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Imagine you work in a large company, and have had a great time.

After quite some time working with said large company, the manager which hired you - an inspiring, warm, and empowering person - was promoted to work in another country, and instead a new manager was hired.

This manager, now your team leader's boss, hates your guts for reasons outside your control (think stuff like having kids, being "of the wrong race/nationality", etc), and to your amazement your colleagues follow suit - and your workplace is no longer engaging and fun, but mostly a 9-5 pain.

Naturally, it's time to quit. However, as this is a large company, there'll be a leaving interview, maybe a hearing, and a reason will be asked.

Since saying that the reason you quit is because the new manager is a jerk is not really an option, is it OK to quit without giving a direct reason?

If not, what would you do?

Edit: You guys have a lot of useful ideas, and the concensus is clear - telling my boss he's a jerk is a bad idea. But I'd like to try avoiding taking the blame for him in front of HR, meaning no "I'm no longer getting along with my team", or "I've received a better offer" which is interpreted as ditching the company at the first opportunity. Would a completely neutral statement, something like "No specific reason" or "No reason I'd like to share" be good idea?

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    Possible duplicate of Should I tell my boss I'm leaving because of them? – gnat Jan 2 at 9:45
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    Where in the world is this? Cultural expectations can vary significantly. – marcelm Jan 2 at 11:05
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    @MikeMeyers I don't want to ask what exactly is happening, but if it's truly a racism issue, then you may have some legal recourses, depending on the situation – Patrice Jan 2 at 14:12
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    You might want to add a country tag. In some countries, you can get legal help for that kind of situation (e.g. they can't blame you if you're leaving because of something such as racism). – Clockwork Jan 2 at 14:28
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    Do you really have to have that interview? I just passed it on in my last job...they are not really interested in what you have to say. – Rui F Ribeiro Jan 3 at 4:14

13 Answers 13

146

While turning around in an exit interview and saying you're leaving because your new manager is an arse may seem like a good idea (been there, done that), it doesn't achieve anything when said directly.

The question why are you leaving is for them to get feedback on why employees leave, not for you to justify why you're leaving. You could turn around and say "No reason" and that would be perfectly fine, they aren't going to block the doors.

In my case, as mentioned above, I spoke out very candidly about the manager that was causing me to quit. I knew, between other colleagues, that others would be quitting because of him in the future too. I'll blank out the harsh language, but here's how that conversation went:

Manager: Why are you leaving?

Me: Because [other manager] is a condescending [swear word]. He gets aggressive, talks down to you and sets you up to fail, all the while gaslighting you into thinking it's your fault you're being screamed at. I have more self respect than to be spoken to that way.

Manager: Okay thanks...

Next day at 9:03 I get pulled into the meeting room and told that I'm being sent on garden leave because I'm a disruption to other employees.

This is relevant to you because I spoke out that way to try to change the [other manager] so it didn't affect other employees and everyone could just carry on a little bit happier.

Want to know what happened?

The employees quit, the manager never changed, and I burnt a bridge and don't have a reference from that company. Explaining all that in interviews for the following 2 weeks wasn't fun, nor was it worth it.

If you want my advice, just say something canned ("I'm looking for other opportunities" etc) and move on. You'll get a solid reference from them, have a few years experience on your CV and be fine.

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    "Next day at 9:03 I get pulled into the meeting room and told that I'm being sent on garden leave" - Some might view that as a legitimate achievement of your candor. There are worse things than being paid for doing nothing. – aroth Jan 3 at 3:04
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    @JayGould I have 18 years of excellent employment history in the UK, over 5 companies, and every single one of those companies gives a "yes he was here" reference - I wouldn't expect anything different in the UK, and an actual reference would be most unusual. Straw poll of other Brits I know in the industry agree with me, so it's not just me or my situation. I certainly wouldn't expect anything along the lines of "I would recommend X for employment" as that opens up the company giving the reference to legal issues one way or the other. – Moo Jan 3 at 7:52
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    (Replacing my earlier comment in order to elaborate a little). Bad references are *legal*—but if (i) they’re inaccurate or misleading; (ii) as a consequence, some loss is suffered (eg job not offered); and (iii) the subject finds out, then the provider of the reference might be sued for damages. Whilst that’s all unlikely, many businesses avoid the risk by only confirming basic facts (employment dates, role, salary, etc). Nevertheless, many people do still talk (off the record) about their former colleagues and indeed an unwillingness to do so can of itself sometimes ring alarm bells. – eggyal Jan 3 at 10:18
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    You left after a change in management, wouldn't it be normal to only get a "he worked here" recommendation when the supervisors you worked for left? (No one there with meaningful experience with you) – Tezra Jan 3 at 18:43
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    When everyone quits, the problem clearly wasn't you. I've been the last person to quit from a doomed project, and I've been fired by someone who was fired less than two weeks later, at least in part because of the issues I raised in my exit interview. If anything, being candid about these things (while remaining tactful) is a useful filter because I wouldn't want to work for anyone who has a problem with it. – TKK Jan 3 at 19:27
106

You don't have to say anything in that interview and a few canned responses ("looking for new opportunities", "want to grow professionally", "in search of new challenges") will do to not appear unhelpful.

