Q: I’m leaving this company after three years. Three years of my life I will never get back. The place is chaotic beyond belief. Rick Gervais wrote The Office, and I loved it, but Wernham Hogg Paper Company isn’t a patch on this place. Everyone knows it but no one wants to starts the change. The exit interview looms. I’d like to cut loose for the sake of the good people still stuck there. Should I? I’ve got a job in a similar company but one with a better reputation as a place to work. (DT, via What’s App).
A: I am not a huge fan of the exit interview in a vexed scenario such as this. In my view, this employer should know why you’re leaving without having to ask. Your frustration, annoyance and sense of alienation or irrelevance will have left plenty of warning signs they should have spotted.
I would be very wary about saying too much on the basis that, if this company is as slack as you portray, very little you say is likely to bring any change. Therefore, your observations are likely to be wasted on the summer breeze: and your remaining friends in the company will still be left dealing with the same stuff they’ve always faced.
Could you turn the tables? Instead of having them ask you “were you given the support to do your job?”, how about you go in and ask “do you think I was given the support to do my job?”
“Why do you think I am leaving the job?”
“What do you think of the culture in the company?”
That might have more impact than a rant, which could lead to badly burned bridges. Some of the people in the company might be useful contacts somewhere else down the line.
If you decide to sing, I’d be equally wary of naming names primarily because I doubt the company’s real willingness to effect change. In addition, I’ve seen cases where complaints supposedly delivered in meetings in confidence got back to the named person. Has the company the capacity to handle the information you’re giving them in a professional and discreet manner?
Ultimately, however, it comes down to what you want to achieve here. What’s the best result for you in the exit interview? Get something off your chest? Fulfil a promise to frustrated colleagues? Walk away with your head held high?
If you can achieve all of that, go for it. However, even as I write the last few sentences, my heart isn’t really in it, because of my suspicion about exit interviews. My approach would probably be to walk away and start a new chapter.
I accept that exit interviews are highly regarded by many in HR and a reasonably regular feature of larger companies. To balance my viewpoint, I spoke with a HR practitioner who said:
“From a company’s perspective, it’s a chance to be mannerly and ask the person what they thought about their time in the organization. The employee can leave with the feeling that ‘at least they asked me what I thought’. A chance to shake hands and wish them well. It should be professional and respectful.”
I will leave the final decision with you. And best of luck in your new role.