September 07, 2009

Exit Interview

This spring will mark ten years since I left the job that occupied most of my adult life.  Leaving wasn't my idea, but when a company is sold to another company in the same business, mass layoffs on both sides is the usual result.  The sale was no surprise to anyone, as we had been told we were up for sale before the holidays of the previous year.  Some of our group left on their own accord, but others with many years of service, like me, stayed until the takeover so we could collect what was a very generous severance package and could remain eligible for our pensions.

As the takeover date drew near, those of us who had been told that our services were not needed by the new overlords faced the looming specter of unemployment in different ways.  Some of us, like me, developed a macabre sense of humor.  Others, like the woman in the cube next to me, became manic-depressive, laughing for no reason one minute, and crying the next.

During the last week of our employment, we were asked to participate individually in an exit interview with our supervisors.  I've never really grasped the concept of an exit interview.  I don't believe that it's a federal requirement.  From the articles that I've read, I gather that it's a method for the company to improve its operations by having a frank discussion with the soon-to-be-gone employee on ways that it can improve its something, something ...  The explanation eludes me because it's always given in that business-speak bullshit that I hate to such a degree that my brain shuts down whenever I encounter it.

But we all agreed to do it, mainly because the company was still waving the severance package over our heads, and at that point we were all hopping around like monkeys on crack so we wouldn't lose it.  My exit interview was given to me by my new supervisor, SCJ. SCJ had been chosen to be my supervisor several weeks previously even though he'd never supervised before and didn't want the job.  During the last months before the sale, my supervisors changed constantly.  I began to understand what a lower level German staff officer must have felt toward the end of World War II, when all of his superiors were being removed involuntarily by Allied gunfire or treason firing squads.  On the day of my exit interview, I skipped into SCJ's office, and we got down to business.

SCJ:  This is awkward.

Me:  Tell me about it.

SCJ:  They gave me this script.  I'll just read the questions, you answer them, and we'll be out of here.

Me:  Okay, shoot.

SCJ:  Why did you decide to leave the company?

Me:  Because you fired me.

SCJ:  They didn't fire you.  They laid you off.

Me:  Are they going to un-lay me off?

SCJ:  I doubt it.

Me:  Same thing then.  Look, just write down that the company was sold.  Okay?

SCJ:  Okay.  Next question.  What do you think the company can do to improve itself?

Me:  Huh?  The company is going to be extinct in the next couple of days.  How do you improve something that doesn't exist?

SCJ:  C'mon, I didn't write these questions ...

And on it went for a half-hour, until SCJ had read all of the questions and was covered in flop sweat.  Since he was in the same boat as I was, I felt sorry for him and was glad that I hadn't been put in his shit position.

In the past ten years, I've had one more exit interview, from a job that I left entirely for my own reasons.  I never gave that supervisor a reason for leaving, other than I was just moving on.  I know this grated on him because it reflected poorly on his performance.

But in situations like that, I like to evoke that old saying ... If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

1 comment:

  1. I would have referred every question to my lawyer. My invisible lawyer sitting next to me wearing a rabbit suit.