You are right, a judgement like "is a jerk" especially without facts to support it is not helpful at all. HR will just dismiss it. If you say your new manager is a jerk, HR will have no other choice than to dismiss it. Because there is nothing actionable they could do about it. Some people just don't get along. That happens and nothing they could do will ever change that with every hire they make.

So cut out the judgement. Just tell what happened. Don't pass blame. Since the new manager took over, the team spirit shifted and you felt you were no longer included. Prepare a few examples where you think it's the managers fault, but only tell the story, leave out all judgement about who should have done what. Let them reach a judgment about whose fault that might be. If they still think their new hire is great, no harm done. You did not blame him. Maybe they have doubts now? Great, mission accomplished.

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    This is the correct answer, in my opinion. Being a jerk (at work or otherwise) is obviously wrong, but no business has a policy which says, "don't be a jerk", because it's meaningless. They do say things like "treat others with respect", however, and most companies I've worked at also make some attempt to describe what this means. To the OP I would say, without any specific examples of how this manager has "been a jerk", this is just your opinion, and you will be judged for having that opinion, however right you think you are. Don't hurt yourself this way. – bornfromanegg Jan 2 at 13:54
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    @bornfromanegg, fwiw, I know companies that have "No jerks" policies, verbatim. As you note, though, it's sort of meaningless and hard to back up. – Milo P Jan 2 at 19:48
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    In fact, these are the reasons you give no matter what the real reasons are for leaving. Nihil nisi bonum is Rule Number One for exit interviews. – Carl Witthoft Jan 3 at 16:42
  • I agree. Don't use meaningless insults like "is a jerk", but do set out the facts as you see them: e.g. "My new manager doesn't allow me to make decisions that I was previously trusted to make". – Michael Kay Jan 6 at 14:41
70

Do you care about your co-workers? Do they share your sentiment about the new manager? If so, be honest at the leave interview. I worked at Google many years ago and ended up in the same situation which lead to me leaving the company.

When HR asked why I quit I told them about my manager. Six months later he was fired. I also told a couple of my co-workers about my interview with HR so after a while my whole team learned about it. Most people on my team were grateful to me for "fixing" this boss and I still have a good and active relationship with many of my them. In fact, I think that the fact that I helped them getting rid of this boss has landed me at least two job offerings since then.

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    Honesty is always the best policy. +1 – Zorkolot Jan 2 at 13:55
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    The coworkers are gangstalking him, BTW. – Richard U Jan 2 at 14:17
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    I'm glad to hear this worked out for someone. In my experience it usually doesn't go that way. Honesty is still the best policy, and I encourage it. Just remember that sometimes the cost of "full disclosure" can be pretty high. – J. Chris Compton Jan 2 at 18:20
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    I feel this is a better answer than the current two higher voted answers. This is a professional talk with management, rather than the rant another answerer used. Getting a manager or coworker "on the radar" can be useful, if done in a professional manner. Stating "the new manager and I aren't getting along" will get you much farther than "Mr. PHB is a total #$%^&". It may lead to more questions, but again, state answers without pointing fingers, and your former co-workers may, eventually, thank you for improving their lives. – computercarguy Jan 2 at 21:18
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    Good answer, but slightly different situation: his colleagues appear to be siding with the new boss. Solidarity there will work against the OP. – Tim Jan 3 at 12:39
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Either be non-responsive as others have suggested, or damn them with faint praise.

I have nothing bad to say about this company, I very much enjoyed the time I was here and working with [former manager] and under his leadership the team was tight and cohesive.

or

While I have enjoyed good working relationships with my team and my management in the past, I feel it is time to move on.

or

I cannot say enough good things about [Former Manager]

and simply do not say one word about current manager or his performance. If pressed, use neutral sounding things that will get the point across, but not sound insulting on paper.

[New manager] had big shoes to fill after [Old manager] left.

or

[New manager] has a unique management style.

In other words, by deliberately avoiding saying anything about him, praising your last manager, and leaving this immense whole of data, they'll get the message.

