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I'm not sure that any good could come from this. But it seems false to pretend I'm leaving for other reasons. How should I handle this?

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What is it you are hoping to achieve by telling your boss this? Do think it will cause him to change in the future? Or that the company will suddenly fire him in order to keep you around? This is bordereing on a should I quit my job question since you have no real problem to help you deal with. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jan 28 at 14:37
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Whether you tell your boss or don't, you should explain it in the exit interview. –  Brian Jan 28 at 16:41
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@Brian, there's even less utility in trying to explain the problem in an exit interview with HR. There's a fine line to walk here. One can leave on good terms and feel authentic about if, during their time, they made a solid but diplomatic attempt at communicating concerns and problems. –  Angelo Jan 28 at 17:48
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@Angelo If other employees leave with similar complaints, the company is likely to take note and try to avoid future problems. You aren't burning any bridges that way, but are still giving constructive feedback that can potentially help that company, boss, and future employees. In your own answer that you just linked to, you said "At least they know why you're really leaving and that is what is important". –  Brian Jan 28 at 21:16
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The idea that "You aren't burning any bridges that way" by dissing your boss in an exit interview is based on the illogical idea that nobody will know what you said in the exit interview, either by being told directly or by inference. If your boss gets fired or chewed out a few weeks after you leave, what's he going to think? Who's he going to pin it on? And who else will he tell? –  Andy Lester Jan 29 at 16:19

7 Answers 7

If ever there was a way to burn your bridges, this is it. What do you expect to gain, other than possibly a sense of catharsis?

You don't have to give any reason for leaving, so if you can't find a positive one then simply provide the usual cliches about unmissable opportunities. Criticising your employer for things which could have been remedied, if only you'd asked sensitively, will come across as churlish; criticising for things that could not be changed will come across as petulant. Neither will leave them thinking well of you, and a bad reputation will spread through their networks - which may well include your new peers and superiors. Criticising your boss personally to his face will do all of the above, an order of magnitude worse.

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Thanks for telling it to me straight, this is useful to hear. I should find my catharsis elsewhere. –  blazerr Jan 28 at 11:50
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The feeling of elation that may come from it is temporary and as everyone else has already pointed out, you never know when it could come back to bite you on the bum down the road. As tempting as it is (and we've all been tempted), it is simply not worth it. –  Mike Jan 28 at 13:46
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+1 for Churlish. I had to look it up; added to my repertoire. –  CmdrTallen Jan 28 at 13:50
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I wonder why we have the Exit Interviews, when no one is expecting an honest response. Isn't it just a formality then? Sign some papers and leave, we shouldn't be having any conversations. –  Kumar Bibek Jan 29 at 3:28
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I must admit I'm sad to see this is voted as the top response. While I agree that a resolution to issues should usually be attempted prior to making the decision to leave, I think that hiding the truth or passing your boss off with clichés through fear of "burning your bridges" is bordering on being cowardly & irresponsible. If for catharsis, then don't bother, but if you care about bettering the workplace for everybody and are able to discuss it maturely with your boss, then do it. If they can't listen to & care about the concerns of their workers, perhaps they shouldn't be managing them. –  Stuart Jan 29 at 5:50

The only answer you should EVER give for leaving is, "I feel this is the best move for my career at this time."

It may be entirely about working conditions, pay rate, policies, broken promises, or whatever else, but all of that really boils down to something that fits in the above statement.

You're not going to be the "Karmic Avenger." No one is going to have an epiphany because you left. No one is going to suddenly wake up and realize that they're the problem. They will go on, and if they truly are bad managers, they will end up with mediocre talent and their business will languish. You will find a job where you're appreciated and thrive.

Besides, if you do trash him in an exit interview, and he is a vindictive person, anyone you were friends with at your current job will suffer because he can no longer touch you.

Hold your head high, shake his hand, thank him for the opportunities and experience, and go be happy in life.

