Exit interviews are the cockroaches of the HR world. You just can’t get rid of ’em, but you don’t wanna swallow one, either.

Ed Heron, a seasoned manager, submitted comments that I’d like to share with you. His perspective is sharp and on target. His message is simple: Good managers don’t need to do exit interviews.

I have been a successful manager for three decades. I do not believe that anyone who is fired should engage in any form of exit interview. Their employer has already indicated their opinion of their worth!

For more about exit interviews and related topics, see Parting Company: How to leave your job.
However, if they are voluntarily resigning, and if the parting is amicable, it might be considered. Consider it more if you are leaving behind co-workers that you respect a lot. I agree with Tony Banaro’s comment, “It amazes me that with all of the volumes and volumes of books and articles and papers out there, managers still do not understand the number one rule of business: Take Care of Your People”.

Through out my entire adult life, I have found it amazing the way companies have made it easy for me to appear successful. I would take almost any employee who was about to be released, and treat them with a little human dignity and respect. In short order, I would rehabilitate the deficient area or areas. Positive reinforcement would be employed whenever it could be “genuine.” (Simple “One Minute Manager” stuff.) In no time at all, the employee in question would feel and act as though they worked principally for me, and not just for our company.

The need for exit interviews was extremely rare in any area that I managed.

Thanks, Ed!

Every reason I’ve heard to justify exit interviews is an excuse for not talking to employees while they are still your employees. This manager reinforces my view.

Have you ever been exit interviewed? Ever done it to anyone? What’s your advice to managers (or employees) about this practice?

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  1. I can not understand how an exit interview could be considered helpful or instructive from someone being let go. In the case of a layoff, there would be disproportionate negativity (understandable). In a termination, why would anybody care what they thought?

  2. Some companies attempt to make an exit interview a condition for getting your final paycheck or other benefits. HR will ask the employee to sign the exit interview notes HR made during the meeting. It gets kooky.

  3. “I do not believe that anyone who is fired should engage in any form of exit interview. Their employer has already indicated their opinion of their worth!

    Anyone who is fired should get a respectful, but clear, explanation for why they are fired.

    However, if the manager has done his/her job, the employee should know in advance that his/her job is at risk – due to lack of performance, broken deadlines, repeated failure to follow management’s demands, bad treatment of fellow employees etc. It is the manager’s duty to tell the employee in advance, find the reasons (e.g. psychological problems, problems with other managers) give the employee the possibility to improve and provide the necessary tools. If all this fails, the employee should understand that the job is at risk.

    I daresay that a just as a manager who has to conduct an exit interview to find out why people leave isn’t doing the job, so is a manager if the firing comes out of the blue to employees.

  4. I’ve had an exit interview where I had to stop working due to Visa issues where I couldn’t get it extended anymore. It was quasy-useful since the person who hired me had left the company and things were still in a bit of a state of flux. I think the big question for HR and management to understand is that there should be some time set aside, probably quarterly if not monthly, for having reviews of both employees and manager in terms of how are they doing, what are they doing well, where is there room for improvement, what is the company expecting, etc. It would be useful to have this before the start of a period rather than afterward saying, “Well, we thought you could do so much better, so we have to let you go,” when someone doesn’t know what is expected.

  5. You may be suprised (ha) that I differ with you on this. But probably not in the way you think. I hate exit interviews as part of standard term practice. There’s a line in the movie Cocktail where Tom Cruise tells his sugarmomma that all relationships end badly, or they wouldn’t end. That’s a bit extreme, but my problem with most exit interviews is a function of timing. Too soon, and you’re either getting the nervous reply of an employee who’s afraid he or she will get a retaliatory negative reference or a disgruntled employee using the forum to vent feelsing they didn’t have the brass to express (or gumption to solve a problem from the inside) — both of which lead to data that’s not really very useful.

    I believe in sending an optional, easy to complete, electronic survey 45 days from the date of termination. You’re still not getting “clean” data — the most indifferent employees will not complete it, so you only get feedback from those who are conflicted about their decision to leave or those who feel pretty strongly about the merit of their decision. The value is in mapping a trend. If I see “I was micro-managed to death” from more than one person in a department, I have unearthed a training need.

    The value is limited, but the cost is negligible. I have gotten some good ideas for improvement in two differnt companies from departed employees. I hate that we didn’t have the chance to fix the issues when it would have made a difference, but I am pleased when we have the chance to improve upon situations that are A OK on the surface.