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    "I cannot say enough good things about [Former Manager]" Best reply. HR people will know what you mean. – PeteCon Jan 2 at 16:32
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    This seems really passive aggressive. Why not simply say what you mean: "so-and so's management style isn't a good fit for me". – DanK Jan 2 at 16:40
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    DanK: But that’s not what he means. – gnasher729 Jan 2 at 16:45
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    @DanK "A man about to tell the truth should keep one foot in the stirrup" - Mongolean proverb....... So, if he tells them what he REALLY means, being that his boss is a racist/sexist/homophobic...whatever and his entire team is against him, he will be given the boot and probably have a reputation that follows him. NOT a good idea – Richard U Jan 2 at 17:02
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    "Unique and memorable management style" ... Then there,s the old British slander, "I have no opinion of person X". – Harper Jan 3 at 5:15
26

Bear in mind that you can have the official interview, but also have a quiet chat as well.

The exact approach will depend on your relationships and the approachability of the Big Bosses.

Your former manager is already or is becoming a Big Boss.

Reach out to him. Thank him for the leadership he showed to you. You might be able to ask him to talk through this problem with you. Certainly being pro-active here helps you get the reference you want. You show this guy you are aligned with his values, and that will resonate with him.

I can tell you :

  • Leadership will not know this person is a problem unless they are told.
  • The rest of the team are being taught that being a jerk is OK.
  • Even the new manager may not realise he is a jerk;you might be doing him a favour.

Toxic workplaces need people to speak out. Find a way to do this if you can.

  • 2
    I like this approach. I've been in a similar situation, and in retrospect someone, even if it's not HR, would have liked to have known more about what was actually going on. Ultimately if you think someone is receptive, politely and gently offer your opinion. But also be ready to say nothing if you don't think they will want to hear it. – Christopher Hunter Jan 3 at 21:53
  • I also like this approach. It is probably the best one I can find on here. In fact, this may actually be what they are fishing for. They want people to hang on on closer, higher up, but maybe these people are too modest or too careful or content or busy to realize this so they need a little shakearound to consider the possibility. But if it so often ends in people resigning, I wonder how efficient it is. – mathreadler Jan 5 at 21:51
14

One sentence: Discuss it with your previous manager.

Because

  1. You respect their judgement.
  2. They know the environment.
  3. They may be able to alert the right people higher up to a disaster in the making. The company don't want to lose you after all this time.
  4. They know you and your foibles.
  5. They may know of an opportunity for promotion, if only sideways.
  6. If everything goes wrong they'll understand and give you a good reference.
5

your team leader's boss, hates your guts for reasons outside your control (think stuff like having kids, being "of the wrong race/nationality", etc)

That's unfortunate. And in my opinion you cannot guarantee a positive reference by lying. This type of logic hopes the company "plays nice" since you've "played nice". That's not the same as a guarantee. Many of the answers here insinuate a guarantee of sorts if you give an inaccurate answer during your exit interview. Not true. If your racist/intimidating boss and coworkers provide any input for future referrals then there really are no guarantees.

It's a common saying that "there are no guarantees in life". And life can be very unfair. I think this describes your exact situation. For example, you could indeed lie about the real reason for quitting and still get a negative referral. Different reasons could be provided for the negative referral, such as any of the various conflicts and negative interactions they had with you that serve their memory. They could say "nobody liked you." or "he was hard to get along with" or "he didn't work well with us." Which is all the truth according to you. Insulting managers and coworkers do not stop perceiving you negatively merely because you decided to leave.

The exit interview is designed to give you an opportunity to address problems in the company so that the company can correct them in the future. If it is done by HR, then there is a good chance the interview is confidential, so verify this in advance by asking them- this may circumvent most if not all of the issues you are worried about.

If you want to tell the truth then back up the allegations with as much evidence as possible. Without evidence an allegation is hard to prove and requires a lot of explaining on your part. Any evidence should speak for itself. Also- if the exit interview is not private- see if you can set up a private meeting with HR. Provide copies of all emails, recorded conversations, post-it notes, etc. displaying the racism or inappropriate behavior- and give these to HR during your meeting or exit interview. If the interactions are being spoken to you- record them with your cellphone (in your pocket for example) and let HR listen to these recordings. The more evidence the better. The less evidence, the more you have to talk to HR to prove the allegations, which for emotionally charged events can be hard for someone to do. Documented evidence of racist or bullying behavior should really speak for itself however.

