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Two of my colleagues working within another department are leaving the company and they will have an exit interview.

They have informally shared with me and other colleagues that one of the reasons they are leaving is the relation with their manager:

  • he disrupts meetings by debating indefinitely about a subject, such that some persons do not have the time to express their opinion
  • quickly dismisses the ideas of refactoring anything and thus many manual and tedious tasks are never automated. This is applied to both direct reports and collaborators from other departments

AFAIK, it is considered a bad practice to criticize your manager while still working at that company, as it might damage future collaboration. However, exit interview seems like a good opportunity to provide such feedback without the possible repercussions (e.g. HR talking to that manager can backfire on the direct report while still working there).

The easiest way is to provide virtually no feedback about the manager during the exit interview, but these two colleagues are thinking about doing something about the issues in their department.

Question: How to provide feedback about an unprofessional manager during the exit interview?


Duplicate related note: This question is more targeted than the referenced one and IMO it received more targeted answers. I am specifically interested in how to deal with possible negative feedback related to one's manager during the exit interview, not about the limits of the answers during this interview.

marked as duplicate by Dukeling, DarkCygnus, Telastyn, IDrinkandIKnowThings, gnat Jul 13 at 5:37

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • @Fattie: Depends on why you leave the company. If you leave it because there are things wrong, then you should already have mentioned it and chances are you are at the point you are because nobody listened and repeating won't help. There are other reasons you leave your job, and in those cases you might have accumulated a couple of points that weren't bad enough to care about while you work there, but might be worth mentioning. – PlasmaHH Jul 9 at 14:04
up vote 18 down vote accepted

I went through something similar in my last role, as did the entire team of designers that eventually left within a few weeks/months after I did due to the manager of the team.

You are right. It is unprofessional to directly criticise your line manager yes, but it's not to indicate why you left in a less direct manner in a way they can put 2 and 2 together (if you are able).

My exit interview had no questions or queries in relating to my manager (or management) so I had to express my feelings under the "anything else" part of the interview (part of me thinks this was deliberate on their part).

But here is what I did and I would recommend something similar if you are able to:

  • I didn't directly criticise him but indicated issues that were bugging me that were ultimately his responsibility to oversee and ensure they happen smoothly. For example "I am subject to overly long critiques on design work that we can't change". It wasn't him that bugged me per se, more what was happening as a result of his management.

  • I indicated/hinted that I wasn't the only one feeling this way (didn't name any names), but it was well known in the business anyway that there were issues.

  • Offered what I thought would be a quick fix(s) to solve some of the issues. (this put the onus on them then to think about it, discuss it and implement it to stop others leaving).

  • State that I had a good working relationship with the team but the issues were too strong to tolerate any longer.

  • The opportunity that I was being offered, offered everything that I wanted moving forward in my career. Especially the things that I tried to implement that I couldn't. This alone was reason enough.

Ultimately I don't know whatever happened to the feedback or whether it had any influence, but this person cost the business the entire team (bar 1) all giving similar feedback if not more harsh and direct. Less than a year later this manager was managed out of the company.

It's important to note I didn't use this as a place to get back or just complain about them. It was professional and constructive feedback. This is what an exit interview should be used for as it's mutually beneficial to both parties. Not to cause issues but to indicate what didn't sit well with me.

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    I think this is the best answer to my question. Thanks. – Alexei Jul 9 at 19:03
  • I think we may have worked at the same company :). I worked about two years on a team built up by my manager into one that won awards for efficiency & innovation, as well as doubling the team staff. After he was 'promoted' and another manager took over, the entire team fell apart within a year. Several were fired and all but one quit. – Omegacron Jul 13 at 19:37

How to provide feedback about an unprofessional manager during the exit interview?

Silently, in your head.

Focus on where your career is going, not where it has been. Exit interviews are not for your benefit and bad mouthing anyone can come back to bite you while there is no plus side for you involved.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Jul 9 at 14:57
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    Moderator note: Please use suggest improvements only to suggest improvements, not for prolonged arguments. If you do not agree with the answer, you may downvote it and move on, or write your own answer. – Masked Man Jul 9 at 16:01
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    And this is how many companies wind up in the quagmire that they're in. The good people jump the sinking ship, and life gets harder for everyone else. I would definitely suggest following what some of the other answers mention about different ways to approach giving this feedback. – krillgar Jul 10 at 19:16
  • If you think you can do better than a company, start your own in competition and get rich... don't try and improve them to make someone else rich... pretty much what business is all about... just saying – Kilisi Jul 11 at 5:04

Something that stood out to me:

AFAIK, it is considered a bad practice to criticize your manager while still working at that company

It is bad practice to criticise - but providing constructive feedback is very beneficial for both the manager and the people they are managing. There should be process in place, either scheduled 1-2-1s or some other internal feedback opportunity where you can bring things like this up. Waiting until you're leaving to give feedback won't help you, and will likely be ignored by the manager.

