because they are unhappy.

      I’ll put it this way: I’ve never been sorry that I didn’t speak up about a situation. I usually am very, very sorry that I did speak up.

  15. OofandOuch*

    I hate this answer even though I know it’s right lol. I was literally telling a colleague today that I hope I get the most recent job I interviewed for because I want the catharsis of my exit interview

  16. N. Cheese*

    I think it’s worthwhile to tell the truth in exit interviews. I always try to, even though it’s true much of it won’t make a difference. At least you can try, and it takes away some of the plausible deniability that HR has if you say something on the record.

    Though I’ve also had a terrible exit interview experience when I was younger and cried to the HR rep about how awful it had been at this temp job I had that I quit after 6 months, only for the manager there to call me a week later and yell at me because “what you said got me in trouble.” YIKES.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      Ouch. The me that I am now would say “Actually, this call is just proof that you got YOURSELF in trouble” but it took a long time to get to this person, so I feel for your experience. Me of 20 years ago would have cried after that phone call too, somehow feeling it was my fault.

      1. N. Cheese*

        I was so scared of that boss too and I don’t even remember what I said on the phone with her, I was just trying to get off the phone!

        But at least it means HR tried to do something with the information and tell the management there that they sucked!

        Oh also I called HR back and told them that she yelled at me so she probably “got in trouble” a 2nd time :)

  17. It's Sara not Sarah*

    If asked about the company where I spent the last 8 years, I would say it was all rainbows an unicorns. I also have a bridge I would like to sell you.

  18. Berto*

    There is no reason to participate in the exit interview. It is all downside for the employee and nothing will be done anyway. HR has no one’s interest in mind but checking the checkbox.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Well, at least one place I worked used the exit interview to collect things like employee keys/badges and equipment- so that style exit interview you probably do need to attend. The rest of them – base it off of your experiences with the company.

  19. Peanut Hamper*

    Companies that truly want to hear employees’ input will solicit that input while you’re still working there, not just once you’re walking out the door.


    And for anybody that is working a job they don’t really like, this is something to consider: does this employer really care about doing the things that are necessary to retain me and others? Or do they pay lip service to the idea of listening to their employees?

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I worked for a company that did anonymous surveys most years to gauge employee satisfaction. We usually (not always) had all-hands meetings about the results, with all the usual promises of future change driven by the results. Can’t say that any of it did anything to change the culture, though. One consistent complaint was the lack of transparency from leadership, but 99% of the time we got our major company intel from the news, not the C-suite, even for stuff that had to have been in the works for months.

      One of those meetings notably devolved into a frank and accurate discussion of how badly the questions were written and how/why the resulting data weren’t useful. That impromptu lesson on how to write a good survey question was more useful than the act of surveying employees.

    2. wendelenn*

      Well, you can always betray your former crewmates and employers and end up in the Daystrom Institute. . . (Sorry I couldn’t resist! Loved Peanut Hamper, until the end. . .

  20. Richard Hershberger*

    ‘It would be different if you were thinking of providing easily addressed feedback like “We need a more streamlined expense-approval system” or “The parking lot needs better signage”’

    This. It is in exactly the same way that a suggestion box is looking for stuff like “We can reuse paperclips and save money on supplies,” not “Here is a new organizational chart that would lower expenses.”

  21. Geek5508*

    My quickest exit interview went like this:
    HR Rep: “why are you leaving here?”
    Me: “If you don’t know why, that’s part of the problem”
    HR Rep: “I guess we’re done here…”

  22. Clefairy*

    I’ve only had one exit interview where I gave really frank feedback- and that was for a company that really failed me, they knew they failed me, and the HR manager specifically opened with “We handled your position really poorly and put you in a terrible spot. I’d love to chat more directly about what happened so we can do better next time”…and even then, I was still pretty censored in what I shared. I focused on a few actionable things, instead of the overall culture/really big overarching things, because I knew that ultimately they weren’t going to change how they operated, even when they were able to admit that they handled things terribly with me.

