Everything You Need to Know About Exit Interviews

What’s broken? What works great? What needs to be changed? Are there growing human resource issues that you don’t know about?

Oddly, one of the best ways to find out the answers to these questions about your business is when an employee is leaving, during the exit interview. And, for better or for worse, since about 80% of dissatisfied employees are already planning an exit, you’ll have a chance to conduct a fair number of interviews.

An exit interview is more for the employer’s benefit than the employee. It can provide the employer with a chance to capitalize on the experience and knowledge of the employee one last time. It’s during this interview that you probe to find out what is working and should stay the same, what needs to be changed, and what is completely broken.

Whether you choose to give every employee an exit interview, or only particular management or salary levels of employees, the exit interview process needs to be carefully constructed. We’ll explain the reasons for that, and how to do it, in this article.

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Why Exit Interviews Are Important

If you’re not convinced of the value of an exit interview, consider:

  1. Employees are more honest during an exit interview. During an exit interview, you might find out why you’ve been having employee turnover problems. You might discover the source of personnel conflicts. The reason? Some employees are wary of talking about some of this while they’re still employed, but during the exit interview, they have a new freedom to do so. They don’t have to worry about losing their job, so they speak freely.
  2. You find out specifically why the employee is leaving. You may think you know the reason they are leaving, or have heard rumors, but it’s useful to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. You might be surprised.
  3. You can learn about how the employee perceives work. Find out what the employee thought about efficiency, culture, expectations, stress—maybe the job wasn’t a good fit all along. This leads well into the next point, regarding your hiring process.
  4. You find out how good your hiring process is. The exit interview is at the end of a retention failure, but since retention starts with hiring, the interview is still part of the retention chain. An optimal hiring process, that feeds retention, is always your goal.
  5. You can ask about specific areas of concern. Whether you’re not confident in how your managers are doing, or if your workplace culture or benefit programs are resonating with employees, the exit interview is a good place to find out.
  6. You can uncover HR problems. It’s easy to simply ask questions about benefits or salary since that is a concrete data point to use for why a person might leave. But often, HR and management issues actually play a more important role.
  7. You can find gaps in salary and benefits. An exit interview is a good time to determine how your business compares with others, particularly if the employee is leaving based on salary considerations.
  8. You can end things on a positive note. While you can’t always control the reasons or situation surrounding an employee leaving, a well-conducted exit interview can help ensure that the last contact with your company is positive. That matters. They may be in a position to recommend your company to potential future employees or other business connections. Think of a departing employee as an “ambassador and customer”.

Preparing For An Exit Interview

A great exit interview is one you’ve prepared for ahead of time. They should not be approached haphazardly.

  1. Prepare emotionally. Every employee handles an exit interview differently, depending on their personality and how they feel about your business. Remember, it’s not personal. Be patient, even if the employee can’t provide the detail you want. This is a time for you to listen, not argue and be defensive. If you find yourself struggling with any of these, focus on taking excellent notes to fill in the gaps of where your patience is running short, your feelings are getting in the way, or you are tempted to interrupt.
  2. Don’t use a direct supervisor. Find someone from HR, or another supervisor to give the interview, and not the employee’s immediate supervisor.
  3. Prepare for privacy. The interview should be in person, one-on-one, private, and confidential. Let the employee know that you won’t be telling other employees about what they say. Let them know that the information will be collected anonymously and that you aren’t building a file on them. Keep your word.
  4. Have your questions ready. These questions should be the same ones you use at all exit interviews.
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Common Exit Interview Mistakes

The first mistake, of course, is not giving an exit interview. But, even businesses who do exit interviews are making mistakes.

  1. Doing nothing with the information collected. The point of an exit interview isn’t just to check off a box on a list. It’s to get information that you’ll use to make decisions and changes. This is especially true if you have employee turnover issues. Look at their exit interviews, and see if there’s a common denominator. In a recent study, fewer than one-third of those who conducted exit interviews could identify a specific action taken that stemmed from an interview. That means that two-thirds of exit interview programs are basically just talk, with no plan to do anything with the information. In the same study, fewer than a third of the interviewers shared the information with anyone who could actually make decisions.
  2. Non-standard interview questions. Your interview questions should be carefully planned, and then those questions should be used consistently during all interviews. While you may ask follow-up questions as the conversation directs, you need to have a standard set of questions so that you’re able to compare the answers given and make better sense of the information. If you ask one employee what they thought of their manager, but not the other, you’ll have inconsistent information when it comes time to make decisions.
  3. Slipping into employee gossip and drama. Some employees might be tempted to get even with others and talk about them during the interview in the hopes of getting them in trouble. Conversations need to be steered and kept on productive answers, not gossip. Be wary of being used by an exiting disgruntled employee who wants to drop a bomb on your staff as they walk out the door.
  4. Taking interview responses personally for retaliatory purposes. If your exit interviews are known to haunt people down the road in future jobs, you won’t hear honest answers. Some employees are going to be very blunt and emotional. Whether you like or agree with what they have to say, the interview isn’t a tool to threaten or negate the employee’s future jobs.
  5. Waiting too long to give the interview. It’s best to give the exit interview before the employee mentally checks out. Some businesses do it a month or so after the employee left, but that will not work for all industries. You’ll need to find out what works best, but it may be shortly after announcing they are leaving and before the final week of work.

The exit interview is not meant to be a dumping ground, a place where everyone unloads all of the anger they’ve had (particularly if the employee is leaving under a less than perfect scenario). Carefully and tactfully direct the conversation to stay on track at all times, and control your response.

Some businesses conduct a multi-pronged approach to the exit interview (interview, survey, phone call). Whatever you choose to use, your exit interview process is a key part of your decision-making process when it comes to hiring, human resources, and employee policies. Remember, your employees are your most important asset. You need to find out why those assets sometimes choose to walk out the door.

 

Everything You Need to Know About Exit Interviews