Flipping the Script: How Conducting Exit Interviews Can Strengthen Your Organization

Flipping the Script: How Conducting Exit Interviews Can Strengthen Your Organization

Conducting exit interviews makes for one of the most valuable employee retention strategies available to companies, providing HR professionals with the information needed to improve processes and offer greater incentives for workers to stay. According to Gallup, losing one employee costs “anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to 1.5-2.0 times an employee’s annual salary.” 

Collecting employee feedback upon a worker’s exit saves money in the long run, though the final interview requires well-constructed questions to ensure the best possible insight. HR professionals and companies interested in bolstering both their employee satisfaction and employee retention numbers should strongly consider implementing exit interviews as standard practice.

What is an Exit Interview?

Exit interviews occur once an employee has turned in their resignation, and are usually scheduled on their final day at work. These sessions can be held face-to-face or via a survey sent to the worker’s email or home address. HR associates dealing with retention and recruitment are typically the individuals responsible for conducting exit interviews. 

An effective exit interview is designed as a productive exchange between employee and employer. Typical exit interviews cover the worker’s experience with the company, including the following:

  • Their reasons for leaving
  • Their supervisors and teams
  • Their responsibilities
  • Their salary
  • What, if anything, could have enticed them to stay

HR associates can start finding patterns in employee satisfaction after collecting enough data from departing workers. From there, they are able to speak with decision makers about what changes need to be made in order to increase employee retention and ensure that the workplace becomes a satisfying environment for all involved. 

The benefits of conducting exit interviews extend well beyond improved conditions, however. 

Benefits of Conducting Exit Interviews

The importance of exit interviews cannot go understated. This practice offers insight into what makes an employee leave or stay, as well as saves the company significant sums of money in the long run. Many of the benefits to conducting exit interviews cannot be measured in financial terms, though. 

On the whole, exit interviews facilitate a corporate culture of trust and transparency, where workers feel like they can voice concerns and be taken seriously. 

Other benefits to exit interviews include the following:

  • Closure: An exit interview gives employees a chance to air the grievances that compelled them to leave, since they no longer have to worry about jeopardizing their career by speaking up. This provides everyone an opportunity to move forward without the stress of lingering questions.
  • Better PR: Employees who feel as if their concerns are adequately addressed during their exit interview are less likely to go public about their negative experiences. A 2021 Glassdoor survey revealed that 85% of job seekers read reviews from current and former employees before deciding to apply at a given company, and 50% of candidates would not work for an employer with a bad reputation regardless of the pay.    
  • Increases an employee’s chance of returning: According to a Work Trends study, 15% of employees “boomerang” back to a previous employer. Furthermore, HR professionals interviewed for the study reported that 56% have given high priority to rehiring former employees who left under positive circumstances, while 46% reported that about half of the former employees who reapplied later were rehired.
  • More organized off-boarding: Formalized exit interview protocols also offer up a chance to tie up any remaining loose ends in the off-boarding process. For example, coordinating equipment returns, going over NDAs and other legal paperwork, and anything else HR requires to ensure a smooth split. 

The most effective data is collected from trained HR professionals who understand how to conduct an exit interview in a way that encourages employees to open up and speak their minds honestly and comprehensively.  

How to Have an Effective Exit Interview

Exit interview best practices emphasize clear, honest communication between both the individual tasked with conducting the proceedings (usually an HR representative) and the departing employee. Anything that may put the worker on the defensive or otherwise discourages them from sharing their experiences must be avoided. 

The most effective exit interviews yielding the most valuable information take the following measures:

  • Does not include the employee’s supervisors in the proceedings
  • Clearly outlines intentions when scheduling the interview
  • Makes confidentiality a non-negotiable priority
  • Displays a positive, supportive attitude toward the employee’s new ventures
  • Takes any concerns the employee expresses seriously
  • Actively works toward implementing feedback

Keeping all of these strategies in mind helps ensure that the exit interview runs smoothly, the company receives the information necessary to move forward, and the employee concludes their stint with greater peace of mind. 

Exit Interview Pitfalls to Avoid

Companies benefit greatly from exit interviews, but the information they gather is wasted if the HR personnel tasked with conducting the proceedings do not follow best practices. 

Given exit interviews’ sensitive nature, individuals or departments responsible for organizing them must also take precautions to avoid some of the most common mistakes. 

Keep the following pitfalls in mind when organizing an exit interview:

  • Getting defensive when the employee shares negative experiences
  • Making the employee talk if they aren’t interested
  • Having a dismissive or generally negative attitude
  • Disclosing information confidential to HR (such as fixes already in the works or complaints filed against problematic coworkers)
  • Not taking the employee’s complaints seriously
  • Not implementing the employee’s feedback 

Companies must resist the temptation to outright ignore the feedback given. Even if an employee burns bridges on the way out, there is still an obligation to parse through their exit interview answers for information that may lead to positive change. 

It’s possible that current employees may feel the same way as the departing one did and are not speaking up. Taking concerns seriously regardless of the delivery’s tone may lead to boosted morale and improved processes. 

Examples of Exit Interview Questions

Effective exit interviews nurture honest communication between company and employee. Some questions to consider when designing an exit interview include the following: 

  • What led you to start looking for a new job elsewhere? Employees rarely leave for only one reason, unless it’s an extremely critical situation. HR professionals can use this question to search for holistic solutions to multiple small issues.
  • What factors led to your decision to take the new job? Considering a new job and actually accepting an offer don’t always have the same motivation. Savvy exit interviewers look into both questions to parse the nuances behind why employees leave.
  • Did you receive the resources and tools you needed to succeed? If an employee is motivated to quit because they lacked something that they required to get their jobs done effectively, it’s likely that others in their role or department are contending with the same challenges. This provides an opportunity to audit resources and invest in the correct equipment or training.
  • Did your responsibilities change over time without your knowledge and consent? Many workers grow dissatisfied when the job they accepted ends up morphing into something they didn’t find gratifying. Preventing this drift from happening in the future may help improve employee retention.
  • Did you let others know about your concerns before leaving? It’s not a good sign if employees don’t feel safe speaking up about the workplace issues they experience. A company culture of silence requires a major overhaul so employees feel safe and supported.
  • Do you feel as if your concerns were taken seriously by those who could’ve improved things? Similarly, if a company neglects to listen to employees’ concerns, or even makes them feel punished for speaking up, it’s entirely likely that more workers will quit unless the problem gets addressed quickly. 
  • What was your relationship like with your supervisor? Your coworkers? This question provides an opportunity to notice any patterns that may emerge around specific individuals or departments. Problematic employees or managers could lead to more departures over time.
  • What are your views on our corporate culture? Sometimes, changing a company for the better requires a top-down approach. An unhealthy corporate culture leads directly to unhealthy employees and lower employee retention.
  • What improvement opportunities do you see for us? HR personnel must show an openness to both listening to grievances and a commitment to genuine positive change. 
  • Can you give specific examples? The most informative exit interviews ask this routinely throughout the session. Details are extremely helpful when zeroing in on problem areas and drawing up a company improvement plan.

Conclusion

Departing employees are, in many respects, a company’s greatest resource. Their honesty opens more doors to positive change, many of which may have never come to HR’s attention had they elected to stay. Effective questions yield effective results.

Improve your employee retention rate with KnowledgeCity courses such as What is Talent Management? and Retaining High Potentials. We created these resources to help you with building a robust, creative business where employees can thrive and live up to their professional potential.

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