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I recently had my exit interview with the HR manager of the company I work for. They started the interview by telling me anything I say is "in confidence" and "will not leave these four walls". Since then it transpires they've shared the things I said with my head of department, and they've been discussed with my line manager.

Is this a common scenario, and was I wrong to trust them?

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Yes, and yes. People lie, and if you didn't have a prior agreement with them about the confidentiality of your exit interview, it will be hard to prove that you were told it was confidential. –  2rs2ts Mar 20 at 13:29
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They do the exit interview to find problems they need to solve at the company. Of course they were going to share them. –  HLGEM Mar 20 at 13:30
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This is why you don't say anything in your exit interview that you wouldn't have been prepared to have said before leaving. Consider it a learning experience. –  AakashM Mar 20 at 13:31
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Which walls was this HR manager referring to? –  Filipq Mar 20 at 15:05
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@Filipq presumably these ones –  AakashM Mar 20 at 15:12

3 Answers 3

Yes, it is actually very common. The only way that your exit interview will make an impact on the company is if what you say is shared with your boss and the higher-ups in the company. It's also very hard to anonymize what you say, as your boss will know who it's coming from the moment they hear "this is coming from the exit interview" from the HR person.

That said, if you started ranting or cursing out your boss to the HR rep, your boss will hear about that too, and probably just think that you're a disgruntled employee who was causing problems more than wanting to solve problems.

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+1 for last paragraph... Yes! Boss is always right! –  Tech Jerk Mar 21 at 7:30
    
+1 HR works for the business not employee. Anything you tell them that has a potential impact on the business they have a duty to share. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Mar 25 at 14:20

As @2rs2ts said, Yes and yes.

When someone says, "Anything you tell me is in complete confidence", I would be very cautious about believing that. Maybe if the person is a psychiatrist or a minister that's true. Most anyone else, they're going to tell SOMEONE. They'll probably say, "This is a secret so don't tell anyone else, but ..." And each person who passes it on will tell the next person not to tell anyone else.

In the context of an exit interview, presumably the reason for asking is the hope that they can fix problems in the workplace. If an employee quits saying that he just couldn't get along with his boss, maybe the employee is at fault and maybe the boss is at fault and they probably give the boss the benefit of the doubt. But if ten employees quit all saying the same boss was impossible to work for, a smart company will figure out that that manager is causing a problem and try to do something about it. And how will they do that unless HR tells SOMEBODY about the problem.

If the HR guy talks to the boss and says, "During an exit interview some person that I of course can't name said that ...", well, if you're the only person to quit in the last six months, it won't be hard to guess who it was. Or even if the company is big enough or has big enough problems that many people are leaving, still, someone might guess who it was from the details. Like if the HR guy says, "Someone complained about A and B and C", others might notice that you were the only person who's quit lately who experience all three of those things. Etc.

Anyway, moral of the story: Be careful about what you say in an exit interview. Don't go into a screaming rant about how stupid your boss is and how screwed up the company is. You never know who will hear what you said. I have had a number of occasions where I've started a new job and found that someone I had worked with at a previous job was now there. I had one time that I worked for company A, left there on some rather bad terms, a few years later went to work for company B, and then company B bought out company A so now I worked with all those same people again! Fortunately for me I had very little contact with anyone I had actually known at A, but that could have been bad.

I know some people who take the policy that all they will say at an exit interview is "I found a better opportunity". I don't go that far but I limit myself to broad generalizations and I try to avoid complaining about any one individual. At my last exit interview I frankly think I blew it: I started out being very general and non-committal, but HR kept pushing for details and I finally gave in and started talking about the particular person I'd had problems with that were really the cause of my leaving. I regret doing that and I hope I don't do it again.

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The real reason businesses conduct exit interviews is to get information about an employee’s work experience with their company. This information could be be worth a lot to a company either individually or with other exit interview data.

When an employee resigns the first reaction is why. The usual reasons such as they have found a better job with more money, schedule that suits their lifestyle better, more benefits, etc. But what the employee doesn't usually say was why they were after a new job in the first place. Something made them read the job adverts, take the recruiters calls, etc. The purpose of an exit interview is to find out what that ‘something’ was.

If this information is either not found out or not shared then it eliminates that possibility of fixing a problem that may be unknown to management. It could be something you said that needed to be raised to higher ups in your previous workplace and you leaving has been felt up the chain. Something said in your exit interview may be of benefit to the company either a problem you had while working there or a colleague that you found difficult to work with. Unfortunately this does happen and is common. It was wrong for them to promise you this but keep in mind you are either leaving or left, there is no reason for them to keep anything confidential unless legally bound to do so.

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