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Make exit interviews work for your business

In our previous blog on exit interviews we asked 'Why are exit interviews an important aspect of talent management?'

Some companies avoid them altogether; some companies do them but don't drill down into the detail; some drill down but don't share the analysis with senior management. 

We know that exit interviews provide businesses with important information, identify trends and give managers the opportunity to make changes. In response to employee feedback, action can be taken which ultimately improves the way the company operates .

A happy workforce is more productive, more efficient and less likely to move to pastures new. We've identified the key factors underpinning employee decision making so we now move on to how the exit interview process should work to be effective.

What format should an exit interview take?

Various formats can work - from face to face interviews through to surveys and questionnaires and telephone conversations. Fundamentally, the interview is conducted in order that the business can learn more about itself and hopefully give both parties the opportunity to part company on good terms. 

(At this juncture, we should remind our blog readers to always stress the confidential nature of the interview in terms of any issues discussed. There are certain caveats to this - for example if a report of harassment or discrimination is made.)

So which format is best?

A survey enables data to be collected which is standard for every employee. However, this format doesn't allow for open questions or indeed establish a rapport between interviewer and interviewee in order to gain more honest and insightful information. A combination of the two is ideal; a structured approach can enable data to be analysed whilst the human interaction sends the message that the organisation is prepared to listen.

Some companies choose to administer the exit interview after the departing employee has left. It's been shown that there is still a strong correlation between answers several months after leaving and those given at the time of leaving. The added benefit of delaying the process means the interview has the potential for being less tense and more constructive.

Who should conduct the exit interview?

Typically, the HR function will take on this role.

Holding the exit interview between line manager and departing colleague may create a more negative situation - one to be avoided at all costs. Whilst the HR team will often be designated responsible due to their neutrality, this may result in overlooking the wider picture - for example  constraints around business processes and operations.

Selecting a manager from another department also offers neutrality and is an option to consider. Second or third line managers being assigned the task are by definition, more distant and this may make the interview more productive, eliciting more constructive feedback. And if cost isn't an issue, an external consultant could be used to make the process 100% objective.

At any rate, the interviewer should be able to demonstrate active listening, be empathetic, ask open questions, be friendly (not defensive), supportive and sensitive.

What to ask at an exit interview

It's a good idea to compose a standardised format of questions for your exit interview. A skilled interviewer will be able to go 'off-piste' and delve a little deeper into certain responses. We've covered the typical questions to ask here:

  1. Why are you leaving your current role?
  2. Were you actively looking for a new role?
  3. How would you describe your relationship with your manager?
  4. What did you like most about your role?
  5. What did you dislike most about your role?
  6. Did you have the tools and support to do the job well?
  7. What factors led to your resignation?
  8. Do you feel your job description changed over time?
  9. What can the business improve on?

When asking the interviewee about particular job processes or operations it's important not to offer fixes or solutions to any issues raised. Ask them how they would improve certain aspects of their job and importantly, what is it they like about the job they are moving to?

Take action on the knowledge acquired

Once the data collected has been analysed, action is required. If the exit interview doesn't raise concerns or identify trends which need to be addressed, it's still good practice to bring the results to the executive board. 

On the other hand, results may indicate improvements need to be made in terms of  recruitment, induction, training, career development or management. Results should be used in a constructive way; the exit interview is a means of making improvements in the organisation after all.

Does the organisation convey its goals and values to each team member? Do employees feel valued and their opinions matter? Are job descriptions accurate and match the requirements of the work involved? Do employees feel micro-managed - does this identify a training need in a particular manager?

Don't avoid exit interviews for fear of confrontation

Exit interviews shouldn't need to feel like a war zone. In most instances, departing employees may well have some honest opinions to voice. View it as an opportunity to manage their departure in a positive way - ex-employees can be great advocates for your business in their new position.

The rule of thumb is not to take any feedback personally, but to use it to make improvements going forward.

That said, an exit interview should never be the one opportunity to have dialogue with an employee. Implementing the means for collecting employee feedback on a frequent and regular basis are important for maintaining a positive workplace culture.

Questions like: How are we helping you be effective in your current job? Is the company helping you build a successful career? Are we supporting your career goals? Are we helping you to have a fulfilling life?

These questions are key indicators of dissatisfaction and in these turbulent times when employee turnover is volatile, indicators need to be identified and acted upon.

How can Q&A People Matter help you?

Do you need advice setting up an exit interview strategy or advice concerning other HR-related matters?

Contact us - we're here to help you.


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