Tempted to Tell the Truth in Exit Interview

  1. Dear Nurse Beth,

    I have been working in my first nursing job for the past 5 months. Amid applying for nurse residencies I submitted an application to a place that I had seen many job listings for. I immediately heard back, interviewed and was offered the job. I decided to accept the position because it was a day shift position, which I knew I wouldn't get in any hospital residency.

    There have been red flags about the facility and leadership throughout my tenure, mostly circling my nurse manager. She had already over-seen 100% staff turnover (minus one holdout employee) when I was hired. When I gave notice, I was 1 of 4 RNs leaving (a second batch of turnover), out of a staff of 7. My question is- is it right to detail the way my manager has acted in my exit interview? I think she is having a tough time in her life, but I also feel she needs help with her professionalism and leadership skills. She once said to me, "I wouldn't have hired you if I knew you didn't drink [alcohol]" and talks frequently about her alcohol consumption outside of work. She said the other day something akin to "I go for the third glass of wine, I've just accepted I'm addicted." This sort of talk feels too familiar to take place between manager and employee and gives me cause for concern.

    She can be a sweet lady, but seems unaware of how unprofessional her behavior is. I am torn because I am grateful she gave me my first job and she's not a villain. But, aside from being unprofessional she has attempted to manipulate me repeatedly and has treated me cruelly. Basically, I don't want to do something that makes her lose her job, but I also feel I should give some feedback to HR.

    Thoughts?



    Dear Exiting,

    This is a good question because what to say, or how much to say, in an exit interview is important. Saying the wrong thing can harm your career. You want to receive a favorable or at least a non-hurtful reference. Nursing is a small world, and it's entirely possible that the person in your exit interview can be working with you in another organization down the line.

    It's tempting to think that of course, the organization wants your candid feedback so they can improve based on your first-hand experience. You really, really want to tell them what you think as you jump off the sinking ship. While not always the case, your insights are unfortunately unlikely to truly change the corporate culture.

    HR's point of view
    The HR person conducting the interview may just be filling out forms. Often they are just checking a box for data tracking.

    Employee left because:

    • They're pregnant
    • They relocated
    • Family illness
    • Offered more money elsewhere
    • Personality problem

    Opinions about individuals are taken with skepticism. I would say that the organization is already aware that they have a problem, with the high turnover. And the problem may well be bigger than the individual nurse manager. Is it possible that the nurse manager reflects the organization? Meaning a troubled organization with red flags, as you say, is not likely to hire and retain top-level nursing managers. Does the organization provide leadership training and development? It doesn't sound like it.By the same token, it's unlikely that this organization is thoughtfully using guided exit interviews.

    Your manager is less than professional, but some rookie managers try to gain popularity in any way they can. Remarks about drinking make you uncomfortable, as in TMI. You don't give any examples of your manager being cruel or manipulating you, but the turnover rate speaks for itself.

    A diatribe is never a good idea. Never vent. Do not unload. You do not want to leave the impression that you're bitter or angry. For one thing, it gives reason for the receiver to discount all of your feedback. In your case, that means processing your emotions ahead of time. Write down your frustrations; talk to a safe person; but approach your exit interview calmly.

    Unfortunately, your genuine desire to help your manager by sharing her short fallings will most likely not be effective and could backfire.Speak generally to leaving for a more professional work environment and transformational leadership without personal details.

    Best wishes,

    Nurse Beth


    Author, "Your Last Nursing Class: How to Land Your First Nursing Job"...and your next!

    Last edit by tnbutterfly on Feb 8
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    About Nurse Beth, MSN, RN

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    30 Comments

  3. by   amoLucia
    You said it all, Nurse Beth.

    Personally, I can attest that nsg is truly a small world. I can recall 3 instances when I applied for positions where the top nsg staff were ex-co workers or DONs. And once there was a LNHA at a place I applied.

    Those connections may or may not influence one's potential employment (I passed on the place with the LNHA).

    You never know who you know, or who knows you!

