To be honest, a company should always know or be able to figure out the real answer to this question if it their own doing. Either the employee got a better job or the writing was on the wall. If you as a company have people leaving and no one knows why, you don't ask the leaving people you ask the people who are staying - Bob is leaving, is there anything we can do to improve YOUR experience? When they are out the door it is too late, so focus on the employees that are there.
At my org, I introduced post-mortems (call them Exit Retrospective so it's doesn't sound too morbid). When an employee leaves or is terminated, we (manager, hiring team, anyone else who makes sense) are invited to an Exit Retrospective. Manager prepares talking points on the following topics:
For each topic, manager lists areas where the individual or entity failed/struggled and succeeded/thrived.
Last section is Lessons Learned. That's the agenda. It's shared before the meeting.
During the meeting, we go through each section, discuss a bit, note any actions items we can take on to improve things going forward. Meeting is about an hour. Prep another hour or two.
Although trying multiple times does not seem reasonable.
Many companies I have left, never cared about why.
Why would anyone sign anything when leaving a job?
In fact from a contract law perspective you have to exchange consideration for an agreement.
I wouldn't tell anything to a person who has no power or no incentive to improve things, and sadly, this covers 100% of people one usually has exit interviews with. So I always declined them, politely.
You wouldn't believe how much respect and good contacts this attitude earned me over the years.
I think one thing to reflect on is why you didn’t know this about the pointlessness of exit interviews and the danger of “real talk.” Don’t worry though - I didn’t for a while either. Experience will get you there.
The sincerity needs to come from both sides. When someone has left, they probably distrust or dislike the company. And the first thing to do is to fix that distrust. Otherwise it seems like an exit interview is just part of HR's job.
If you don't know this individual it is unlikely they will honestly tell you why and the boss or coworkers may very well give no honest insight either regardless of the questions. They want out and they don't want your organisation ruining their future prospects with a bad reference. Most people do try to fix the problem before they just leave so at this point they consider it not worth voicing the problems further.
Right now I am considering leaving because the deadlines get squeezed more and more. This also comes from way up management and not from anyone I interact with directly.
And if their situation changes outside of work, then finding a better paying job can be a necessity regardless of how much they enjoy their current one.
The reality is that if the people up top have abusive practices, no one below them can fix it. They cave to keep their paycheck or they leave.
During bad times it’s awful, during good times it’s “only a matter of time”.
I wish I knew how I could avoid feeling so helpless. So far I have tried “pretending to not care what happens to me and my career” and “fantasizing unrealistically about freelancing”
Try to leave at a time of your choosing. Try to set some parameters or goals for how/when to do that, such as paying down debt, having a savings cushion or lining up another job.
Control some piece of it to some degree.
Also, I’d tell anyone in a tough work environment to ensure they're keeping their mental and physical health up. I needed PT from all the muscle strains the one place gave me, for instance.
I also drank roasted cacao daily for a good theobromine and caffeine kick! It really did help me feel like “it’ll all be ok” during the worst of it.
I don't suppose toxic people think/know that they are toxic, so how do I find out if we are?
Those two things make me think your management either sucks, or fucked up and wants to know what your coworker will say.
If you had a good relationship w/ this person already, you could take them out to coffee and pretty much ask, "so, what happened?". Since you don't, and since your coworker is presumably not stupid, you're probably going to get the same answer that your management team would get.
Which brings me to my next point: your management team should know. If this person's boss isn't doing weekly 1-1s and closely monitoring this person's enthusiasm for the job and company, then they're an incompetent boss. That's table stakes for competent management.
Particularly when a coworker quits over an "I'm not a good fit", that means (1) there's a problem, and (2) I don't trust management. Acting as an agent of management isn't going to get the answer.
You can sit and worry all day, every day about whether or not you're toxic in the eyes of someone else. I wouldn't be surprised if there are specific instances you can think of where you had an interaction with this person that didn't go the way you wanted it to and now you're worried you're the reason they're leaving. It's very unlikely.
Some people will always just interpret your actions / words in a way you didn't intend. This, in my opinion, is why it's so important to be true to yourself. Live your life by your principles and the way you think is right. If someone thinks you're toxic, and you're confident you're not, then it's fine. You're not going to get along with all 7 billion people on earth.
>I am haunted by the question "what if it has been our work environment that caused the move?"
What's haunting about it? They say "yes," you guys are toxic. Okay. You find out what it is they thought was toxic. You evaluate it within your framework of right and wrong. And you either say, "yep, I was toxic. I'm sorry. Whoops, better do better next time," or you say, "I don't think I was toxic, but I can see how you'd think that. I'm sorry about that, thank you for telling me," or you say, "this guy is a nutjob if he thinks that is toxicity. Good luck in your next role," and you move on and live your life.
