Say Goodbye: Exit Interviews

"Did you fill out the exit interview form?" asked Steve
"Yes, it's in the packet I just gave you," I replied.
"Great, thanks!" He skims the document,then looks up at me. "Is this all you want to say?"
A long pause, as we look into each other's eyes for a moment too long. I nod my head.
"Yes, that's all I want to say." A part of me knows, like he does, that the truth is, there is more to be said than can or should be written on an exit survey. I had made my peace with my departure, he had to make peace with the omission on my exit survey.

Isn't that fun? Imagine if you were one of the characters in that fictional departure quoted above. Would you have been so nice as to have omitted the truth? Or, would you have been raging and angry, letting the injustice of your treatment spill out?

Maybe, and this is my preferred approach, you would have written a glowing report, warm and friendly reflecting a positive time at your last work place?

Most of us often skip the exit interview. It's a checkmark on the end of a job. If all went well, you say a few nice things, and move on. If things didn't go so well, you may think, "Ah, they won't believe me or care since they are invested in their own success." In the final analysis, exit interviews are worthless when submitted to your employer. They already know how you feel or think, and that's not likely to change as a result of the exit interview.

Make It Mean Something

Having served as a director in large and small districts, I often know why an employee left. The number one reason is the supervisor (that's right, me in certain cases). Some of the many reasons why people have left an organization include the following:
  • They took on greater responsibilities with more pay. Nurturing leaders is something I've prided myself on, and I am always thrilled to see team members leave to take on greater responsibility and (one hopes) get paid for it.
  • Reduction in Force (RIF) - I lost 4 of my team this way as the entire district cut positions in Instructional Technology (San Antonio ISD). What's ironic is, I'd warned them about the lack of funding a year before but was told to hire for open positions anyways. 
  • Their spouse moved or some other family event that resulted in a major life change. Losing a family member, getting married can be reasons for job altering changes...I found keeping a job during the loss of a parent can keep you grounded.
  • They were unhappy with the disjointed nature of the work they were about and the organization's vision. Nothing so bad as when your manager sets up their team for a discordant experience, where the internal reality is out of alignment with external perception. In these cases, there is lying and worse going on. It's best to leave toxic environments like this.
  • They hated how things worked or had been passed up for promotion when another teammate was advanced instead. Ugh, this is really tough. Employees often don't know the politics behind filling a job position. One higher-up may want a less experienced person to fill a position due to the perception of their attitude, "home-grown" aspect or other attribute. You had little say (BTW, in that situation, you should consider leaving if you's a sign that the organization is messed up). In that case, the more qualified candidate is left wondering, "What the heck happened? That job should have been mine." The frustration, anger simmers and intensifies if the reality proves them right. Having seen this firsthand, there is little recourse except to vote with your feet when the organization acts in this way.
In each of these cases, an exit interview seems superfluous. We all know why. It's not written down, but no one wants to write it down. They just want to move on, and don't want to burn a bridge due to references.

But I imagine that telling your story to someone new, someone outside the District who could somehow aggregate the data and bring it to the District for fresh consideration...that might mean something. Then, it might be valuable. The problem is, no one else gets to know why people are leaving. Usually, the why of someone leaving isn't shared or it's mis-represented to interested parties. You never get the truth and no one wants to burn their bridges trying to get the truth out.

Teachers are leaving in droves. We know why, don't we? The demands are crazy, the respect is non-existent, and titanic forces grind teachers up in their first year, second year, and third year. By then, the attitude of "I'll do whatever it takes to get out of here" has pervaded their world view. And you know what? When they're gone, the relief is so powerful that they seldom look back.
“The first thing we need to do,” said Franklin Schargel, “is to find out why teachers are leaving their jobs and the profession. That starts with an exit interview. Education may be the only industry that doesn’t require an exit interview as employment terminates...teachers are allowed to leave their jobs without a word of explanation. No exit interview is conducted and therefore no data is collected to determine why a teacher is leaving. This leaves little opportunity to gain feedback from employees in order to improve aspects of the organization, better retain employees, and reduce turnover.” 
Source: Franklin Schargel, author of Who Will Teach the Children? Recruiting, Retaining & Refreshing Highly Effective Educators, as cited in Charles Sosnik's Can Tech Fill the Gaping Hole Left by Teacher Exodus?

The truth is, Charles Sosnik, I don't think tech can fill the gaping hole left by teacher exodus. The reason why is that teachers are some of the best people, aside from nurses, that I know. When they give up due to a system that has been setup to push kids to private/charter schools, to treat teacher contributions with such disdain, then I can only wish them well. School leaders, legislators deserve what they get.

The problem is the children do not. They are abandoned. We know why, but yet you ask why.

Finding Out Why: Exit Interview Questions

A part of me often asks what exit interview questions would work well. Here are a few from various sites on the web. I've cited the sources in case you want to read the questions in their original context.

  • Source: GlassDoor for Employers
    • Why did you begin looking for a new job?
    • What ultimately led you to accept the new position?
    • Did you feel that you were equipped to do your job well?
    • How would you describe the culture of our company?
    • Can you provide more information, such as specific examples?
    • What could have been done for you to remain employed here?
    • Did you share your concerns with anyone at the company prior to leaving?
    • If you could change anything about your job or the company, what would you change?
    • Management is often a key factor in an employees decision to leave. Were you satisfied with the way you were managed?
    • Did you have clear goals and objectives?
    • Did you receive constructive feedback to help you improve your performance?
    • Would you consider coming back to work here in the future? In what area or function? What would need to change?
  • Source: Bamboo HR
    • What advice would you like to give to your team? To the executive team?
  • Source:
    • Would you recommend this company to a friend? Why or why not?

Wow, this pretty much captures all the exit interviews I've ever had to fill out. I guess I know where they got their questions.

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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