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How to handle an exit interview

(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,
I read your article, "How much information should you give when resigning," and you said you are supposed to remain positive and keep all the concerns to yourself in exit interview. If we do this, how will they ever know to change? Not my issue?

"Not my issue" sounds so cold hearted and self centered, but yeah, it's not your problem any more.

Some people like to fix things. I'm one of them. It's just one of those things where we think, "If I just explained that Joe is a micro-managing jerk, then they would fix it!" But, that's not true. It's a rare case that the powers that be are not aware of the problems your manager is causing/having. They just either don't care, like his end results, or are trying to work with him right now.

The "don't care thing" happens a lot. It's not necessarily because senior management is incompetent. It's just that there are other things to worry about and the behavior of one manager is not worth worrying about right now.

If it's not just your manager that is the problem, but the whole company culture, well then complaining about it to HR means that the information that the company culture stinks is going to go to whom? The people who make company culture, of course. They don't generally take such information well.

How do I know this? Because if they were receptive to change, you would have had the opportunity to discuss these things before. As MoneyWatch commentator reganad said: "And really, if the company wasn't all that interested in my suggestions while I was an employee, why would I think they would be interested as I exit?"

Why, indeed?

And that's why you have so little to gain from unloading your complaints on the HR person conducting your exit interview. High turnover alone indicates a problem with company culture. You don't need to mention that. The numbers will stack up on their own.

Now, does this mean you shouldn't say anything? No. You just want to mention things that can have an impact and won't make your boss (who you need for a reference in the future) angry. Things like, "The company I'm going to has three weeks of vacation, while we only have two weeks here," and "I'm receiving a 20 percent pay increase over my ending salary here," can actually help the company make changes.

But, overall you should remain positive. You've survived your time at this company and are moving on to something better. Now is not the time to burn bridges. Don't feel guilty about leaving your coworkers. They are grownups and if you can find a new job, so can they.

Now, if there is illegal behavior going on, you should report that to the appropriate authority. But if it's just annoying or unfriendly or crazy workload, then smile politely and be thankful you're out of there.

For further reading:
Do you have to sign termination papers?
Forced to resign: What are my options?
6 reasons you shouldn't quit without notice

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to

Photo courtesy Flickr user Victor1558

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