It sounds to me like you're not confident in your interpersonal interactions, and you're worried that you're coming off as toxic. And that if someone thinks you were acting toxically, that it's some kind of life sentence that will stay on your Permanent Record. Don't sweat it. We're all trying to figure out how to act with people. Some people are much better at it than others. People make mistakes, and people move on.
If the resignation caught you by surprise, it's unlikely he/she will tell you the real motivation. People often start the contemplation long before they decide to leave. IMO.
If it was a surprise, there's also a non-zero chance they were fired. "Not a good fit" is vague enough to not really mean anything, but good enough to be able to move on with.
Besides that, OP is going to have a very short question if their idea of speaking to their colleague is to interrogate them, and what the OP is thinking about feels very official.
To add a little from my perspective, one good way to find out if you are toxic is to speak to some psychologists. Either industrial organizational psychologists for the business or a traditional therapist for the individual.
Alternatively, if there is enough data, some metric comparing rates of resignations over time to your industry norm may be instructive.
Meanwhile some answers in this thread are inadvertently confirming that the theSage actually has a problem they need to deal with and might actually be toxic, with practically zero evidence to support it.
theSage sounds like he's worried about being the reason his colleague left; that it's his fault. We've all had that kind of worry sometimes when something unexpected has happened, and we think it's because of us for some reason.
And in that case, what theSage needs isn't someone to confirm or deny his so-called toxicity, it's a close friend they can confide in over a beer or whatever. They can talk about what work has been like and how someone quit and how they feel about it without involving their ex-colleague.
More directly to your reply, toxicity is certainly something worth discussing with a professional. Not everyone has close friends that they can rely on and using friends as an echo chamber can be detrimental to growth.
The worry that you noted can often indeed be normal but it is also absolutely within the scope of a counseling psychologist to consider for treatment if it is a pervasive, detrimental thing.
Similarly, worrying excessively about the departure of a colleague can be abnormal in some situations. I understand the normal reaction to generally be along the lines of wishing the best for the person, rather than to perform an inquiry (nigh investigation) into the full details of the matter. Granted, if this were a departure along the lines of a foundational employee, then some inquiry would be appropriate, and generally so for any random employee, of course. But the choice of language, at the least, does seem to imply a concern beyond the norm. Not having details, perhaps it is entirely justified. At the same time, if theSage (hi you), is concerned about worrying too much, dismissing that out of hand as something that can be solved over a beer may not be sufficient advice either.
To your point about diagnosing toxicity, there are indeed conditions, both organizationally speaking and individually speaking, that overlap with “toxicity” as a symptom. There are a number of personality issues that can give rise to behavior that would be considered to be toxic to healthy people. Similarly, industrial organizational psychology does include organizational dysfunction within its scope of inquiry. For example, what traits, beliefs, and attitudes, when held by management, are toxic to the health of an organization?
Perhaps an IO psychologist could be consulted by theSage to provide a checklist of organizational traits to be marked as observed or not observed, by the departing colleague. Such a thing is a practice performed during exit interviews for large enterprises.
The conditions that can be identified and diagnosed might have deeper roots so, yes, it’s better to take that to a professional than to hash it out on a forum. But it should not have been framed as being toxic - that just adds another layer of complexity to the situation.
> a toxic worker is defined as a worker that engages in behavior that is harmful to an organization, including either its property or people.
By that definition, you become toxic when you introduce a bug. You become toxic when you make a mistake.
For example, if it read “engages in unethical behavior that is harmful”, you then need an operational definition of either ethical or unethical behaviors. It’d be an understatement to call that a difficult thing to define.
Maybe there’s some way they could have incorporated intentionality into the operational definition, but I suspect that it would introduce some gaps as a model of reality.
I’d argue that an intentional pattern of creating bugs would be the toxic thing whereas a pattern of accidentally creating bugs would be incompetence. Isolated or routine cases of bugs being introduced would be the normal course of software implementation.
Business processes and development techniques would be the organizational defense against the introduction of bugs and would probably be the source of the dividing line between when a worker toxically creates bugs and when not toxic.
Friends are people who are cool with you, by definition. Even if you are toxic.
You are toxic is also meaningless. Professional can tell you more exactly what is problem and help you solve it.
Were you their supervisor/manager/lead? If so, the standard answer is to have regular 1:1s with your staff, so things like this do not come as a surprise.
And you cannot always keep everyone. Sometimes things really are not a fit. The last job I left was for reasons that had nothing to do with the team or product, or anything easily changeable. I simply wasn't OK with the commute to a new office. There are a myriad of personal reasons that someone might not want to work somewhere. That doesn't mean the company is flawed - it just means people are different, and have different preferences and needs.
