The Importance of Exit Interviews and The Best Questions Employers Should Ask

No matter how perfect you think your retention strategy is, the truth is your employees will leave your company at one point or another, and there is nothing you can do about it. When an employee turns in their resignation letter, an exit interview should follow in the near future. Exit interviews are conducted when employees are departing a company, usually right before their last day. Exit interviews should be planned with specific goals in mind; the Harvard Business Review shared some of their goals here, but basically the main reasons for exit interviews are as follows: For the employer, the point of these interviews is to learn the reasons why that employee is leaving, get any insights they wouldn’t otherwise get, and listen to suggestions. For the employee, this interview serves as an opportunity to share opinions, experiences, suggestions, and any other feedback they may have for their employer. Companies use the information provided during these interviews to assess any changes or improvements to be made within the company. After implementing those changes, companies hope their turnover rate will drop and that their employee engagement and retention rates will rise. Once employees have handed in their resignation and no longer rely on their employers, they are more likely to open up and honest when asked to provide constructive criticism about how the company is run, the culture, management style, opportunity for growth, etc. 

Who Should Conduct Exit Interviews

Exit interviews can either be done face-to-face or in the form of a written survey. It is usually best if they are face-to-face because employees will appreciate the gesture and managers will be able to read body language and make it more of a conversation. Here at Dominion, our CEO usually conducts these interviews. Many companies have the employee’s supervisor or manager conduct them, which is not a good idea. If the employee had an issue with their supervisor/manager, then they most likely will not be completely honest during the interview in order to avoid any awkward moments or conversations. Another option is to have someone in the HR department conduct the interview. This can either be a good idea, or a bad one. People in the HR department are usually trusted, since they handle any issues between employees, so they are a good option as well. 

When Should Exit Interviews Be Conducted

Some companies like to conduct these interviews as soon as the employee turns in their resignation. It is best to wait until the last few days of employment. Be sure to explain in advance why the interview will be done, when it will be done, and what to expect so that the employee has time to gather their thoughts. It is true that you want the most candid, honest answers, but if you do not warn the employee they may become overwhelmed and not answer honestly. Always plan these interviews to achieve productive conversations. 

What to Ask

Even though you planned for this meeting and wrote down questions in advance, you don’t want the conversation to seem scripted. Instead, you should make it as casual as possible in order to make the employee feel comfortable and not like they are a target. There are some key questions that should be asked during exit interviews, but always be sure to let the employee know that they don’t have to answer all (or any) of the questions if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. Also, remember to ask for permission to share their answers with your management team to make any improvements. The following are some questions to consider:

  • Why are you leaving? - This question is probably an obvious first question, but with no doubt is an important one. The answer to this question will drive the rest of the conversation. You may find out that the employee needed a job closer to home, they had issues with coworkers or managers, a different company offered them higher pay, or a specific instance that drove them to look for other jobs.
  • What led you to accept the new job? - Maybe it was pay, benefits, flexibility, or company culture. Whatever their reasoning is, you will find out things about your company that you might not even know. Maybe your compensation package is not as competitive, or you don’t offer enough benefits, or perhaps your company culture is too serious. Whatever their answer is, it will serve as an insight for any changes you may consider for your company. 
  • Did you feel comfortable talking to your supervisor/manager about work problems? - This is where you can  find out how your management team is doing. Depending on the employee’s answer, you can evaluate how your manager interacts with his or her employees, how dependable and approachable they are, or how they handle any issues. The response to this question will give you insight in the level of professionalism of that employee’s former manager. If the employee feels like his or her concerns were not taken seriously, this might come down to a problem with the management team. 
  • Did you feel that you had everything you needed to perform your job well? - If your employees are not set up for success, they won’t remain engaged. You are most likely going to want to find a replacement to fill the position, so asking this questions will give you a way to better retain the next employee that will fill the position. The answer to this question will let you know if your managers aren’t providing adequate training and if you need to improve or add technology (like new computers, faster internet, etc…)
  • What are some things our company could do to improve? - One of the main reasons employees leave a company is because they feel as they are not a good match with their manager or the company in general. According to www.workinsitute.com, 80% of employees dissatisfied with their supervisors are disengaged and likely planning their exit. Even if this isn’t the main reason your employee is leaving, there is always room for improvement. 
  • If you knew someone who was looking for a job, would you recommend us? Why? - This is a good way to find out how the employee really feels about the company. Are they leaving on good terms? Would they ever come back? What perception are they leaving with? 
  • What was your favorite part about working for this company? - By now you already have some knowledge about what you can improve or work on, so by asking this question you will find what your company is good at and what you can keep the same. The answers you’ll get by asking this questions will give you insights on your company culture, which is strongly correlated with employee happiness. The better your company culture is, the more likely your employees are to be happier, which will help with retention. If during the exit interview you find that the worker did not like your company culture, then it may be time to rethink the way things are being done.
  • Additional Questions - 
    • What is the other job offering that we are currently not?
    • How do you feel about the company’s policies?
    • What can you say about the communication between departments at our company?
    • What can you say about the way you  were managed? Did you get enough direction?
    • What can the company do to retain employees?

What NOT to Ask

Never ask about personal issues, or any specific problems the employee may not want to discuss. If the employee brings it up, then go ahead and talk about it, but if you believe talking about it will make the employee uncomfortable, it is best to avoid it. Of course, you should always be on the lookout for any harassment or bullying that may be going on within your company. However, be mindful not to encourage any negativity.  Never feed into office gossip, don’t say anything that can be construed as slander, don’t get into personal issues, don’t try to convince the employee to stay with your company, and always keep the conversation professional and work related. 

Processing the Feedback

After you are done with your exit interview, you should sit back and analyze the feedback you received. Compare it with previous exit interviews and find any recurring patterns. Consider looking at the employee’s previous performance reviews. Some people are more prone to complain than others, so their negative exit interview may not be as bad as you think. Learn to interpret these interviews in the best way possible. Consider who said it, why they said it, and what they are really saying. Once you are done analyzing the exit interview, don’t just file your notes. Instead, share them with your management team and find solutions for any issues together.

Employers often use exit interviews as a chance to keep the employee from leaving the company, but the truth is that if they really wanted the employee to stay, they should’ve said something as soon as they received the resignation letter. Giving employees a counter offer may sometimes work, but you are conducting an exit interview because the employee was already looking, so the counter offer really only serves as a temporary band-aid. As soon as the employee receives a better offer, or has an issue within the company, they will start looking again, restarting the cycle. Happy employees don’t look for other jobs, so make sure that you are doing everything in your power to keep these employees happy. Don’t let exit interviews be the only time you check with your employees. If you really want to better your retention strategy, then you should be asking for feedback from your employees on a regular basis. This can be done through performance reviews, anonymous surveys, or monthly meetings. Finally, always be sure to off board your employees correctly by following the steps listed here

Once you have successfully off boarded an employee, you are most likely going to find someone else to take over the position. Dominion's Applicant Tracking System can simplify your application process and fit your budget. Click below to see how our software can help you.  

Sources: 
http://careerminer.infomine.com/the-importance-of-exit-interviews/
https://www.care.com/c/stories/5098/11-exit-interview-questions-you-should-always/
http://workinstitute.com/solutions/exit-interviews
https://hbr.org/2016/04/making-exit-interviews-count