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I agree with your sentiment, but I'm not sure that's the only answer you can give. There are plenty of legitimate, non-objectionable reasons to leave a job, such as a career change, industry change, relocation, something with fewer hours in order to fit in family/study/leisure time, an interesting project that you want to be a part of. If any of these apply to you, I think any reasonable employer would appreciate the specificity, as an overly-generic answer kind of screams "I'm not happy here and I need to get out." But you're right that getting into details regarding pay/conditions is unwise. –  Cam Jackson Jan 28 at 23:43
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@CamJackson - I understand where you're coming from, but if you lay out specific reasons why you're leaving, you are opening up negotiations. The employer could say, "If I fix all that, will you stay, then?" Specifics should be communicated in performance reviews, not exit interviews. Leave things as open and positive as possible, especially if you're leaving friends behind in a bad environment. –  Wesley Long Jan 28 at 23:47
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On the other side of the coin, I was recruited once to replace a senior guy who had quit. By the time I had worked my notice period and moved, they had persuaded him to stay. That was awkward. –  Julia Hayward Jan 29 at 9:16
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@WesleyLong The reason I brought it up in the first place is because my partner recently left her job in occupational rehab to go and be a statistician. When she resigned she told them that she loved the company, and was only leaving to pursue a different career. All they could really do was say that they were sorry to see her go, and if she ever wanted back in to the industry, she would likely walk back into her old job. Had she been vague, they likely would have had a lot of pressing questions anyway. –  Cam Jackson Jan 31 at 4:57
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@CamJackson - Perhaps, but I have found that when you start "bending" your principles, nothing good comes of it. In my experience, it is far better to stick with your core values and principles and suffer the momentary "shock" from colleagues rather than to play the accommodationist and let people see how far you're willing to bend, and usually end up in conflict when you've bent too far. My experience only. Your mileage may vary. –  Wesley Long Feb 3 at 16:00

I left a job recently due to company policies and not due to my boss though this is a similar situation. These policies were in place due to maybe four separate individuals. I wrote a three page document calmly and efficiently explaining my issues with the company which I gave them in an exit interview. I did this not to change the company for myself, but to maybe change it for the future. I did not belittle, begrudge, or condescend to anyone, nor did I single out any individual; just laid out company policies I disagreed with and my reasoning why.

The company was very respectful of this and though they admitted to me that most of it was not going to change, they did accept it as feedback and constructive criticism.

I was also very honest with everything. I explained that I knew it wasn't my company and it wasn't my decisions. I explained that I knew other companies would have items I didn't care for as well, but that there were too many of these issues at my current job for me to continue employment.

All in all, I left on very good terms. I know this because after a few months off, I was propositioned to come back to the same company who offered a few concessions to me.

As long as you stay on the side of honesty and don't come off like a disgruntled employee who is just griping about your job, I think you should consider expressing your feelings to your employer.

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You left because you were not happy with policies... that is different than not getting along with your boss. I think you are right though the way to do this is with objective criticisms of specific issues rather than criticisms of the person. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jan 28 at 19:02
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big +1, calm explanations of the problem and your point of view is the best for everyone –  Stéphane Piette Jan 29 at 10:39

Should I tell my boss I'm leaving because of them?

The answer here is unequivocally "no". Telling somebody above you that they are bad at their job is pointless. Especially when you are leaving.

The key question is

Should you tell other people at the company who care?

This is up in the air. Companies that provide exit interviews generally care about the quality of their people and they actually rely on your feedback to filter out bad managers. Have you ever spoken with your manager's manager? Do they know this is why you're leaving?

Without some feedback more people will be hired under your ex-manager and may suffer similar fates.

Side Note

Don't jeopardize your future references on the back of a bad manager. If you are leaving because of your manager, ensure that you have independent good feedback from other parts of the company. This could be other team members or people from other departments who backed the quality of your work.

Ideally you get written references from these people before you leave (such as a LinkedIn recommendation).


EDIT from comments below.

If you are leaving because of a manager, there's a reasonable chance they don't like you either. Regardless of what you tell HR during your departure, you want to build a fence around that manager to ensure that people don't accidentally talk to them.