    Just keep the exit short, sweet & brief. Smile and 'thank you' on the way out the door!
  4. by   dchicurn
    Probably would have reported the alcohol comment when it occurred. Not recommended to bring up in exit interview. Like the above suggestion, leave in a positive light with a smile on your face. I doubt they are interested in making changes based on anything you could say on the way out. Happy for you that you're out from under that Good luck!!
  5. by   Flames9_RN
    Yep, you may think you are being helpful, but in most cases they wont see it that way. Keep it to yourself and keep it positive.....You gotta be looking out for #1..yourself.
  6. by   bluegeegoo2
    I generally respond with something along the lines of "I have accepted an offer that better fits with my professional and personal goals." I then thank them for the opportunities that they have provided me and that's about it. Like stated above, you never know who you're going to run into or when. Best to keep it generic and cordial.
  7. by   marienm, RN, CCRN
    I would go one step further and say "don't include your speculations about any one else's health in your exit interview, ever." It's unprofessional and could be considered slander. If you actually care about your manager's health, speak to her directly.

    Keep the interview focused on stuff that actually happened to you at your job. (With the caveats mentioned above about not burning bridges...there are polite ways to talk about stuff you didn't agree with! Also, Nurse Beth is probably right to say that an organization with this many flaws is probably...flawed...and might not act on your suggestions anyway.) So, I think it could be fair to say "Manager tried to make friends with me by sharing a lot of personal info that I wasn't comfortable with, but it seemed like she punished the nurses who didn't make time to listen to her." You can say all that, if you're so inclined, without saying "Manager has a drinking problem."

    Just my 2 cents- good luck with your future opportunities!
  8. by   Wuzzie
    Honestly, HR doesn't care what you think. They're checking off a box on a list. Nothing more. Nothing less. Anything you say will have zero impact and will not effect the change you hope it would. You'll end up being marked as a complainer and it could return to bite you in the butt when you least expect it. I decline offers for exit interviews for that reason.
  9. by   caliotter3
    Quote from Wuzzie
    Honestly, HR doesn't care what you think. They're checking off a box on a list. Nothing more. Nothing less. Anything you say will have zero impact and will not effect the change you hope it would. You'll end up being marked as a complainer and it could return to bite you in the butt when you least expect it. I decline offers for exit interviews for that reason.
    I agree with this. It can only work against the person doing the talking on the way out. If the employer cared about what you have to say, they would have listened to you before you resigned.
  10. by   Have Nurse
    This nurse is in a powerful position. If she needs help with her addiction, she needs to get it. Your state board of nursing should be contacted for guidance.
  11. by   Oldmahubbard
    Quote from Have Nurse
    This nurse is in a powerful position. If she needs help with her addiction, she needs to get it. Your state board of nursing should be contacted for guidance.
    Not a good idea to turn someone in to the board after a couple of vague comments, if they haven't been impaired at work.
    We need fewer witch hunts in nursing, not more.
    Last edit by Oldmahubbard on Feb 9 : Reason: missing word
  12. by   Wuzzie
    Quote from Have Nurse
    This nurse is in a powerful position. If she needs help with her addiction, she needs to get it. Your state board of nursing should be contacted for guidance.
    So risk ruining someone's life because of rumor and conjecture? Have you any idea what reporting her to the board will do to her? Read the recovery forum. The mature and professional response would be having a private discussion with her manager about her concerns rather than running off "tattling" to everyone and their brother.
  13. by   SpankedInPittsburgh
    Your exit interview should be about you. If this place had a 100% staff turnover in a few months they are an out-of-control dumpster fire and if they don't know it by now they won't be educated by some relatively short-term employee who is leaving anyway. Say something like "thank you for the opportunity. I enjoyed my time here but a better opportunity arose.... or some other happy-faced dreck that will put you in the best possible light. Nothing is to be gained by telling them your version of the truth & you may well get labeled as a complainer in the very small and connected world of nursing.

    As far as reporting some nurse to the board for comments about outside of work activities please don't do it. If she is not impaired at work & you didn't witness her being impaired then how much wine she drinks when she is not there is pure conjecture and none of your business. If you report her and the BON gets involved its like blowing up her life. If she's placed in a monitoring program she will lose her job and have her life irrevocably impacted
  14. by   Neats
    I would think management already knows about the situation. Management is just not telling others what to do and sit back in your office sipping what ever....management hard. It took me at least 5 years to become a good manager and that was with staff who helped me along the way who were mature and wanted to teach.
    If you feel the need for an exit interview exposure I would say something about... uncomfortable conversation at times that were too personal. You wanted more of a direct leader with boundaries that have a directive and behavioral style. There is no need to burn bridges. This Northern girl learned from Southern women to be kind in a snarky way. I appreciate those verbal skills.


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