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What’s the F@%$ing Point of the Exit Interview?

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

I’m about to leave my company, but before I do, I’ve been asked to participate in the dreaded exit-interview process. This seems stupid to me. And like a no-win situation. I don’t want to be honest because I might work with some of these people again. So doesn’t it make the whole thing a big waste of time? And more largely, why do companies even still hold exit interviews in the first place? — Edmond G., New Orleans
According to the Harvard Business Review, almost three-quarters of companies still conduct exit interviews, which means they’re not going away anytime soon. But the same HBR article found that they result in few significant actions. In fact, the most common outcome is updating the job description for the position the exiting employee held.

In other words, they’re more ineffective than passé.

They’re still a thing, though, because companies continue to hope (for some reason) that they will provide something actionable, insightful and/or further evidence of a trend. This rarely happens — for many of the reasons you’ve cited:

  • No one is interested in throwing someone else under the bus.
  • Your paths may cross again in the future — if just for a reference or contracting work.
  • You’re never going to admit you were part of the problem, too.

Instead, the exit interview song-and-dance usually just reveals that the new job…

  1. Pays more.
  2. Comes with a fancier title and/or more responsibility.
  3. Resides closer to home.
  4. Involves less/more travel.
  5. Offers better benefits or a more exciting culture.

Relating your responses to known events is also a safe move — e.g., too many management changes, salary freezes, company-wide financial problems or personal situations that you’ve shared.

My bigger issue with exit interviews is that they’re almost always focused on the past. Such employee communication should be open-ended from Day One — á la a welcome lunch or drinks. Not to mention, companies should be regularly re-recruiting existing employees by meeting with them frequently and getting a better understanding of the things they’re struggling with or the things that have them contemplating a new job search.

If the company is waiting for an exit interview to do so, it’s obviously way too late—and is only going to result in more exit interviews.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at askterry@melindustries.com. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.