Tedious. Laborious. Honest. Blunt.
These are all adjectives used to describe exit interviews. Most employers do not conduct exit interviews because of the adjectives above. All employers should conduct exit interviews because of another adjective: adapt. If you’re not finding value from exit interviews, you’re not doing them right. How do I know? I’ve spent over a decade managing HR departments within corporations and currently am an HR consultant helping new businesses ensure they are not making costly employee related mistakes. The insight that follows stems from my experiences within organizations in a wide range of business.
What are exit interviews?
Exit interviews are not performance reviews and should be more informal and conversational in nature. In fact, start calling your exit interviews something else: exit conversations. These exit conversations still need structure so don’t think informal means no agenda. Just like when the person was interviewed for the job, notes were taken and certain questions were prepared in advance. The same attitude should be taken here. Without something to guide the exit conversation, you may not obtain the data you seek. This doesn’t have to be a questionnaire but it should be a corporate guide to ensure proper data is collected. And let’s not forget to collect company property. If you didn’t have the guide, you might have let the employee walk out without collecting their badge or keys.
Questions to ask in exit conversations
What should these exit conversations look like? You should ask open ended questions. Not only will this further the discussion but it will also provide you with insight. Ask why and what questions:
- Why are you leaving?
- What did you enjoy about working here?
- What was your least favorite part about working here?
- If you were put in charge, what would be the first three things you would change immediately?
And then listen to the answers and ask follow up questions. Dig deep and you will find valuable information. Stay away from questions like:
- Did you like your manager?
- Are you leaving because you have a better offer?
- Can I change your mind?
These questions inherently elicit yes or no answers. Stay away from these types of questions. You want the individual to speak freely. You’ll get the answers to the above questions if you just allow the person to talk. Remember, silence is okay. Most people don’t like silence and will fill the void. Let that person be the employee, not you.
When and how to conduct exit conversations
Exit conversations should only be conducted on voluntary departures. Involuntary departures are ripe with emotion and neither party will find them valuable. With voluntary departures, the employee will feel more welcome to discuss open and honestly with the company representative.
Speaking of which, who should represent the company in these exit conversations? You want to make sure you keep tensions low so you want to avoid the departing employee’s direct supervisor. You also need to make sure that when the employee launches into a vent session, which can happen, the corporate representative is able to calmly respond and not take words personally. You’re probably thinking this needs to be an HR representative. While that’s a good idea, it doesn’t have to be a person from HR. It can be a mentor the departing employee trusts. It can even be a third party. Going this route, while more costly, treats the exit conversation as a business meeting where data is gathered; nothing more and nothing less. This can be an easy, though not inexpensive way, to diffuse tension. If you decide to keep this in house, take all necessary precautions to ensure the corporate representative is from HR or a neutral party in a management position.
In an effort to keep the conversation flowing, make sure it is clear to the departing employee that their comments will be kept confidential. The number one reason employees hold back during conversations with supervisors is fear of retribution. When an employee is leaving, that fear no longer exists. When an employee, even a departing one, can provide honest and blunt feedback, employers should listen as the impression is probably widespread among employees.
Benefits of exit conversations
Exit conversations must be conducted on every departing employee. You cannot make business decisions based on one individual. You need data that is not only collected and tracked but also, and especially, analyzed.
What will the data show? Recurring themes. And that is where you focus corporate adaptation. If employees who leave are consistently saying management provides unclear direction on job duties, you can adapt. If departing employees say the tools to do their job are inadequate, you can adapt. If departing employees under the same manager say that manager is unqualified, you can adapt.
Let’s bring this all together. What is the overall corporate goal of exit conversations? Employee retention. But exit conversations alone won’t provide greater employee retention. In order to reach that point, the data obtained from the exit conversations must produce a result.
Discovering why employees leave is only the beginning. The real work starts when you take action to prevent future turnover. Consistently reviewing and analyzing the trends will provide you with exceptional insight. This insight leads you to adapt positive changes to not only retain employees but also attract top talent. Without exit conversations and without analyzing the trends of departing employees, you will find yourself with a revolving door of employees and miss out on attracting and retaining top talent.
Author: Bryan John Driscoll
Bryan is a former lawyer, current freelance writer and HR consultant. Bryan prides himself on being able to provide quality written pieces and consulting expertise to his clients in a timely and defect free manner. Bryan loves to travel and, if he had his way, would constantly be jetting off to another destination.