I'd recommend spending less focus on why one person left, and more on ongoing discussions with the people who remain, as well as being sure new staff has every opportunity to learn about the company, so they can self-select out before they are hired if they see anything that would not work well for them.
So while you try to gather information, keep in mind that "not a good fit" could be a polite way of saying "It's none of your business and kindly butt the hell out of my private life, thank you."
Not everything that happens around you is about "you"/the company. That's not how life works.
When you leave sometimes you don't want to help improve things for people staying, you just want/need to get the heck out. It can feel petty to present a laundry list of things you wish your former employer would change.
I'd approach that head on and assure them that:
1. You will keep anything they say confidential (unless there's anything illegal that surfaces)
2. You are acting in an unofficial capacity, not as a company person
3. You are having the conversation to help the other team members, not the company (because they will likely care more about them)
4. You want to hear whatever they have to say, no matter how big or small
But I generally find that people who are leaving are quite open about the reasons, when asked. Especially if they are more about the job rather than themselves.
Timing is important -- if you want to get useful information, you need to time the exit interview 1-3 months after departure so there's (typically) no fear of repercussion so folks' views tend to be more candid.
If you want to avoid these things in the future, a reasonable strategy is to be really clear in setting expectations of the people who work there and the metrics by which they are evaluated. Then check in with them regularly and talk about both of those things. That will keep the employee and the manager on the same page and it will be a surprise to neither of them when things change.
You're right that people leaving is normal. What I'd like to be sure of is that they are leaving because of the right reasons.
If you are in a leadership role at the company he/she may not want to open up to you for fear of reprisal even if you two have been friendly. If you two are teammates and you do not have a leadership role they may still not feel comfortable opening up to you because likely they have made comments and if no one picked up on it to discuss with them then they will feel you are complicit or accepting of the situation and don't want to create tension.
There is no harm trying to learn why for sure, but also know sometimes (especially with more senior people) people recognize when their thought processes, methodologies just don't align well with a team or company so they will remove themselves. This doesn't actually mean there is anything wrong with the company/team or with that person, just they recognized the differences and know those would create conflict, tension or struggles for themselves on the team. This is a healthy thing to have happen. That said, it is a very small number of the people that leave usually, more common reasons of leaving are for a lack of recognition, money and/or progress.
If you and the person leaving are both IC's then ask them from a place of curiosity to better understand what they might have seen that you haven't. This is probably the best way to get data points and be non-threatening to the person. When I say non-threatening, I don't mean you literally threatening them, but if you come at them with 20 questions it can start to feel like an interrogation and the persons self defense mechanisms will go up and conversation will go no where.
If you are in any kind of leadership role at the company, come at them from the place of not wanting to lose a good person, but respecting that sometimes people move on for a whole host of reasons. From your perspective you are trying to confidentially understand what the company could do better or change that might make the difference for the next person. Approach it this way, once they tell you if the asks are reasonable say if we made these adjustments would you stay, but don't approach the entire conversation from a place of would you stay. Approach it from the point of view to make sure issues are resolved for the rest of the team and the next people coming in. This is the best way to get data points usually and do so in a way people feel more open to chat. If at the end you ask them if these changes were made would you stay and they say no, then ask why not? That sometimes will open up a more true reason.
*edit: changed a word for readability
Not their friend? Why on earth would you think they owe you an answer to any of the questions you listed?
You are talking in an unofficial capacity I don't think any of your proposed questions should be discussed; except maybe showing interest in their future, did they already get another job? If not let them know you can be used as a reference.
> What other things can I ask them to prevent/improve this situation in the future?
Don't ask, if they trust you they will let you know. May have nothing to do with your company at all.
Honestly, I think you need to ask yourself the questions you are proposing, if you are paying attention then you already know the answers.
A lot of one-on-ones are done wrong. 80% of the talking should come from the employee not the manager. Ask them what they want, where they want their career to go, what anxieties/insecurities/discomfort they have with the company and what they're working on, what needs to be moved out of the way.
To answer the first question, this is what needs to happen. Just listen to them. Don't come in with a list of questions.
This is a really good general cop-out answer because it avoids creating hard-feelings or burning bridges if there was actually a more specific complaint (I hate working with that guy, my manager sucks, the work is super boring, product is stupid, pay sucks etc.)
First thing to check is, where the person is next going, are they going to be making more money? If so that is likely a reason. Another reason could be that they thought their potential for advancement at your company was low, at least in comparison to somewhere else. If the employee is an engineer, it could also be that they thought their learning had slowed or they were not working on the right kind of tech they wanted to for their career. For me, these career related reasons are the most likely reasons I would jump ship.