    1. The Original K.*

      I was similarly candid with my contact at a staffing agency after a contract role that was not what either I or the agency expected it to be, and my staffing agency contact was like “You’re right to leave. I’m sorry.” No hard feelings there on either side, and I went on to do other contracts through the same agency.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, the only truly honest exit interviews I’ve given was when I temped through an agency. After a contract at the worst employer I’ve ever had ended, I basically told the agency not to send me over there again and that I’d rather be unemployed than work for them. A few months later I heard that the agency had dropped the employer as a client because nobody wanted to work there more than once.

  23. Former Manager*

    I left my company of over 20 years last spring because of a toxic work culture and leadership. I did participate in an exit interview and was very honest about where they were opening themselves up for risk/further attrition. Unfortunately, they didn’t listen, because 6 other people in my former department with my tenure and at my level also left within the last 8 months. But I did try.

  24. Overit*

    Do not even bother going to the exit interview. Waste of time and effort at best.

    At worst, the HR person tells the peraon most directly implicated and they find a way to make your life problematic. Or that is what happened to me when I left my first professional job and told the truth (in a professional manner) about my boss aka Screaming Beast in an exit interview. HR person called my boss while I was on the way back to my office, so I was greeted by the Screaming Beast screaming upon my return.
    At that time, all subsequent ref checks went thru your last boss, so whenever I applied for other jobs, the calls were sent to SB, who said horrible things about me to prospective employers. I know I lost 2 jobs due to SB.

    Thereafter I declined to do an exit interview and if forced gave the most bland answers and never named anyone.

  25. Snow Globe*

    The one thing you might comment on— if your new job is similar, but full time remote with higher pay, I think you can say that. It’s factual, not a complaint or subjective opinion, so they are less likely to consider you to be a disgruntled employee by stating that.

  26. Uncle Boner*

    If an employee actually believes exit interview data will help – why not talk with management BEFORE quitting?

    Answer: Because we all know it rarely, if ever, helps. There is no duty to “those we leave behind” to scald the bosses. That’s either imagined or an excuse to justify “being honest.”

    The reality is, it is NEVER worth giving meaningful feedback during an exit interview. You’re leaving. Shut up and leave.

    1. N. Cheese*

      Yup, I had an exit interview once where they asked me “is there anything we could have done to get you to stay?” and my answer was “yes, listened to me the first time I (and others) brought all these issues up”

  27. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*

    My reasons for leaving are extensive, ranging from being underpaid according to industry standards

    I’m wondering if it’s worth speaking my mind and bringing up the issues that caused me to decide to leave (for a lower paying job, no less!)

    The biggest thing that stands out is being underpaid and leaving for even less pay.
    With the current strong wage growth please consider looking for a better paying job even if it gets you out of your new job soon.

    1. The Original K.*

      Yeah, I actually have heard of people saying that they were leaving for pay, being asked how much they were getting in the new role, and HR hearing that often enough to make wage changes because they realized how far below market their salaries were, but if OP brings up pay and then says she’s going to be making less where she’s going, that’s not likely to happen.

  28. Ellis Bell*

    OP if it was just one issue, like pay for example, and the company was at all responsive and looking to improve… I would say go ahead and give them some truth; help them out with at least one way they could have retained you. In this case I think even if you could book them intensive management coaching it wouldn’t help at all! You could take all the senior managers home with you for long evenings of baring your soul and that’s not going to magically imbue them with the smart and empathetic ways to keep people happy and productive at work. Sometimes, a situation is so sick that a quick death is all the improvement you can hope for. Warn people off on Glassdoor, and if there is anyone at your company who is generally invested in the truth, that’s where they’d be looking for it anyway. Everyone knows exit interviews are all polite nodding before a grateful escape.

  29. Rivakonneva*

    I occasionally fantasize that I’ve won a gazillion dollars in the lottery and am quitting immediately. Then I tell the big bosses/HR exactly why I’m not giving notice. I work in academia, and know it’ll never happen.

