Exit Interviews

Getting Feedback From Departing Staff

Always conduct an Exit Interview

Why is she leaving?

© iStockphoto/mihaicalin

Do you want to know what is really going on in your organization? Then talk to people who are leaving. 

Departing employees may leave for very good reasons, and learning what these are can help you improve your company's performance. All you need to do is find out what these reasons are!

The information collected in an exit interview can give you a unique perspective on how satisfied your people are, as well as on the performance of your organization. People tend to be brutally honest about their experiences in an exit interview – they no longer have to please their bosses, and they have little to fear by being honest. Because of this, the feedback you get from exit interviews can be very useful for identifying problems with operations, performance and staff retention.

Your exit interviews may reveal a common theme. You can then focus on this and turn it into a catalyst for change. Perhaps your salary and benefits package is not generous enough? Maybe your promotional opportunities are too limited? Or perhaps you might hear consistent complaints about a certain manager, and decide to investigate the issue yourself. If you aren't conducting exit interviews you're missing out on some really great information!

Essentially, exit interviews do two things. Firstly, they reveal opportunities for improvement. Secondly, they encourage people to leave on a positive note. An exit interview is your last chance to say "We value you and your opinion." This may be enough to leave a positive impression, no matter what the real reason for leaving.

Conducting the Interview

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding how to conduct exit interviews in your organization. These include:

Who should conduct the interview?

The most common choice is to have an internal HR person do it. They should both understand the dynamics of your organization and know the people involved. This means that he or she can dig deeper into issues and ask more pointed questions. The interviewee is more likely to reveal problems to an impartial HR representative than to his or her manager. Indeed, the manager might well be at the root of the problem, and at the same time might be needed as a future referee. Other potential interviewers include a neutral manager, or a mentor the person trusts.

Some organizations choose to outsource exit interviews to protect confidentiality. The interviewing body aggregates information, so comments really do remain anonymous. Although the added cost is a potential deterrent, on the plus side you should be guaranteed an experienced interviewer who knows how to gather data effectively. In addition, the departing employee is very likely to be cooperative and honest.

Whoever conducts the interview, it's essential they are trained in active listening and are empathic. The exit interview may become emotional and the interviewer needs to know how to let the person vent their frustrations, and leave them feeling listened to and understood.

What questions should be asked?

Here are some examples that you, or the person interviewing on your behalf, could include:

  • Why are you leaving?
  • Have you secured a new job?
  • Did you seek out the new opportunity or were you headhunted?
  • When did you decide to leave and/or start looking for a new job?
  • What do you feel is done well in your department?
  • What could we be doing better in your department?
  • What barriers exist that make it hard to get your job done?
  • What is your opinion of the workload and work allocation?
  • What is your opinion of the bureaucracy within your department and the organization as a whole?
  • What problems exist that we might not know about?
  • What could the business as a whole be doing better?
  • What's your opinion of our compensation and benefits package?

Don't consider asking questions you don't want answered. By asking a question you indicate that you intend to make changes if the answer suggests they are necessary. When people give feedback and nothing is done it can damage your credibility. Do not forget that the departing employee will almost certainly stay in touch with someone in your organization, and is likely to be aware whether any action is taken!

You'll note that some of these questions use the word...

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