7 tips for better exit interviews

Employee and employer during an exit interview

Your employee quit. Now what?

Exit interviews are a crucial part of the employee resignation process. They can provide valuable insight into their business and organization. But how to you ensure that your departing employee is being as honest as possible? And what should we be doing with the information they provide?

We asked Sarah Paul, director of human resources for Govan Brown, for some tips on getting the most of an exit interview from start to finish.

Here are seven tips for conducting better exit interviews:

  1. Make them feel comfortable

To gather useful information from the departing employee, you need to make them feel comfortable in the interview. The meeting should take place with someone from HR or an outside consultant – never an immediate manager. Guarantee confidentiality, and assure them they can speak freely.

Set up the interview room to put the employee at ease. Alternatively, Paul suggests trying an offsite location such as a coffee shop, for example, as a neutral territory that is out of earshot at the workplace.

  1. Have a conversation, not an interview

Try to keep the interview as close to a conversation as possible (rather than firing off a bunch of questions). While it is important to ask probing questions, it doesn’t have to be as formal and structured as an interview.

See where the conversation goes. Keep in mind that the entire point of the meeting is to help encourage dialogue and gather intel – and that can’t happen if the employee doesn’t believe they can speak freely.

  1. Brace yourself

When you encourage a departing employee to be honest, it isn’t always going to be pretty. After all, Paul warns, the tone of the meeting can go both ways.

“Some will be leaving because they are not happy, frustrated or dissatisfied…this meeting may be a bit more heated,” she explains. “Other employees may simply be moving onto a better opportunity and open to providing honest and useful feedback.”

Either way, be prepared to listen to what they have to say, and accept any feedback they are willing to provide, bad or good.

  1. Learn about the greener pastures

If an employee has been enticed elsewhere, you’ll want to find out why. It’s valuable information to inform your hiring – especially if you’re having trouble attracting top talent.

And remember: it’s not just about compensation. Research has shown that it’s not just money that prompts an exit, despite what candidates say. According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace, the most common reasons for switching jobs are career growth, pay and benefits, company culture, job fit, and management (more on that last one below).

Find out which of these had an impact on your employee’s decision to leave, and think about how you can tweak your own employee benefits to prevent it from happening again.

  1. Ask about their boss (yes, really)

As mentioned above, management is one of the top reasons an employee will voluntarily leave a company. We’ve said it before: issues with managers can have a huge impact on morale, engagement, and loyalty.

To see if this is part of the reason why your employee is leaving, ask about their experiences and the day-to-day culture of working within your organization.

Paul recommends asking about things like the quality of leadership, teamwork across and within departments, opportunities for advancement, and internal policies. All of these can easily cover someone’s experiences with management without overtly asking.

  1. Talk to their peers

If you’re having trouble getting in-depth information from your employee – they might be dead-set on being diplomatic, or avoiding burning bridges, after all – you can try an alternative route: asking their peers.

Research shows that workers close to the departing employee are actually more forthcoming with responses, and have proven to be a valid indicator of their state of mind.

  1. Put the information to good use

“If HR is on their game, they will make effective use of the information and not let it sit on a shelf somewhere,” says Paul, who regularly uses insights from exit interviews as signals for overall employee engagement.

She also suggests taking it one step further, gathering intel from the current team even before a resignation comes up.

“HR may want to take the temperature of the entire workforce and conduct an employee engagement survey. Why wait for the next superstar to leave?”

See also:
Why people quit (and how to prevent it)
Should your organization use stay interviews?


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