    Because it won’t change anything. Half the reasons my workplace stinks are bureaucratic red tape forced on us by the State Legislature. The other half is because the people who can change things don’t give a hoot about the rank and file. My boss would like to make some changes, but her boss and the three bosses up the ladder won’t let her.

    When I retire I’ll hand over my key, sign off that I’ve returned all my office stuff, and just say ‘no comment’ to everything else.

  30. The Crowening*

    When my spouse quit his job 2.5 years ago, they were leaving the only career job they’d had (they’d been there about 14 years). They’d had the same manager the entire time and this person bait-and-switched my spouse several times with promotions and shifts. They 100% had several axes to grind with this manager. I encouraged them to push for an exit interview, for a couple of reasons. (1) When they put in their two-week notice, the manager immediately started rewriting history, accusing them of quitting because they were denied leave time, among other things that were goofy and untrue, and so my spouse really needed to talk to someone higher up or in HR to ensure that they wouldn’t be dragged by this manager if a future employer called for a reference. (2) In addition to just being a crappy manager that sucked and was crappy, they were also not backfilling positions to the point that people who were supposed to work five 8-hour days or three 12-hour days were being made to work much longer days to make up for all the missing people, to the point that people were having to skip meals, which was reflected in their timekeeping system. So there was a trail.

    Exit interviews were done by request. So they requested one. It was with HR, not with the crummy manager. They covered just those points. Interestingly, HR asked them if they’d be willing to stay on and work part time if things could be improved. (No.) The notice period ended, Spouse found a new job, and life went along.

    Maybe 4 months after the job change, they were in touch with a former coworker, I can’t remember why. They found out Crummy Manager had been demoted. I got such a rush of adrenaline I could have tipped over a car.

    My theory – this manager was a higher-level manager but still had some managers above her (it’s a big healthcare system with a million tiers), and she was trying to look good to her superiors by keeping costs down and blowing sunshine at them that everything in her department was great. And what no one realized is that she was cutting costs so deeply that they were losing accounts and employees didn’t have time to EAT. And when they found out, it wasn’t a great look.

  31. Echo*

    I was totally honest in my exit interview at my previous job. My reason for leaving the job was uncontroversial (my new job was more interesting to me and used my skills better. I’m still there!) but I also ended up giving some individual feedback about managers of other departments who actively obstructed me and were straight-up bullies to some of my peers. Our HR specialist, who ran the exit interview, told me she completely agreed the feedback and also couldn’t do anything about it. The changes I wanted to see eventually got made, but it was only because the executive team left–nothing to do with me or my exit interview feedback.

    So tl;dr it was not useful to give this type of feedback in an exit interview.

  32. I'm fabulous!*

    These days, I find Glassdoor is a good alternative because they allow for anonymous posting.

    I left a toxic workplace five years ago and asked HR for an exit interview, ready to cite proven bullying by a co-worker, low pay and antiquated equipment. HR told me they didn’t do exit interviews just send in my letter of resignation. It made me realize I made the right choice to leave.

  33. Chilipepper Attitude*

    Despite some examples in this thread of exit interviews having an impact, I very much appreciate the general advice here that exit interviews are likely to harm the individual and don’t bring the catharsis you think they will.

    I left my last (toxic) job for greener pastures thanks to Alison and this community and I happily, and without guilt, ignored the request for an exit survey. It was actually pretty liberating.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I’m also dreaming of some mic drop moments, but they’re going to stay dreams because this isn’t a movie and odds are it won’t all work out the way I’d want.

  34. Anon for this*

    Yeah, my informal exit interview included the (I thought!) non-confrontational note that they were stopping sales of the product I worked on, that support for it was winding down to bug fixes and legally-required enhancements and nothing else until all the customers moved to a new product (hopefully the one from the company that had bought us), and that working on that one required moving to another state.

    I got push-back on the observation that they were winding down the product. They *literally were*. They had already let people go, and would eventually let a bunch more go not long after that. Yes, I could have stayed there a few years being the last one to support it, but that would not have advanced my career much. And our office was one they were closing, they didn’t even intend to maintain an office in our state at all….