If you can't provide any evidence then giving a different reason is an option as you've suggested. But it's passive-aggressive, essentially the intent is to "play nice" hoping the company "plays nice back". But this doesn't make any logical conclusion since they've been bullying you. It doesn't ensure a positive reference in the future. If they provide a negative reference anyway- then you've lost your opportunity to defend yourself during the exit interview. So, the ideal answer is to document everything you can and tell the truth.

  • As with most situations where bullying/victimisation occurs, this can backfire horribly if the manager is told that you've reported his conduct and is shown the evidence you've collected. He'll accuse you of vindictiveness and trying to undermine him, which will lead to a bad reference for you. (It happened to me when I complained to HR of my boss using abusive/threatening language to me and my coworkers. The problem is that it's a cultural thing at that particular company. It is how the CEO deals with his subordinates and them with theirs; they don't see anything wrong with it.) – Agi Hammerthief Jan 7 at 9:17
  • @AgiHammerthief I agree in principle. The issue at hand is OP wants a positive reference. I find it unlikely since the decision is up to OP's former employer (his racist boss). Concerning the topic of burning bridges, I thinks it's obvious they're already burned due to racism. In the U.S. at least, there's zero tolerance for that behavior but I can understand if that's not the case elsewhere. As I stated in the 2nd part of my answer- OP may well decide it's not worth the effort to defend himself and hope he gets a good reference anyway. – Zorkolot Jan 7 at 15:01
4

You have the completely wrong idea. If you don't tell your company that your new manager is a prick with no redeeming qualities, then they can't do anything for you or your team if they don't want you to leave. They also won't figure out that the manager is costing them employees.

Like it or not, getting stuff done at work is a team game. You need to make decisions that benefit the team here. You also need to realize that telling the truth has one distinct advantage. Telling the truth proves your adherence to honesty and your moral values. That's something that will sound really good in your next interview. "I'm very honest" is one of the best answers to "What's your greatest weakness?". You'll have proof too because when they call your manager/old company they'll hear exactly why you left.

You should probably tell your manager why you're leaving too. You don't really get anything moving forward if you just make some weak generic excuse in an attempt to make a clean break. Your manager is going to say bad things about you anyway. You might as well get a jump start at trying to explain them away. A bad review and a reason for the bad review is a much better starting place for seeking re-hire than a bad review alone. Your manager doesn't like you so you're getting a bad review when you leave either way.

The final thing I want to mention here is that since your company is big they can just move you to a different team. They can't offer to change your manager for you if you give them some generic excuse for leaving. If the rest of your team mysteriously leaves too then they really won't know why till your manager really makes a mistake either. Your company could lose an entire team over this because you didn't say anything.

Don't worry about pissing anyone off. It's not going to matter and in the end it's going to have virtually the same effect on your career as kissing their ass.

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    The game is over. Saying anything on the way out is only going to burn bridges, and possibly haunt you. – Richard U Jan 2 at 15:22
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    @RichardU That's a typical mistake people make. Saying something to benefit your team after you leave is going to do more good that harm. You left. The bridge is burnt. The damage you're trying to avoid by selfishly keeping your head down has already been done. There's no "+10 to charisma when dealing with your old boss/coworkers after you leave". Don't fool yourself into believing that kissing ass in an exit interview designed to improve retention and spot problems before they get too bad is going to benefit your career. – user53651 Jan 2 at 15:28
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    Companies that are employee-friendly enough to actually do something about poor managers are usually also self aware enough that they know about them other than hearing horror stories in exit interviews. If it takes an exit interview horror story to make them aware, it's probably not the kind of company that will actually change anything. – dwizum Jan 2 at 15:32
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    On my end, after an exit interview, I have a checkbox to check. Either "re-hireable" or "non-re-hireable".... In a big company, where you may eventually want to come back to another department, someone being a d*** in an exit interview would likely not have the chance because of that checkbox. Burning bridges is never a good idea. Depends on how it's brought up of course. There's a difference with "the management style changed and doesn't suit me as I find it abrasive and negative" and "the boss is a jerk!". – Patrice Jan 2 at 16:11
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    If you tell a prospective employer that your previous employer hates you because you're "honest", they'll very likely conclude that you are a jerk and have so little self-awareness that you're chalking it up to your being "honest". There's very much no guarantee that if they call up the previous employer, the previous employer's assessment will match your own characterization. The OP should balance helping the team with their own interests. They don't "need" to be forthright. – Acccumulation Jan 2 at 18:27
3

1) Big companies as a matter of course tend not to give official recommendations. So not saying "my boss was a jerk" is not going to give you more or less points in the future. Either way, HR will confirm to your next employer your dates of employment and your job title, and that's it.

