Exit Interview Tips To Talk Out Bad Boss & Toxic Workplace

Are you leaving a job due to the workplace being toxic? There are many reasons you might want to quit a well-paying job, and having a bad boss or a toxic work environment is definitely up there.

However, navigating your exit interview when leaving a job for the reasons mentioned above can sometimes seem complicated. How can you calmly express your dissatisfaction with what you went through while remaining polite and professional at all times?

This article will discuss some tips for talking about toxic company culture and a bad boss during your exit interview.

What Is an Exit Interview?

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First things first: What is an exit interview?

An exit interview is a discussion you have with your boss, hiring manager, or supervisor before you leave a job. Typically, it will be on your last day of work, but it may also be before that – your boss might call you in for an exit interview shortly after you submit your resignation notice.

The exit interview allows the manager or CEO to determine why the employee left. Since most employees don’t end up coming back to work at the same place, employees can generally be more honest in their exit interviews.

The manager can then use the information they gathered from the exit interview to improve the work environment and make things more enjoyable for future employees. Conducting exit interviews with each employee who leaves allows the boss to watch out for recurring issues.

An exit interview is advantageous to CEOs for other reasons. Employees who are disgruntled with the way they have been treated are given the opportunity to air their grievances and have their concerns listened to.

If they feel understood, they are less likely to go on a public forum or a company-review platform like Indeed or Glassdoor and provide a negative review of working at the company. That would make it more difficult for the company to hire new talent in the future.

For the employee, the exit interview provides an opportunity to give constructive criticism on how the manager can improve the work environment.

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Considering that 15 percent of employees do end up returning to work at the same job they quit, it can provide a forum for employees to help the company improve so that it’s better when they come back.

An exit interview isn’t required by law. Your employer doesn’t have to give you the chance to air your grievances.

On the flip side, you aren’t usually required to attend an exit interview, either. Your employer might ask you to, but you are well within your rights to refuse to participate in the interview – you’re planning on leaving, anyway.

There is an exception, though. If your employer specified in your work contract that you must attend an exit interview after giving notice that you’re quitting, you may be required to participate in it.

However, most employers don’t make it mandatory because they don’t want any bad blood or negative feelings going forward.

What Are Some Signs of a Toxic Work Environment?

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If this is your first job, it might be hard to tell if you’re in a toxic work environment or your boss is crossing boundaries. Here are some tell-tale signs that your boss doesn’t respect you and that your managers or coworkers are toxic.

People Are Negative and Non-Supporting

Your boss and coworkers should be supportive of your efforts, even if they need to provide constructive criticism to help you grow. If you feel like people are putting you down, it might not be the best place for you to succeed.

Similarly, people shouldn’t be sarcastic, make you feel embarrassed for getting something wrong, or scream at you. You should feel appreciated and respected.

There’s Passive-Aggressive Energy or Gossip

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A healthy work environment is one where the leaders encourage healthy communication. If someone isn’t happy with what someone is doing, there should be a way for them to communicate that, so a discussion can be had.

If people are constantly gossiping about each other, talking bad about other people behind their backs, or badmouthing coworkers to the manager, that’s a significant cause for concern. Nobody should be making fun of others or bullying them.

It might be time to leave if you feel like you can’t have open communication with coworkers without worrying they’ll badmouth you or snitch on you.

Also Read: Most Common Leadership Styles

You Dread Going to Work Every Day

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Do you dread getting up and going to work? Not everyone loves their jobs; many people hate working.

However, think about what’s causing all that dread. Is it because you dread interacting with your coworkers or dealing with your boss?

Trust your gut. If your job is making your life miserable, call it quits – there’s nothing more important than your mental health.

You’re Being Micromanaged or Harassed

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A good manager will give you room to figure things out for yourself and grow. They won’t micromanage you and nitpick at everything you’re doing.

If you feel like your manager is finding every reason to put you down or is always discovering something wrong in your work, you don’t have to tolerate that behavior.

Harassment is something else you should never tolerate. There are many kinds of abuse: physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual.

Physical abuse is easy to spot – it can include hitting, slapping, pushing, or punching. Sometimes, it’s less obvious – such as when a manager blocks the door and prevents you from going out while scolding you.

Verbal and emotional abuse can take on many forms as well. They can include name-calling or yelling.

Emotional abuse isn’t always verbal – it can include giving you the cold shoulder or purposely not inviting you to after-work events to which everyone else is invited.

Finally, sexual harassment is something else that you should never tolerate. If a coworker harasses you and is not punished, you need to leave ASAP.

Also Read: How To Respond To An Interview Request?