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    Definitely - managers are just as fallible as everyone else and we need feedback from our reports to improve our ability to do the job. Leaving should be a last resort when feedback is being routinely ignored, suppressed or leads to reprisals. A healthy organisation should not assume that employees will naturally feel comfortable feeding back upwards and should be actively encouraging it. – Julia Hayward Jul 9 at 9:19
  • Maybe it depends on the location, OP's name makes me think Russia and in my experience there can be some conservative practices when it comes to speaking to authority figures. – Boat Jul 9 at 9:38
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    @Boat - location is an EU country within the Eastern Europe. While historically the country was under heavy Russian influence, the company is an Western European one and most of the practices are mostly of Western influence. – Alexei Jul 9 at 9:43
  • If the exit interviewers are smart, you can communicate the information while keeping positive: "I'm looking forward to working with New Manager. In particular, I believe that they're good at keeping on-topic during meetings, at giving everyone time to talk, and at allocating time to tasks that help long term productivity" – user568458 Jul 9 at 12:48
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    I agree. The trick is that this depends on management to create a safe environment for giving this type of feedback, and to clearly and consistently demonstrate that it is safe to give it. Otherwise I would not do so under any circumstances. The power imbalance makes it very dangerous to your career. – bob Jul 9 at 15:27

The line that stood out for me was :

"these two colleagues are thinking about doing something about the issues in their department"

This is a very good thing to do, but talk about the issues, not about the manager. For example :

"I felt that some people weren't getting a chance to express their views in meetings and that we could have automated some of the more repetitive tasks."

It's easy to think of an exit interview as a way to "get back" at someone or to get something off your chest, but that isn't how the person conducting the interview will be approaching it. If your colleagues mention specific issues that's something that can be addressed, and the people conducting the interview will be able to regard it as a positive contribution. Complaining about another member of staff is more likely to be recorded as an interpersonal issue.

If your colleagues are thinking of this as a way to make trouble for the manager, they're not being particularly professional themselves. If they're looking for what's best for the company and the preferred outcome is that the manager changes the way they do things, this is most likely to happen by looking at the issues and not the personalities.

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    I like the idea of criticizing the bad practices happening under the manager, not the manager themselves. This way the problems can be addressed without burning bridges. And if the manager's superior isn't dumb, they will understand what the problem is. – JohnEye Jul 9 at 10:45
  • This seems like a good middle ground approach. When they ask for specific examples, what would be a good way to still avoid criticizing the boss? – bob Jul 9 at 15:29
  • @bob - By all means point out the problems - there's a good chance they'll be raised by the person conducting the interview and, as John says, if it's a known issue it will be understood. It might be taken as criticism by implication, but as long as the colleagues mention things and not people, there's a chance the manager could see it as valuable feedback and not a personal attack. If they don't, they've responded badly to something that wasn't personal and the colleagues will have made their point in a much better way. – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Jul 9 at 16:00
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    @bob "We were discussing task A for two hours and Bob tried to contribute but had never been given a word. After the meeting he pointed out several good points that should have been addressed." – Crowley Jul 10 at 8:17

How to provide feedback about an unprofessional manager during the exit interview?

Refer them to your previous complaints, but make no new complaints.

It was your job to try and resolve problems with your manager. Working with him or other people to try and fix the issues. There should be a history of this and nothing about it should be new to them.

I'm not saying you didn't do this. I'm saying it's to late to start now.

Nothing good will come from new complaints now. If you need to vent your frustrations then write it all down on paper. Go for a long walk and then stop somewhere and set the letter on fire.

If you can't get out of doing an exit interview, then keep it short and provide short answers. Tell them that you found another job, and that's why you're leaving. End of story.

Go home. Have a good sleep. Start your new job.

There are at least two broad categories of "unprofessional manager" you may want to leave behind by quitting:

  • the bad managed whose actions lead to a technically dysfunctional team
  • the manager who uses their power outside technical aspects

From your question I understand that you are in the first case. If so do not say anything. There reasonably cannot be any good outcomes of your feedback.

The company should have had a feedback mechanism before if it was genuinely interested in such information. If it has not, your feedback will not be acted upon professionally and may bite back.

This company is behind you, let it solve its own technicalities.

If you were in the second case, I would consider reporting it. Such managers will be a human danger, harassing teams, bringing people to depression etc. It is ethically right to do what you can to cut them off.

It may work or not, but you will have a clean conscience.

How to provide feedback about an unprofessional manager during the exit interview?

As far as I know Exit Interviews are not to explain why you're leaving but to tie up things with HR. You're asked questions like if you tried to apply to another department, whether you seen something unethical, etc, etc. It's not to explain why you're leaving.

With that said, bringing up bad things about your manager makes you lose. It's outside the scope of the Exit Interview and on top of that you shift it to being something else entirely. Unless your manager did something unethical like take everyone's bonus or something, I don't think bringing up anything is the best approach.

protected by Masked Man Jul 9 at 10:41

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