2) Saying "my boss is a jerk" is not particularly useful. However, explaining why he is a jerk is useful. Don't use loaded language (e.g. "my boss is a jerk"); instead explain things that happened (e.g. "my boss said XYZ"). If you have written proof (emails, screenshots of IM conversations, etc) that helps but is not strictly necessary; you're leaving anyway, you're not expecting any sort of recompense and nor will they give you any. Your "case", such as it is, will not go any better or worse whether you are using hearsay or actual evidence.

3) HR probably will not care what you have to say, because an exit interview is more or less a formality anyway. However, if you really like the company, I would feel it was my responsibility to help the company succeed even if I was leaving, and a manager who drives people to quit is not helping the company, and HR should know that. Then if more people from your team quit, citing that manager, then HR will eventually have to act, as this manager is causing them to lose talent. I would go so far as to say that it is your responsibility to tell HR you are leaving because your manager is a jerk (see point 2 for precisely what to say), and saying anything else is a disservice.

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    HR probably will not care what he says, unless they find the company is liable for something. Like for example having a manager who harasses employees in a racially charged way. If the OP can turn over proof, if they feel like a case can be made that the company set up an environment of harassment and the OP might be able to litigate... then they might take a closer look. – kleineg Jan 3 at 21:30
3

[...]hates your guts for reasons [...]having kids, being "of the wrong race/nationality", etc[...]), colleagues follow suit -[...]

This is discrimination and bullying.

You should have reported incidents proving these statements to upper management and HR.

After repeated occurrences you have valid reasons to quit and the company would be fully aware of it.

Do you have records about you being discriminated or bullied? - Send them to HR and upper management, potentially contact a lawyer and consider filing a lawsuit.

Would you be willing to stay longer to gather such evidence? - Bide your time, report infractions and leave if things don't change or you have enough ammo for a lawsuit.

If you just want to quit, include any evidence of misconduct against you as reasons in your letter of resignation.

Giving your opinion of hatred towards you without clear evidence weakens your statement considerably and may lose merit to the point of appearing to fish for reasons or having a grudge.

  • +1 for pointing out that racism (which is the kind of thing HR exists to protect the company from) is a different class of reason than "boss is a jerk" (which may be a valid reason to leave but is not something to bring to HR.) – arp Jan 6 at 16:16
2

(This isn't strictly answering the question, but…)

Is there any possibility for moving to another team within the company?  Big companies can often be quite flexible, and you'd retain your familiarity with the business, culture, and people.

Of course, sometimes it's time to move on, and that can have advantages too.  But it's good to consider all the options.

Otherwise, I think I'd try to compromise between some of the other answers, and in the exit interview tell as much of the truth as you can, in a way which doesn't sound personal or burn any bridges.  (E.g. “I no longer feel part of the team, as I did under [previous manager].” or “The team culture changed after [previous manager] left.” or “I particularly enjoyed working with [previous manager], and it wasn't the same after they left.”)

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    Tried that - new manager, through which such a request had to go, said no other team wanted me and that it's better if I stay where I am – Mike Meyers Jan 2 at 15:51
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    @MikeMeyers Try shopping around yourself, informally. This only works if you have existing relationships with other managers - and can backfire if those managers think highly of your manager. Depending on how the company is structured you may still have to go through current boss, if so may not be worth the trouble. – J. Chris Compton Jan 2 at 18:25
2

What you do may last with you for a long time. How important is it to get things off your chest?

My recommendation would be to leave, for a better opportunity, and so on. If, after you left, you still have the irresistible urge, use a vehicle like Glassdoor to express your concerns in a manner that management might hear them.

There is no need to be destructive to yourself or others. Things happen, and sometimes the universe mis-aligns.

Jobs center around the human element, and sometimes the chemistry doesn't work out. You are for whatever reason persona non grata, and trying to attribute blame, in the situation you describe is not likely to be a winning event. People leave jobs all the time because they find something different, or interesting, or for more money or whatever. When you resign, give them a positive reason. But before then, get a positive attitude so that you can find your next job.

1

Why leave? I’m from the Netherlands and we Dutch are know for being brutally honest if we have to. Why not confront the manager, or his superior, about how he makes you feel. Worst case scenario you will be quitting the job anyway, so that’s not worse than what you’re planning now. On the upside it could be the manager will change, or replaced.

I would never leave without at least saying what was wrong. It’s not fair to yourself, but also not to whoever you’re leaving. People need to evolve. That means sometimes they need to be told they’re a jerk. Something they are without knowing it and it needs to be pointed out to them.

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