It's important to note that you shouldn't take a career-motivated jump personally. The only thing you can do is try to reorganize your company to make this less likely, by paying more, giving more opportunity for advancement, or working on/with sexier tech.
If it's not about career, it's probably either interpersonal or cultural. Maybe they feel socially excluded? Maybe their manager is too distant, an asshole, or a creep? Maybe they don't want to work as long / the same hours as everyone else?
Regardless, there is a very good chance you will never get a straight answer, or will get some fake, nice excuses. This type of thing requires introspection, not an exit interview.
Maybe wait until 2 weeks after the person has left and invite him or her out for a beer or a coffee and then have an informal chat.
Personally I find when folks ask me specific questions about my job ... we don't have a common language and I have no idea what they really mean by what they're asking.
Also be open to the idea that this was just bound to happen and it is nobody's fault. Some jobs just aren't for some people depending on any number of factors.
I think an example would help?
Personally I don’t think seeking such a conversation when somebody is leaving won’t do good for anybody.
1) employees leave mostly because of manager
2) Not being challenged enough at work
3) Got a job at another company with better pay
4) personal reason, burn out etc.
1a) Employee not being given clear guidance of what they're meant to achieve
1b) Employee being micromanaged intolerably
1c) Employee being told to take responsibility for something while not being given the power to fix it
1d) Employee not being allowed any autonomy or scope for creativity
1e/2a) Employee being forced to spend their entire working life cleaning up others' messes with no chance to work on anything new and interesting ("because you're good at fixing problems!") while those same others go on to trainwreck each new project
2b) Corporate goals limiting employee's ability to build the best product they can build (through some attempt to avoid competing with another product line, for instance)
That's certainly not the case with toxic coworkers. Probably there are more examples...
My company “Thanks For Sharing” is a straightforward app to help organizations avoid situations like these.
It’s designed to encourage employees to share feedback before issues reach an unsolvable state. Organizations can collect that feedback easily and built-in analytics will show trends to identify top issues.
We’re soft-launching next month... if you’re interested, shoot an email to the link in my profile and I’ll hook you up.
Are employees answers anonymous?
If yes: How do you deal with employees not trusting your word on this? Especially given that, since it's an app, people would presumably need to install it on their own devices?
If no: How do you incentivize employees to give honest (both truthful and complete) answers?
Do you have any answer to the scenario where management ignores any feedback?
Do you give provide any analytics to employees that anyone is actually reading and acting on the feedback, or is this another one-way street?
I'm skeptical - I don't think this is a problem that can be solved by an app -, but I wish you luck. In the unlikely case that you succeed it'll be great.
It’ll be more sophisticated than other survey options that aren’t built for this purpose. It’s solely for internal use and NOT a public reviews website (so that bad eggs can’t use rage to infect others).
It will default on anonymous with the option to share your identity. Based off feedback, this seems to be the best route.
As for incentivizing honest answers, we believe, again based off research, that most people will be inclined to provide that on their own, especially if they have the shelter of anonymity. There are a lot of details I don’t quite want to give away yet, but you’ll see it soon.
We’re excited and learned a lot with the feedback we’ve gotten so far and are excited for the soft launch to get more data and iterate quickly.
If I read your question, I'd not be a fit for this company either. It creeps me out when people use they for someone with a known gender.
These types of phrases are common and obvious enough that I'm surprised there's not a word for them. See also:
"I hate to tell you, but" (they don't hate to tell you, in fact the delight they get from telling you is why they're telling you)
"NOW, this may NOT be a poe-lit-tic-cull-lee core-rect thing to say, BUT" (in practice, for some reason it's very important to linger on every single syllable of "politically correct" when playing this card, maybe even roll it out so slowly that there are extra syllables, because apparently this is still 1995 and political correctness is some hot button issue that exists in their world that they're always inadvertently stumbling into) (also they're about to say something totally shitty and stupid, guaranteed, and political correctness has nothing to do with it)
"I'm not a racist, but" (they're about to say something so totally racist, and if they weren't racists themselves they'd know not to prefix anything with this phrase- it's up there with "but I have black friends" as being an obvious and transparent tell)
"I'm just keeping it real" (they really want to say the quiet part out loud and think this gives them license to do so)
"I'm a straight shooter and don't pull punches, and I hope everyone treats me the same way" (only ever said by the thinnest skinned people you'll ever meet)
"I'm going to be brutally honest" (in practice, the people who preemptively declare themselves to be brutally honest are always in it for 100% of the brutality and 0% of the honesty.)
If they want to talk to me about why, then I’m open to that, otherwise it is their business.