Exit interviews: What to admit and what to leave out


You have made the big decision to leave the company. Once you have put in your papers, there is the interview as part of the exit formalities. If you think you can just blabber away and leave, you’ll be mistaken.

With the employment market in the country slowly opening up, job switches are becoming more common.

Here, the exit interview is incorrectly perceived as just another procedure part of the system. Employees may either end up giving a ‘fake positive’ feedback to their reporting managers and HR head or go to the other extreme and bad-mouth colleagues.

Either of the two extremes make this a futile exercise. Exit interviews are supposed to be a time where an employee leaving an organisation shares genuine feedback.

This could be the things that went wrong during their tenure, what worked and what did not. Employees leave companies for a lot of reasons. Poor compensation, toxic workplace and colleagues, lack of career growth are some of the common ones.

It is often noticed that employees are hesitant to state the truth. What if there is a situation where he/she has to come back? Better leave on a positive note is the mantra often adopted.

However, unless you state the reality that made you leave a job, the workplace will not really change.

For example, if organisation culture was a predominant reason for leaving a company, it would be better to state it truthfully. Especially for cases of casteism, sexism or racism.

Jasmin Naorem, an advertising executive from Mumbai who switched jobs in June, recounts that constant racist and sexist comments in the garb of ‘jokes’ was one of the primary reason why she left her previous organisation.

However, she decided to give a false reason for ‘better career growth’ during her exit interview. And she has been told by her ex-colleagues that the situation is unchanged.

“I did not want to get into trouble because my colleagues could always come back and say that they were joking and that I am too old-school. It is a mindset issue anyway,” she says.

Trying to sugarcoat reality does not work. If Naorem would have stated the truth while leaving, maybe there could have been some action from the HR via warnings and sensitisation workshops.

There is also a view that someone who complains is categorised as a ‘whiner’. Since industries like advertising are close-knit where employees from across firms meet each other at social events in the city, there also seems to be a perception that it is better to stay mum.

However, HR professionals advise that any workplace issue involving senior concerns of gender, caste or race must not be hidden. Because if behavioural changes are not brought in early on, this would only harm employee morale, increase attrition and eventually damage the employer brand reputation.

But, for other issues like differences with colleagues or miscommunication that has led to resignation, it would be better to avoid taking names.

Instead of saying “XYZ employee fought with me over this issue”, it would be better to state that there were differences of opinion with the team.

Doing this would prevent unnecessary damage to workplace relationships that an exiting employee may have developed; while at the same time revealing what the issues were.

Eventually, you would not want to burn bridges by engaging in name-calling in a professional setting. Even if you had a war-of-words with a colleague, let it pass.

As much as the HR claims that exit interviews are fully confidential, word will get out. And, if you are planning to stay in the same industry, there could be a possibility of working with the same colleague once again.

Constructive criticism is always welcome. This will help the organisation improve on those aspects, be it sensitivity to gender, race or other issues like compensation and work-life balance.

But, one must know where to draw the line. Unless it is a criminal violation (caste, race, gender), some names are better left unsaid in your exit interview.