The Exit Interview: Can, and Should, You Air Your Grievances?

30 August 2019 -

Empty Chairs in Meeting RoomThe exit interview is often downplayed as part of the leaving process. When it comes to having one, how useful is it to unload your experiences?

Emily Hill

Any manager hoping to foster a happy workplace should see departing employees’ exit interviews as an important part of the resignation process. Best practice would involve using the feedback to make improvements and address any shortcomings, so it’s important as a departing employee to be open, honest and as objective as possible. On both sides of the table, helpful advice concentrates on communicating calmly, accepting any criticism gracefully, and offering an opportunity to improve in the future.

“Honest feedback from exit interviews can provide constructive ideas about how the company culture has impacted that employee,” says Lizzie Benton, Culture Consultant and Founder of Liberty Mind. “Unfortunately, many employers can be too subjective rather than objective during these interviews, which can cause unhelpful animosity. Instead, employers should take back and attempt to see the exit in the eyes of the employee. If this cannot be done due to conflict it's important to at least get it in written format.” Benton suggests the exit interviewer should ask open questions and those being interviewed should take any opportunity to “air their ideas.”

Kate Palmer, Associate Director of Advisory at global employment law consultancy Peninsula, agrees: “When carried out correctly, exit interviews can provide employers with an invaluable perspective on their business and allow them to gain an understanding of what staff think. Conducting these on a routine basis will give them an idea of any recurring trends and potential areas for improvement in their organisation.”

She adds that it’s important to schedule exit interviews in advance and react calmly if an employee decides to make a “parting shot”: “Remember that there will be a reason why the employee is opting to leave, whether that’s down to general dissatisfaction or the promise of more money elsewhere, and resolving any issues is likely to help with retention efforts in the future.” It’s also vital to act if an employee alludes to harassment or discrimination – and not just because failing to do so “could leave an employer open to tribunal proceedings even after the employment relationship has come to an end.”

As for the employee who is off to pastures new, Jo Cresswell of corporate communications firm Glassdoor insists has three guiding rules: “Be specific with positives, be general with negatives, and express gratitude.” If your feedback is entirely negative, you risk the HR manager disregarding it, as you’re not offering a balanced view. “You want to be sure to share specifics about what (or who) made the work experience positive,” explains Laura MacLeod, LMSW, HR expert and founder of the From The Inside Out Project.

“Praising specific points will not only make your employer feel good — it will give them valuable information about what is working so that they can ensure that it continues even after you’re gone in order to create a better working environment for your current coworkers and any new folks they might hire. Even if you had a largely negative experience, make sure to share at least one positive — there’s got to be something,” says MacLeod.

Exit interviews may seem intimidating, but they are an invaluable way for employees to get their voices heard and for managers to listen and effect positive changes within the workplace. If going in your own interview, try not to dwell on unsatisfactory personal relationships within the company, but on processes and workloads; if using the interview as a starting point for future improvements, put any personal bias to the side and use their feedback as though it were anonymous, and view it as objectively as possible.

As a phenomenon, exit interviews may seem intimidating, but they are an invaluable way for employees to get their voices heard and for managers to listen and effect positive changes within the workplace.

Want to make the exit interview process as painless as possible? Read our article on when exit interviews go wrong.

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