Hi Evil HR Lady

I came across your blog and found it very informative. I was wondering if you can help answer my HR related question.

Due to a management realignment in my group (hostile take over), my new manager has less technical and mananagerial experience. She was recently hired to perform the role of an ex-collegue. She also is older (mid 40’s) and have been with my company significantly longer than I have.

I feel discrimminated because of my age (I’m 31) and am unhappy with upper management’s decision to have me report to her. She announced at our weekly group meeting that she looked through my code without having the courtesy to inform me (i.e. she was snooping around). I know we loose certain privacy rights at work but it shows her lack of respect.

My question is, when I quit, should I tell HR my main reasons for quitting? I am afraid to “speak my mind” because I want to have good future references. I am well liked in the company and a high achiviever. In my two and a half years with the company, I have received two promotions.

Your input would be greatly appreciated.

I am so torn on how to answer this question. The HR side of me (that would be the evil side) says, “tell truth at the exit interview. Lay out why you are leaving. We can’t fix the problem if we don’t know about it. We’ll keep everything you say a secret! Only report it in the aggregate.”

Yes, this is the HR answer. But, let me tell you, when I leave a job, you would think I was only leaving because wild, rabid wolves were forcibly dragging me out the door. I hated to leave. I love everything about this place! Everything, do you understand?

Why? Because I needed references and in at least one case, I knew I wanted to come back to that company. (I quit after the offspring was born with the full knowledge that I wanted to come back part time later–which I did.) But, I also know what aggregate means.

Sure, aggregate responses mean that we group everything together and (theoretically) your manager would never know what departing employee said what about her. However, unless you have an extremely flat organization, managers rarely have more than 1 or 2 people quit in a year (with 5-10 people reporting into them), so everything “aggregated” means absolutely nothing. They know it was you.

So, then HR departments are smart and they don’t share that information with the direct supervisor, it goes farther up the food chain, but too far up and your info does little good.

It’s really a frustrating thing–I want to know what managers are doing so I can fix the problem, (ha! Like I have that power.)–yet I know that bad managers tend to take constructive criticism the wrong way.

So, find your new job and put a big smile on your face and be quite positive about the whole thing. No need to burn bridges–at least not officially. If you have received a great deal of positive feedback and promotions you might express your concerns to a former boss. If you really don’t want to leave the company, start looking to post outside the department, but don’t complain about your current boss when you do so.

And, as a little hint, referring to a boss in her mid 40s as “older” may be true when compared to you, but 40 will creep up on you faster than you might think.

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12 thoughts on “Exit Interview

  1. I’ve learned from experience that honesty in an exit interview can really hurt you later. Think first of your own future, then how you can help the company you’re leaving. (Sorry Evil HR Lady, I know this isn’t what anyone in HR wants to hear.)

  2. You answered the asked question.

    However the real issue is that the writer didn’t get (or perhaps keep) the promotion and saying this to anyone when leaving is going to sound like the sour grapes that it is.

  3. Bruce–you are right, we HR types would love the dirt on why you are leaving, but it’s not wise to do so. No burning bridges!

    If I could just think of a way to guarentee anonymity, but since the number one reason people leave is their direct supervisor and most direct supervisors don’t have 300 people reporting directly to them, it’s a problem.

    Engineer–I agree. But rather than sticking around and getting “over” it, sometimes it makes sense to leave.

  4. I was honest in an exit interview when I left an employer several years ago. My main problem was with my department head, who I reported to directly. Three of the five of her direct reports didn’t want her hired (she was an external candidate), and I left just three months after she started. This department head completely totalled the morale of the department — I was among six people (out of 30) who left during the first eight months she was there. I’m glad I was honest, because the department head was demoted and transferred to another department before she’d even been with the company for a year. At the time I wasn’t very savvy about burning bridges — I was in a very secure place (I’d worked for that employer many times as an intern, had been there three years full-time, and had lots of supporters) but I would have done it anyway. Sometimes things just need to be said.

  5. You’re so right about the competing interests with how to handle exit interviews! One way to handle it (and it’s easier said than done) is to create a company culture where it becomes known that people who are honest about problems don’t get negative repercussions. Over time, as people hear about their coworkers going out on a limb to share this sort of information and being treated well (not punitively), it can create a culture where more people are willing to be honest. But this is a lot easier at smaller organizations where you have more control over how these issues play out. At larger places, it’s much harder to ensure some rogue manager isn’t going to seek revenge.

  6. Maybe the correspondent is being “discrimminated” against because of his bad spelling & grammar?

  7. I would not mention the real reasons you are leaving. You want to leave the company on good terms so that they don’t sabotoge your reference (or it may make you question the quality of their response on your behalf). Also, you never know when you will cross paths again with that supervisor or others. Personally I do not like to let others know if I have bad feeling toward a person because in a small world it can just make things worse.

  8. I didn’t mean to imply that the writer should stay on the job. Leaving IS the right thing to do when you are that dissatisfied. My impression is that there is a greater chance that the problem is with the writer and not the supervisor, therefore there is nothing for HR to need to know (unless you want to burn bridges).

  9. Engineer–you may or may not be right. I’ve seen some bitter people who were passed up for promotion. I’ve also seen my share of utter incompetance behind the manager’s desk.

    Definitely something for the writer to figure out though–you don’t want to take your problems to a new job. We always have to be re-evaluating ourselves and fixing what we can.

  10. Engineer, I agree. I am not sure what the writer’s real problem is with the manager — he doesn’t respect her technical ability? She is older than he is so he shouldn’t be reporting to her? (Isn’t he glad he’s not a 40somthing reporting to a 30-yr-old?)

    As far as her evaluating his code, isn’t that sort of her responsibility? No, she shouldn’t go onto his computer for it, but if it’s on a common drive, then why wouldn’t she look at it so she could understand what’s going on in her group?

    I am not sure why he is so unhappy with her. It’s not clear from the letter.

  11. Face it the writer lacks the skills to be a manager or supervisor. This based on the simple facts that the writer lacks the skills to write, proofread or punctuate a simple letter. The writer should be grateful for even having a job.

    At the age of thirty-one (31) one should have acquired some business sense.

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