Things to Consider When Attending an Exit Interview

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Being honest in an exit interview isn’t entirely without repercussions. There are multiple factors to consider before deciding to be brutally honest in your exit interview.

Sometimes, it’s better to approach these situations tactfully rather than going on an all-out attack and explaining everything you didn’t like about the company. In the long run, it might be better for you.

Will You Need to Work for Them Again?

The vast majority of people do not go back to work at a job they quit. However, 15 percent still do, for various reasons.

If you think there is a slight chance you might need to work there again, you might be more careful with what you say.

Often, reasons for quitting include poor employment opportunities and not being able to find a suitable replacement job. Sometimes, however, your next job ends up being worse, so you want to go back to where you are more comfortable.

People are more likely to return to an old job if the reasons for quitting are:

  • They needed time off
  • They had to move out of town
  • They were unsatisfied with the pay

If the workplace environment was toxic, however, and your boss was a bad person, the likelihood of going back and working there again should automatically plummet.

Even if the pay was good, it might be better for your emotional health and self-esteem in the long run if you never go back to work there again.

Explore: Worst Job Interview Answers & What To Say Instead

You May Need the References

This concern is a little more relevant for people leaving a toxic workplace. You may still need good references from your old boss, and burning bridges might not be a great idea.

In the case of an abusive boss, the risk might actually be higher.

It would be one thing if you had an understanding, kind, and sympathetic boss who actually cared about their employees and wanted to see them succeed in life. To such a boss, you would be able to voice your concerns and provide constructive criticism, and they wouldn’t take it personally.

However, an abusive boss might get upset when you complain about their abusive behavior. They may try to get revenge on you by providing negative feedback when future employers reach out to them when asking for references.

However, sometimes, the issue isn’t a toxic boss but one who just isn’t present enough to fix a toxic environment.

A toxic workplace can be fueled by toxic coworkers. Of course, a boss should lead from the top down, and your boss obviously doesn’t care that much if they let toxic behavior go unchecked in the workplace.

Sometimes, though, they aren’t malicious – they just don’t have the right leadership skills.

In those cases, constructive criticism might be appropriate. It could actually cause your boss to finally wake up.

When they realize employees are leaving due to the workplace becoming unbearable, they may finally implement changes.

If they do wake up and implement fundamental, long-lasting changes, your workplace may be a more inviting place if you ever need to go back to work there.

Only you can know how your boss is likely to react, based on your previous experiences with them when voicing complaints.

Also Read: What To Wear For A Zoom Job Interview?

The Trap of Exit Interviews

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Exit interviews are tricky. They have a lot of potential risks, and the potential upsides are not many.

If it’s come to the point where you feel like you have to leave your job and give up your livelihood because the environment is so toxic or your boss maltreats you, there’s a good chance you have no hope of things changing.

Most likely, you’ve already tried to bring up those issues, but nobody listened. Most likely, people are ignoring the problem and pretending it doesn’t exist, and you’ve given up.

Will things really change if you’re honest in your exit interview? That’s a good question, and the answer is most often no.

If there was a chance for things to change, they would already have. Your resignation probably won’t be the catalyst for a significant overhaul at the company.

At the same time, burning bridges is a real risk. Your employer can always retaliate and give you bad references or even not confirm your employment when a future employer calls to verify your resume.

They may lie and say you never worked there and made things up. They may promise to give you good reviews and do the opposite.

Check Out: Zoom Interview Etiquettes & Tips

Exit Interview Tips to Talk Out Bad Boss and Toxic Workplace

With that said, let’s move on to some solid tips for your exit interview.

Consider Not Going

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Remember, an exit interview isn’t mandatory in most cases. If you can come up with good excuses, like needing to finish a massive workload before wrapping things up, you may be able to avoid the interview without any bad blood.

If you feel like your boss will get angry and retaliate if you don’t go, then, by all means, attend the interview. However, many times, not attending is better than attending.

At the end of the day, you’re leaving the job and probably never planning on going back. It’s not like they can fire you for not attending the meeting – you’ve already quit.

Check Out: Thank You Email Examples After Zoom Interview

Don’t Beat a Dead Horse

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If you have already complained to HR about specific people, situations, or issues, and nothing was done about them, you may want to let things go. You’re leaving, and you’ll soon be far away from this toxic situation.

If they’re smart, they’ll know why you’re leaving. If they choose to be blind, that’s their issue.

It’s not your responsibility to repeat why you’re unhappy when you have already complained numerous times.

Be as Neutral as Possible

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Sometimes, it’s best to just be neutral in your exit interview. Even if you’re leaving because your boss is unbearable to work with, you can give other reasons for your departure.

