Some think that exit interviews serve no purpose, since they occur once the employee has decided to leave the company.  Because of this – the reasoning goes – they come far too late to be useful.

This is just not the case.  An employee’s reasons for separation provide valuable insights into corporate culture, management practices, and company policies.  These insights can then provide opportunities for the company to improve their retention programs.

Remember, departing employees have nothing to lose by being totally honest about their reasons for leaving and their experience with the company.

However, a soon-to-be-ex-worker does bring some concerns to the exit interview.  First, they are worried about damaging relationships that might extend beyond the term of employment.  Friendships developed at one company do extend beyond start and quit dates; employees who plan to stay in touch with former co-workers do not want to feel like they are “bad-mouthing” anyone left behind.

In addition, employees may be less frank about management’s shortcomings due to fears of a bad job reference.  They do not want to burn bridges.

When conducting the exit interview, do not talk – listen. Give the employee time and space to answer. Elicit and encourage where appropriate, rather than coerce or compel.  Keep calm and resist the urge to defend or argue – your aim is to bring about views, feedback, answers – not to lecture or admonish.

Ask open –ended questions using “what…, how…., why” vs.  asking closed “yes” or “no” questions, which are only required for specific confirmation of a point.  “’Who” should be avoided so that there is no perception of allocating blame or “bad-mouthing”.  Exit interviews are not about ‘blame’; they are about gaining insights.

Preparation is the key to conducting a good interview; in the same way you prepare for an interview, prepare for an exit interview.  Note the questions and topics that you’d like to explore, especially when you believe that the employee has had a good experience.

Take notes and/or use a prepared questionnaire form.  These interviews should not be conducted in a perfunctory, haphazard manner.

Feedback, though illuminating, is not useful from just one exit interview. Only through speaking with all departing employees, will you be able to identify trends that point to chronic or systemic weaknesses in the company’s retention management.  Therefore, it is vital to track all answers, look for long-term trends and take action to correct mistakes or improve areas in which management excels.

The exit interview is your last chance to get employee feedback. Leverage this opportunity!

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