Lynne Curry: How honest should I be in an exit interview?

Lynne Curry

Q. I hate my boss. It's been hell working here my last two weeks. Tomorrow is my last day and I can't wait to get out of this place.

I've been alerted that I have to take part in an exit interview.

Should I be brutally honest?

A. Those who honestly answer exit interview questions give their former organizations and co-workers a gift. By describing what you appreciated about your former job and company, you reinforce what's working. By pointing out problems, you offer your organization and boss helpful information and the chance to improve.

You also get something out of participating in the exit interview -- the chance to make things better, if not for you, for your former co-workers.

Brutal honesty, however, never works.

Do you want to get things off your chest? If so, the mud you throw splashes back on you.

In fact, the more angrily you spill your guts, the more you look like a bitter, negative employee your company is lucky to lose. Why burn a bridge you'll later want to walk cross when you need a good reference?

So, should you be honest? Yes, if you can constructively discuss what worked and didn't work for you as an employee in neutral, non-accusatory language.

Q. I like everything about my job except my office manager. She needs to retire. She started her career 10 years before she got a computer. Simple things, like putting a password on her computer, seem "too much trouble" to her. She doesn't turn her computer off at night because turning it on "is a hassle."

I could live with this except employee personnel information is loaded on her computer and so she leaves my personal data at risk. How do I get through to her?

A. Let her know what happened to Starbucks when they kept 97,000 employees' unencrypted personnel information on a laptop. After the laptop was stolen, the company sent a letter to employees, letting them know their addresses and Social Security numbers were compromised. They also offered the employees free credit monitoring for a year.

A Starbucks employee brought a class-action negligence lawsuit against the coffee retailer, seeking damages. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which governs Alaska, ruled that Starbucks' mistake created a real and immediate threat to their employees.

Does your office manager or her boss want this risk?

Q. I supervise the front desk employees. When our new receptionist asked me if I'd keep confidential something she told me, I said, "Sure." I expected she was going to tell me she was pregnant.

She then told one of our managers had come on to her. What do I do now since I can't break her confidentiality?

A. When an employee asks for confidentiality, your first response can't be "Sure." If the information you learn places her, other employees or your company at risk, you can't keep silent.

A manager coming on to an employee exposes your company to a future charge of illegal sexual harassment. Let your employee know you'll keep what she told you as confidential as possible but you can't maintain total confidentiality. Let her know you have to act to positively change the situation -- for her, other employees and your firm.

Next, ask her if she thinks she can handle the manager's come-on herself. If she says yes, check on her within the week and see whether she felt successful. If she lets you know things are now OK and you believe her, you've fixed half the situation.

Address the other half of the problem by arranging counseling and/or other discipline for the manager or anti-harassment training for all managers. If you convince senior management of the need for training and the manager in question "gets" the fact he stepped over the line, you can partially maintain your receptionist's confidentiality. In the training, make sure all managers realize they can't retaliate against an employee who voices concerns about harassment.

Finally, check in with your receptionist so she knows what happened and that she's protected.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through


Lynne Curry