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How HR F’s-up an exit interview

exit interview

We should have the same courtesy to exiting employees as we do when we welcome them

Exit Interview

I have a friend that is going through an exit interview process. She is leaving her current job for a new gig. Her current HR department is taking it personally. This friend is a VERY gracious individual and when I say doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, I mean it. She is always smiling, always has something nice to say, and makes everyone around her feel welcome. FULL STOP. She is in a high-profile job that connects her with anything and everything related to fashion, restaurants, entertainment, and retail in the Pacific Northwest. You don’t land or keep this job acting like a biatch.                  

So it scares me for the HR community when I hear she is treated like shit on her way out the door as she moves on to her new gig. We wonder why HR has a bad rap? Short-sightedness people, short-sightedness. We talk about candidate experience, we should consider the exiting employee experience as well. I am here for the long game and invite all other HR Pro/Am’s to play the full 18 holes, and not just the front 9. Win the battle not the war and remember that we live in very small towns and HR reputations are shared AFTER we leave the room.   

HR needs to accept change

As employers, we are not going to hang onto everyone. We don’t want to hang onto everyone forever and we shouldn’t take it personally when employees leave us. HR  shouldn’t be jelly, we shouldn’t be pissy, and we shouldn’t be childish. We want our employees to grow and have new experiences. Growth isn’t always going to be within our company. I am not saying I am a fan of the 18-month average tenure in tech as it is here in Seattle. We do need to accept that employees grow and change personally and professionally and we have to accept that employees will leave.

The Rub

The company she is leaving does not pay out for unused PTO. She has 2 weeks of unused PTO and they are not going to pay her for that. It is company policy and I get that. Working in tech, where so many technologists do not take a vacation, there can be business reasons behind the decision. Not paying out for PTO is a forcing function and works in a couple of ways.

  1. Not paying out PTO forces the employee to take a vacation. Use it or lose it. The company wants employees who take breaks and has the opportunity to spend quality time outside of work. It is the employee’s responsibility to schedule that PTO.
  2. The employee doesn’t get an opportunity to save up PTO in the case they think they are going to be fired or laid off. We don’t want employees taking this sort of defensive posture. This is a mindset that is playing defense or thinking we are going to fail. “This company (or me as an individual employee) is going to fail. I better put some PTO in the bank so I can walk out of here with a couple of weeks of pay.” Uhh, no, that is not what PTO is designed for.
  3. If employees don’t take time off, that is their fault. We as employees need to be proactive. I haven’t heard of too many instances where employees were declined in PTO requests so often they were not able to use it up. I can’t think of a single instance.

Civil vs. Condescending

The rub is that this employee does have a couple of weeks of PTO and politely asked for it when she turned in her two weeks. What she got was a scathing reminder that there is a policy in force and PTO is not paid out. It wasn’t civil, it was condescending.

On hearing this response, my advice was to take the next two weeks off, but her company had a big product release and she wanted to ensure her customers were going to get the features they wanted. I stood my ground and recommended she take the time off and skip the exit interview. 

Thoughts on exiting employees

If our company doesn’t have the growth for an employee and they leave for a larger position, I should celebrate that. More than likely, they were not able to get the more senior position without the experience they received from our company. I should be proud that our company helped them on their journey. I should not be angry they are leaving because the company doesn’t have the opportunity.  

Employees don’t leave a company; they leave a manager. If an employee leaves for what they think is a better manager, we as employers should take a real hard look at our manager’s. If an employee is poached by another company, that is a reflection on the company left behind as much as it is a reflection of the employee. I understand one-offs are going to happen but if there is a trend that folks are exiting a single department/manager or we keep hearing about a lack of benefits, we shouldn’t make excuses. If any of us were offered more money, talked to a more inspiring manager, or offered a shorter commute, we would all consider the new opportunity and shouldn’t be chastised for taking a chance.

Why treat employees with respect?

I have worked with plenty of employees that have left and returned.  They found out the grass wasn’t greener on the other side of the fence. Employees that have left our company have referred friends that we have hired to us. I have worked with employees who have left our company and returned to reunion parties. It doesn’t matter if the decision to leave the company was the voluntary or involuntary. We try to treat the employee with the same respect we did when they were first hired. We can be confident the exit interview information was worthless when the employee was pissed at HR. Any credibility the HR department built over the employee’s tenure was pissed away in the last 2 weeks. It’s the right thing to do dammit! 

Personally, I love it when an employee talks with other companies and decides to stay with us. I want employees to be 110% confident in their decision throughout their tenure. I love it when an employee tells me they just interviewed with another company and turned them down. That is a good day my friend and a reflection of what we have built, who we have hired, and how we treat employees.

Requisite dating example

When a couple breaks up, there are good breakups, there are bad breakups and there are ugly breakups. Regardless of the break-up, no one wants to be remembered for having a public fight at Wal-Mart or the one that is throwing personal belongings out the window for neighbors to see. When we see the word “ASSHOLE” scratched in a car, as much as I am confident the driver was a probably an asshole, I also think that the driver is better without the author. If we are with someone who is going to key a car, there is a problem.

When an employee leaves, HR shouldn’t be petty. HR should not be condescending or be creating drama. I am personally encouraging this employee to leave her company and their short-sighted HR department. She is better without them.  If your ex is the type that is going to key a car, there is a problem. If HR is going to cause drama, there is a problem.

Graceful exit

I said my friend is the epitome of grace. She did stay with her vendors. She didn’t like it, but she took the high road and it didn’t surprise me one bit. I wish the HR department could have done the same.


See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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