No supervisor or business owner likes to see their key employees leave. A worker’s resignation starts a chain of events that can put stress on everyone in the office, and cost the company money as you try to find a suitable replacement. This can lead many managers to try to move on quickly once the employee leaves. But cutting your losses may not be the best approach. Thoughtful exit interviews are crucial to better hiring and improving employee retention for the rest of your team.

Why Exit Interviews are Important

Many managers look at exit interviews as a tool for correcting organizational failure: an employee is leaving, and they feel like they need to find out why and what they could have done to make them stay. It is true that exit interviews are catalysts for change in the workplace. But they should be viewed less as a way to minimize a failure, and more as a tool for improving the future of your company.

An exit interview has 3 main purposes:

  1. To determine if the working relationship with the employee can be saved;
  2. To convert a departing employee into a company ambassador;
  3. To learn how the company can improve its policies, procedures, and, yes, compensation packages.

 It is this third purpose that allows companies to incorporate data from exit interviews into their organizational reviews and strategic planning, with a goal toward improving workplace satisfaction and employee retention, as well as allowing companies to engage in better hiring practices in the future.

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The 5 W’s of Exit Interviews

Who: The Interviewee

Some companies reserve exit interviews for star performers, top level executives, and long-time employees. But there is truth to be learned even from short-duration hires. Making exit interviews mandatory for all employees can provide insights into aspects of the company that aren’t apparent at the upper levels. For example, interviewing a short-term employee may reveal that the job description used to hire them did not align with the work they were asked to perform. Interviewing low-level employees may also uncover trends in poor management strategies that create a toxic workplace environment.

What: The Method

Depending on the size of your company and your turnover rate, you may want to conduct your exit interviews using surveys, questionnaires, phone interviews, one-on-one interviews, or some combination of each. Surveys and questionnaires provide you with data that is easy to aggregate to identify trends, but they also limit your ability to receive novel feedback. Interviews provide a wider range of information, but they can be skewed by the biases of the interviewer, and the data received can be harder to align with other responses. A short survey followed by a phone or in-person interview can give you the best of both worlds.

Where: HR vs Outside Consultants

Exit interviews are only as useful as the interviewee’s candor allows. The identity of the interviewer, and their role in the company structure can drastically impair a soon-to-be-former employee’s willingness to openly discuss the company’s shortfalls. Whenever possible, pass over the employee’s direct supervisor, assigning the interview task to the next level up, to the human resource department, or best of all, to an outside consultant. This will improve confidentiality and allow the employee to speak freely without concern that what they say will negatively impact their ability to get references in the future.

When: The Timing for Effective Exit Interviews

Companies often wait until an employee’s last days to perform their exit interviews, but as the employee is walking out the door may be the worst time to ask why they are leaving. Surveys can be sent out in the days immediately following an employee’s notice. However, interviews often benefit from some additional distance to allow the employee’s emotions to cool. Spreading out the exit interview process also allows the interviewers to compare the employee’s responses to see if they are consistent.  

Why: Using the Results of Exit Interviews

Unfortunately, many companies that use exit interviews stop their analysis as soon as they know why the employee left. This limits the effectiveness of the process and prevents the company from learning from the broader trends. It is important to work with your company’s organizational consultant to aggregate what was learned and apply those lessons to the company’s vision and goals so that changes can be made to the hiring and employee retention processes.

David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 25 years’ experience in improving workplace culture and employee retention. Through business consulting and facilitation, David helps employers reduce employee turnover and make effective use of exit interviews. Contact us to meet with David to move toward high organizational functioning today.