Q: I’m about to leave my job as a social worker in a local authority and move to a neighbouring council. I’ve got a few things I’d like to get off my chest in my exit interview, mainly about my immediate line manager and his management skills (or lack of them). Colleagues fear about speaking out in case of repercussions, and I’d like to do this for them. But is this likely to backfire? Could my reference be withdrawn or changed? Or could my words somehow get back to my new place of work?
A: Exit interviews are not used as often as they should be, largely because of the concerns you express, but in fact the fears are unfounded.
The first obstacle tends to be the fact that the interview would normally be run by the line manager in question, and this often deters leaving staff from attending. If you feel your manager would be intimidating or ignore what you say, request that the interview be carried out by someone else – perhaps an independent line manager, or someone from human resources.
The second difficulty is in sticking to a balanced and factually correct summary of your employment experience. In other words, it ought to reflect the things you think were done well, as well as the bits you would rather not have experienced.
An exit interview should be a confidential event, and not find its way to your next employer. But, in any event, it should be a case summary, not a character assassination opportunity, supported by hard facts to help your managers resolve some, if not all, of the issues you raise.
Prepare for the interview by listing examples of the issues, together with any suggestions you have for improving the situation, such as having regular team meetings and making sure supervision sessions produce brief notes so they become positive events rather than moaning sessions.
A critical exit interview should not result in a reference being withdrawn or changed. References tend to be little more than a brief and often boring confirmation that you are who you say you are and were employed by the employers you claim. I have seen a few scurrilous references in the private sector, but local authorities have it down to a fine art to a point where they could almost be generated by a computer, so there is no opportunity to use them to punish you for being honest.
Exit interviews are important, so don’t shy away. Often it is the first time a manager will have been made aware that anything was wrong. If the criticism is constructive, it can change behaviour immediately to the benefit of remaining colleagues (and the manager themself).
Alison Sanger is a social care HR consultant
A: There are times in life to put yourself first and, sadly, this is probably one of them. I know you would love to help out your soon-to-be former colleagues, but it’s just not worth the risk. We move in an amazingly small world and have all been the victim of the rumour mill. My advice is to keep schtum – it wouldn’t take much for your comments to become office gossip and find their way to your new place of work.
Name and address withheld
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25 October Question
I qualified as a social worker in 2006 and took up my first post about eight months ago. Most of the cases I deal with involve serious child protection issues and I am terrified of making a mistake. I feel I have been dropped in at the deep end, and am working long hours just to stay on top of everything. I passionately believe in what I do but already feel on the verge of burning out. My manager is normally too busy to talk. What should I do?
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