  35. Goldenrod*

    Unfortunately, I agree with Alison’s advice 100%. I wish it weren’t so, but OP has nothing to gain from an exit interview.

    Like Alison said, if they really wanted to know, they would already know. As the saying goes, “You can’t wake up a man who is pretending to be asleep.”

  36. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Friday is my last day at a job that I’m leaving because of some changes over the past 6 months that I really don’t like. I’m shifting to another role in the same organization, but doing work I’m much more interested in and in an area that I think is a better fit for how I want to work.

    Having read a fair bit of AAM, I had seen Alison’s replies that honest feedback on the way out typically doesn’t change much. Although I led with talking about how I realized I wanted to move back into the type of work that New Role involves, I also VERY gently mentioned one specific big change that I didn’t like to my boss and grand-boss when they asked. Both proceeded to explain to me why the change had happened. But I know why the change happened! I’m trying to tell you that I don’t like it – a thing that neither wanted to hear.

  37. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    Agree with AAM that an exit interview is just an “exercise in bureaucracy”. A box to check off. No point in commenting on why you are leaving OP, because there is no upside for you and there IS potential downside for you. And the chances that anything good would come out of your feedback for the employees is almost zero.

    There was this pop band in the 1980s that sang: “The time for talking’s over now, I think it’s time to let you go”. I think of that line a lot. LOL.

  38. Anon. Scientist*

    I’m apparently an outlier here, but I have my own exit interviews as a department head and I absolutely use the information I get, although frankly it’s often something that’s a long term project and/or another piece of evidence I use to advocate for change. But I expressly state it as, what should I know about to help improve things? And it’s not a form, but a discussion where I bring up what I already know they’re unhappy about. I get really good information from those discussions, and I absolutely use it to push for changes.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I’m sure that exit interviews absolutely can be very useful for getting information about what people don’t like or would like to see change. And it’s nice to see that some leaders genuinely do want to hear people out. (I’m also assuming that your leadership style allows people to express these things to you before they choose to leave, which is great). Unfortunately, it seems like most of the time, the company is just going through the motions.

  39. MissAmandaJones*

    Only be honest if you have no intention of ever returning to the company. I expressed my disappointment at a toxic manager being protected, which caused numerous coworkers to quit or take early retirement. I’ve since applied to countless positions within the organization and have had internal referrals, but never get more than the automated rejection email.

  40. ceiswyn*

    I recall one company I worked for who were seemingly desperate to schedule an exit interview, but kept trying to schedule it during the Californian HR department’s comfortable mid-morning hours. I worked in the UK. They even tried to just call my mobile once, and I was like “It’s 7:30 pm and I’m on my way into London for the evening, no.”

    One of the big reasons I was leaving was the US main office’s tendency to ignore the time difference when scheduling meetings, often requiring people to work late with virtually no notice.

  41. Media Monkey*

    i’ve always done exit interviews, thinking i could change things for colleagues who were staying. i didn’t do one for my most recent job i left as i was mainly leaving due to my manager (who sucks and isn’t going to change – basically he is in the wrong job and expected me to pick up things he didn’t want to do but without telling me he wasn’t doing them). i didn’t think there was any point as it wouldn’t change anything for anyone else!

  42. Enn Pee*

    I had an exit interview with my boss’s boss’s boss about a year and a half ago, and I was extremely honest with him. He’d come to the organization relatively recently, and was completely remote and, in general, not up on the “office gossip” type of stuff he’d know if everyone were together in person.
    Among other things…there were two people who should’ve been up for a promotion, and didn’t get it, and an underqualified individual DID get a promotion…and she was the girlfriend of someone in upper management. Not only wasn’t that fair, it was bad for morale.
    I heard from a friend that they rescinded the girlfriend’s promotion and that the other two folks got the promotions they deserved. I’m not sure if my words had anything to do with it, but they can’t have hurt!

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