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Even if a company does exit interviews and takes the feedback the right way, it doesn't really help the person leaving and its a risk as you can't know for sure how they will take it. Best to do what so other answers say, leave it positive and vague. –  Andy Jan 29 at 1:26
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That's why I added the side note about hedging. If you're leaving because of a boss you're basically treating that person like poison. It doesn't really matter how they feel, because you don't anyone in your circles to touch them. You don't want future employers to talk to that boss. You're getting references from other relevant co-workers. I mean, even if you don't say "I'm leaving because of person X", there's a chance they know this anyways, regardless of what you say in the exit interview. At that point "how they take it" is irrelevant. –  Gates VP Jan 29 at 2:47

I like Julia Hayward's answer, but here is a small argument for the other side: if I were your boss, I would certainly want to know that somebody found my leading so bad that he decided to leave the job because of it. It may trigger self-reflection resulting in me attempting to change my ways, and in the end, a better working atmosphere for others who stay in my team. Of course, there is no guarantee that I will actually attempt a change - I might dismiss your opinion as wrong - or that I will succeed if I attempt it.

But if I were the person leaving, I probably wouldn't take the risk in most cases. The chance of actually achieving a change depends a lot on the personality of the boss and their preferred ways to deal with the cognitive dissonance caused by you pointing out that for you, their leadership was badly executed. You may want to try it only if you have the impression that the boss is a person who welcomes criticism and doesn't overreact even when he/she judges yours to be unfounded.

But even in this last case, there comes the question why you didn't try to talk about your differences during your work for them, rather than to wait until leaving. If you judged your boss to be likely to listen to your criticism, you should have expressed it earlier and helped them change. If you are sure that they are the person who would just deny everything and hate you for having a bad opinion of them, then there is no sense in talking to them about it at all.

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@Ian, "Never try to teach a pig to sing. You waste your time and you annoy the pig." is not Dale Carnegie to the best of my knowledge. The web seems to suggest it's Robert Heinlein. Still a good point regardless. –  jmac Jan 29 at 2:19
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I'd assumed the OP had either tried talking about his difficulty with the boss, or realised such a conversation would be futile because positions were too entrenched. A boss who was open to self-improvement might also have seen the problems coming and tried to find a remedy himself. Then again, if the OP suddenly announces out of the blue that he's quitting, that in itself may be pretty hard to recover from. –  Julia Hayward Jan 29 at 9:21

There is no need to explain things which are no longer necessary. Since you are leaving your job, thank your boss and colleagues for their support and help. You never know you may need their assistance in future. Must remember that the needs of any boss can change as the business climate does, and the good rapport you once had with your boss will give you future benefits.

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Allow me to offer a contrasting opinion. I absolutely value the feedback from my team members who are departing - especially when it comes to how I can be a better leader. Frankly, the exit interview is the time I expect my team members to be the most honest with me - especially about difficult topics.

Now, I've got very good relationships with my team members who have left and have spent their entire tenure fostering a culture where open and honest feedback is promoted. Did your boss do that? Can you provide constructive feedback? I can't answer that. I can't imagine many departures are that cordial.

But if my employee left and fed me a line of bullshit, I'd think far less of them (and provide less glowing recommendations) than if they provided open and honest feedback.

Worse, if I didn't know for sure why they left, I'd have to guess. If I guess wrong, then I may be "fixing" something that wasn't really an issue - only to make things worse for myself and those who remain.

So I would say to at least consider it. If you can provide open, honest, constructive feedback - and your boss will accept it, then go right ahead. If you have any doubts, err on the side of cordially fibbing through the exit interview.

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It would be nice if everyone handled things in such a positive and useful way, but unfortunately most don't. –  Andy Jan 29 at 1:29
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that's definitely the way to handle things. I did say what I think when I left because I thought it could be useful for them to know where they can improve. –  Kiwy Jan 29 at 8:57
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I'm sad that this answer is the one with fewest points. If you tell him, you are being altruistic (i.e. good), since you give him the chance to know the truth and to improve. If you don't tell him, you are being egoistic (i.e. evil), since you hide the truth, preventing other people from improving their condition, in order not to risk yours. This shows that the vast majority of this site's users are evil, and I'm pretty sure they don't even realise it. Quite very sad. –  Lohoris Jan 29 at 14:24
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@lohoris - I wouldn't say evil, simply realistic. It will be uncommon that a departing employee will be unbiased enough to give good feedback and the boss will be open enough to take it. –  Telastyn Jan 29 at 14:39

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