insight magazine

Ethics Engaged | Spring 2024

The Ethics of Exit Interviews

Exit interviews can be an effective method for communicating and learning feedback. To ensure you get the most out of them, let’s review some ethical considerations.
Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner CFO, GigaOm

Have you ever been part of an exit interview as an employee leaving or as a member of management, people operations, or HR? How did you feel in that setting? Was it a helpful interaction, or did it feel like a forced conversation? Was it a conversation meant to stay confidential, or would the feedback be widely shared after the interview?

Exit interviews are common in the workplace and serve as a mechanism for giving employees a forum to discuss their insights, which may lead to actionable steps for the organization to take. As an employee, you may view the interview as a way to vent frustration, raise issues, or provide guidance on how the organization can structure something better. As an employer, you may want to know how to make employees’ experiences better, identify potential HR or management issues to address, or maintain positive alumni relationships with those who leave your organization.

Let’s explore the ethical dimensions of exit interviews, including confidentiality, transparency, and voluntariness. Additionally, we will consider some strategies for maximizing the benefits of these interactions.


Confidentiality can be a tricky area to navigate since employees may be more likely to be honest with the interviewer when they believe their comments will not be broadcast to others. On the other hand, organizations are more likely to make positive changes if the feedback provided can be shared with the people who can help. Determine what makes sense for your organization and then be transparent with the parties involved. For example, if the feedback is to remain just with management and other leaders, then communicate this process with the parties involved. For consistency in future exit interviews, document this process for later reference.

Transparency is crucial for a meaningful exit interview. If the exit interview is conducted in an atmosphere of trust, then transparency is more likely to occur. If an interviewee feels that the person conducting the interview is going to use the feedback in poor ways, such as to gossip or retaliate against others, then the interviewee is less likely to share. Spend some time laying the ground rules for the interview and be clear on the potential uses of the feedback.

Voluntariness is an aspect of exit interviews that should be considered since some people may feel they are compulsory. As someone leaving an organization, you only need to share what you are comfortable sharing in an exit interview. As someone conducting an exit interview, if you apply pressure on your interviewee, you may not receive honest insights.


To make the most out of an exit interview, as both an employee and employer, consider these tips.

For Employees

  • Be respectful of the interviewer and their time.
  • You have the right to respectfully decline answering questions or redirect your answers in a more positive light.
  • If you have constructive feedback to give, deliver it with the specificity of facts and examples so the organization has a better opportunity to adjust behaviors, processes, etc.
  • Be careful of using the interview as a venting session. If you have constructive feedback, avoid insults, and steer the conversation toward observed behaviors and impacts; you do not want your feedback to burn bridges.
  • Before the meeting, organize the topics you would like to offer feedback on, such as work environment, leadership styles, culture, job specifics, and why you are making a move. Frame this feedback in a helpful way instead of in an attacking or insinuating way.
  • Reflect on your time spent at the company and consider sharing what you enjoyed and learned from your experience.
  • Continue your connections with the organization you are leaving to maintain your professional network.

For Employers

  • Before the interview, consider putting feedback structures in place to gather comments from employees before an exit interview, as it could prevent some people from leaving. For example, offer a way to provide anonymous feedback (e.g., surveys), ask management to periodically check in with existing employees, and empower people to give feedback.
  • During the interview, be clear about how the feedback will be shared and used.
  • Ask a neutral person to conduct the exit interview. Some people quit organizations largely due to their supervisors, so a supervisory interview may be uncomfortable and ineffective.
  • Emphasize to the employee that their feedback is not subject to retaliation.
  • Approach the conversation with openness and do not assume you know why the person is leaving the organization. Arriving with assumptions may close off the conversation and not uncover meaningful insights.
  • Ask each interviewee similar questions to keep the process fair and consistent.
  • Consider documenting the feedback and asking the employee if they agree with what was captured in the feedback; this process helps to prevent misunderstandings.
  • Determine which actions are appropriate based on the feedback provided. When people observe positive organizational change because of feedback, they are more likely to provide feedback moving forward.
  • Thank the interviewee for their time and feedback.
  • Stay in touch with the person leaving to keep an open dialogue and potentially learn more from them after they depart. After all, they may become a boomerang employee.

Since retaining talent continues to remain a top challenge for the accounting profession, it might be time to look closer at your exit interview processes. If done right, these interviews can be an effective source of information for your organization. When you conduct exit interviews ethically, you are more likely to walk away with valuable and actionable feedback while also preserving mutual trust, respect, and dignity for the parties involved.

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