For example, you might want to say that you’ve gotten another opportunity elsewhere. Don’t go into any specific details when asked; you’re no longer obligated to tell your boss anything.

You can also say something to the effect that you feel you are ready for a career change, or that leaving is the right step in your career right now.

If they ask you whether you disliked a particular person or your boss, you don’t have to criticize them. Instead, say that you have no negative feedback to provide about them, even if you hate them.

Also Read: What To Include In A Cover Letter For A Job?

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In the long run, being neutral is probably the best choice for you. You’ll avoid burning bridges and ruining your chances of getting good references.

Yes, it might be a bit awkward or uncomfortable, especially if you keep giving neutral, non-opinionated responses to every question. Your boss might wonder what’s up and even get annoyed, but they may get even more annoyed if you speak your mind.

Be Polite and Respectful

If you decide to talk out the situation, be polite and respectful. Don’t call anyone any names, and don’t use an angry or aggressive tone of voice.

Instead, talk about specific things that bothered you. If you feel like your criticism will be valued, talk about actionable steps that the manager can take to improve the work environment in the future.

If you plan on going down that route, consider creating a list of talking points. Write down notes and think about how your boss will perceive your suggestions.

Explain that you’re trying to help and want to part on good terms. Say that you’re not attacking them as a person, but you feel like there is room for them to improve.

Make it clear that in the long run, improving will be better for them as well. They will be able to retain more employees and attract better talent in the future.

By making the work environment welcoming to all employees, they will also get the best out of their workers. People will go above and beyond to try to make the boss happy and move the company forward.

Factors That Determine How Honest You Should Be

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Not every situation is the same. In some cases, being honest isn’t as detrimental as in others.

Let’s go through several factors that you need to consider when deciding how honest vs. how neutral you should be in your exit interview.

How Established Are You in Your Career?

A significant factor is how established your career already is. If you don’t have a long track record, the stakes are a lot higher.

If you only have one or two job positions on your resume, you stand to lose a lot if your boss gives you bad references. Therefore, telling the truth comes with more significant risks, so be more careful with what you say.

On the other hand, if you have years of experience in the industry and stellar references from past employees, you can be more honest in your exit interview assessment.

Of course, employers usually want to know why you left your previous job. However, if you have a good resume, you can be honest and say that the work environment was toxic and wasn’t allowing you to thrive – most employers will be understanding.

It’s not just your resume that matters. It’s your reputation, too.

How well are you known in the industry? Do you have an online presence to back that up, or do you have accomplishments that are undeniable witnesses to your success and expertise?

How Will Your Boss Take It?

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I have already touched upon this factor. How is your boss likely to react to your constructive criticism?

Some people just can’t take criticism of any kind. They consistently receive it as an attack on themselves personally and lash out or even retaliate.

If your boss is that kind of person, there’s no use in being honest. It’s better to be neutral or even lie in your exit interview; nobody will benefit from honesty in this case.

Also Read: Bad Resume Examples & How To Fix Them?

Do You Care About Your Coworkers?

This isn’t a factor for everyone, but it may be for some people.

How much do you care about your coworkers? After all, you will be leaving them behind to continue suffering in a toxic workplace environment.

Do you want things to change for them? Do you feel that if you’re honest, the manager may start improving things so that your coworkers don’t have to suffer so much?

Of course, just caring about your coworkers isn’t enough. There also has to be a real possibility for change – if you feel like nothing good is going to come out of criticizing your boss, just leave things be.

What Are Your True Motivations?

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Finally, figure out what your real motivations are. You probably hate it there and can’t wait to get revenge by saying you’re leaving and then explaining exactly what they did that made you go.

However, that’s not really a good reason. Just because you’re angry doesn’t mean you should act on it.

In the majority of cases, the leaving employee doesn’t get much from attending an exit interview. They benefit employers more.

That’s especially true when dealing with a toxic workplace environment. Like I said, if you’re at the breaking point when you feel like leaving is the best option for you, they probably just don’t care.

Talking about toxicity to a toxic person isn’t an effective strategy. Sometimes, it’s best to cut the toxicity out of your life entirely.

Remind yourself that if they truly value your feedback, you probably wouldn’t be leaving. If you’re leaving, it’s because your voice went unheard, or you felt like there was no use in saying anything.

Wrapping It Up

Most people don’t have a plan when going into an exit interview, but now you do. Hopefully, you understand the risks that an exit interview can pose, especially if you have a toxic and abusive boss.

If you can’t avoid the exit interview altogether, be as polite, professional, and bland as possible. It’s no longer your job to fix the workplace for others; if you don’t feel like your advice will be accepted, it’s best to avoid burning bridges and not be too vocal about your dissatisfaction.

About Author

Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.