• Tue, Aug 28 2012

Co-Worker Conundrum: Do I Sell My Peers Out In My Exit Interview?

Trouble in the office? The Grindstone is here to help. Write in with your workplace drama and we’ll try to help you sort through the office politics and keep moving up the corporate ladder.

I’m leaving my job of a couple years. I got an offer that’s a better title and more responsibility from another company. And while I’ve enjoyed lots of things about my job, I also believe that there are a lot of problems there. Honestly, I can’t believe that my old company is still functioning. Some of the people I worked with are really inept. They don’t take responsibility for their work. They get very insecure and easily offended. Honestly, they made it difficult to do my job well. 

So my question is, when I sit down for my exit interview with the big boss, do I explain m concerns and frustrations? Do I tell him that his middle manager often rude and almost never helpful? I don’t want to sound like I’m just whining, but I honestly don’t think that he realizes the depth of the problem. Should I speak up? Or should I just leave and let them deal with it on their own?

Leaving a job where you haven’t been happy is always a balancing act. On the one hand, you still might need those bosses or co-workers for references. If you’re still in the same industry, you might run into them again, or even work with them again a decade from now. You don’t want to burn bridges unless it is completely necessary.

And yet, I know that there’s an overwhelming urge to let loose about all those problems and irritations you’ve had while working there. I know that you feel like the bosses really need to understand that so-and-so ignores mistakes instead of fixing them or that-other-person doesn’t hold themselves to the same standards as everyone else. You want the company to understand that they had a part to play in your decision to leave your job.

At the end of the day, this decision will come down to you. You’ll be sitting in that office and your boss will ask you questions about how they can improve and what you’ve learned, and you’re going to have to decide between lip service or honesty. I can’t make that decision for you, but I will give you a couple things to keep in mind.

  • Your boss already knows some of what you’re saying. It’s easy to assume that upper management walks around with blinders on. The truth is that they’re much more observant than you realize. If there are employees not pulling their weight, the company probably knows. They’re just weighing the damage done by this single person and the cost of hiring and training someone new. So you might jeopardize some relationships and not even give them any new information.
  • The company will be going on without you. It’s one thing to take a problem to your boss because you want to help solve it. It’s another to throw problems on their lap on the way out. If you’re leaving, the company is already going to adjust to a new dynamic. They’re already in transition. And even though you might have been a stellar employee, this company will continue running once you’re gone. Your boss might not appreciate you throwing a wrench in their system on the way out of the door.
  • Is anyone else being hurt? Look outside of your own personal issues. Are other employees being taken advantage of or treated poorly? That  might be a legitimate reason to speak up about a troublesome situation. But you should focus on trying to help others, not demonize a person you don’t get along with.
  • Can you live without saying it? If the answer is, “Yes,” the truth is that you should probably keep it to yourself. You can give some light constructive criticism in your interview. You don’t have to lie on anyone’s behalf. But you shouldn’t slam people unless it feels absolutely imperative to your moral conscious. You want to leave with dignity and bridges in tact.
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  • Lastango

    IMO this is excellent advice. Speaking for myself, I would take it even farther: I consider exit interviews a great chance to shut up.
    == Come armed with generalizations and vague, meaningless responses that sound like they mean something.
    == When possible, talk in broad terms about the company rather than about your job.
    == “How did you feel about your co-workers?” Say you have always enjoyed working with them, and have always respected them for their contributions to the company.
    == “What did you like least?” You would have preferred that your new opportunities could have happened here, so you could have continued to grow and develop as part of this team.
    == “What did you like most?” You’ve learned a lot about how business works, providing customer service, etc. in a competitive sector.
    == “What did you think of (your boss, or some other specific person or group?”. You have never evaluated or judged these people. That wasn’t your role, and it wouldn’t have been fair to them. You have always respected and valued them as co-workers and fellow employees.
    == “Have we made any mistakes here?” You would need to think more about that, and certainly don’t know everything top management knows about every situation so it would be difficult for you to provide any kind of complete response. Besides, many heads are better than one, and if that’s an important question then management might consider getting employees together in gappropriate roups and to begin that conversation. That’s one way to get the benefit of many perspectives.
    == “How can we improve?” A lot of improvements arrive by discovering new opportunities, so exploring for development avenues might be important. You don’t know everything about how that’s presently handled, so you can only offer encouragement to make that part of how the company thinks about itself.
    ===============
    The goal is to walk out of the exit interview knowing you have said ABSOLUTELY nothing and that the conversation was always pleasant and focused on positives. As Lindsay says, no burned bridges, no damage. Always be aware that (1) there is zero you can do to help them at this stage — that was your focus when you worked there, not now; (2) the only person you can harm is yourself, and (3) you are entirely justified in treating the exit interview as an empy gesture; be assured the company sees it that way too. If they really wanted to know what you thought they would have asked you long ago.

  • Lastango

    IMO this is excellent advice. Speaking for myself, I would take it even farther: I consider exit interviews a great chance to shut up.
    == Come armed with generalizations and vague, meaningless responses that sound like they mean something.
    == When possible, talk in broad terms about the company rather than about your job.
    == “How did you feel about your co-workers?” Say you have always enjoyed working with them, and have always respected them for their contributions to the company.
    == “What did you like least?” You would have preferred that your new opportunities could have happened here, so you could have continued to grow and develop as part of this team.
    == “What did you like most?” You’ve learned a lot about how business works, providing customer service, etc. in a competitive sector.
    == “What did you think of (your boss, or some other specific person or group?”. You have never evaluated or judged these people. That wasn’t your role, and it wouldn’t have been fair to them. You have always respected and valued them as co-workers and fellow employees.
    == “Have we made any mistakes here?” You would need to think more about that, and certainly don’t know everything top management knows about every situation so it would be difficult for you to provide any kind of complete response. Besides, many heads are better than one, and if that’s an important question then management might consider getting employees together in gappropriate roups and to begin that conversation. That’s one way to get the benefit of many perspectives.
    == “How can we improve?” A lot of improvements arrive by discovering new opportunities, so exploring for development avenues might be important. You don’t know everything about how that’s presently handled, so you can only offer encouragement to make that part of how the company thinks about itself.
    ===============
    The goal is to walk out of the exit interview knowing you have said ABSOLUTELY nothing and that the conversation was always pleasant and focused on positives. As Lindsay says, no burned bridges, no damage. Always be aware that (1) there is zero you can do to help them at this stage — that was your focus when you worked there, not now; (2) the only person you can harm is yourself, and (3) you are entirely justified in treating the exit interview as an empy gesture; be assured the company sees it that way too. If they really wanted to know what you thought they would have asked you long ago.

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