Saying goodbye can be awkward, especially at work. You might be sad to see a great employee walk out the door for good, or you may be grateful to never have to see their face again. Regardless of the circumstance, conducting exit interviews can provide some important feedback. By treating these interviews with care, you’ll invest in the morale of your existing employees and the reputation of your organization.
What is an exit interview?
An exit interview is any form of communication that allows an organization to exchange information with an employee before they permanently leave. The form of communication varies greatly depending on the industry and job type. Two common ways to conduct employee exit interviews are the survey and one-on-one discussions.
Survey: If your organization deals with frequent turnover, like in the hospitality industry, or hires a lot of temporary or seasonal employees, a survey is a great method for gathering data for exit interviews. Surveys don’t allow you to dive in-depth into an employee’s thoughts and experiences, but it’s better than letting them walk out the door in relative silence.
One-on-One interview: Because of the potential value in exit interviews, one-on-one discussions are the most ideal. Discussions allow you to hear how your former employee truly feels about your organization (assuming they’re as professionally honest as possible). You can ask crucial follow-up questions and gain insight into processes that may need to change, why they’re leaving, and leave the relationship on a positive note.
What are the benefits of conducting exit interviews?
The main purpose and benefit of conducting exit interviews is to gather honest feedback about your organization. Employees who are leaving don’t have much to lose by truly speaking their minds. So ask important questions that get to the heart of your internal processes. Let’s dive into some more valuable benefits of conducting exit interviews:
Real Feedback: Exit interviews give you the opportunity to seek feedback about your organization’s internal processes. You can leverage this feedback to identify areas for improvement and hopefully reduce high turnover rates.
Private Venting: By allowing your employee to vent behind closed doors before they leave, you reduce the chances of them airing their grievances publicly. We’ve all heard horror stories about organizations from former employees and seen blistering Google and Glassdoor reviews. Give your employees the chance to get negative thoughts off their chest before they walk out the door for good.
Questions and Wrap Up: Employees likely have a few questions and concerns they’d like wrapped up before they leave. Whether that’s intellectual property agreements, non-compete clauses, 401(k) deposits, COBRA insurance, of why they were passed for promotional opportunities. Exit interviews allow you to clear up any lingering questions and to be a point of clarity.
What are best practices and tips for conducting exit interviews?
There's no one surefire way to conduct exit interviews as every organization is different. But there are a few best practices to ensure your exit interviews are conducted professionally and yield useful insight.
Schedule the meeting and be direct: The exit interview should be scheduled as soon as you know any employee is leaving. Generally, exit interviews are conducted on an employee’s last day, but when you decide to conduct the interview is your preference. Regardless of when it’s scheduled, communicate to your employees what you plan on talking to them about in the exit interview. They’ll have time to think about their answers, thus providing more insightful and valuable information.
Confidentiality is key: Confidentiality is incredibly important for exit interviews. Even though your employee is leaving, they’ll share more if you can guarantee their answers are private. Their past supervisors may be able to piece together what feedback came from whom, but do your past to find a way to keep their answers confidential. They may ask past supervisors for a future recommendation or work with former colleagues in the future. The bottom line is that they shouldn’t feel vulnerable about what they share in an exit interview.
Let HR conduct the meeting: Chances are your employee will be more open with a member of your HR team. If your organization doesn’t have formal HR personnel, ask a supervisor the employee didn’t directly work for to conduct the meeting.
Outline appropriate questions: Take the time to formally outline exit interview questions. Consider the employee’s role in the organization and ask pointed, appropriate questions that will provide you with insights you can actually use.
Make necessary changes: Not all exit interview answers will require action. Employees will likely do a bit of venting and express frustrations. But if you notice a larger pattern or see higher percentages of employees leaving specific departments, you’ll have the data to back up an action plan.
What precautions should I take with exit interviews?
Let any touchy HR task, exit interviews should be approached with a dose of precaution. Even an employee that you think views your organization positively could take any information and gossip from the interview and use it to damage your reputation.
Don’t share gossip: You may be tempted to join in on gossip if an employee is sharing inside information about their experience. But if you let something slip, it could put your organization in legal trouble.
Stay positive: Your organization wants feedback from exit interviews, so debating criticism, even if you view them as unfair, isn’t worth it. Sit back, listen, and stay positive; write down what you deem is valuable, if anything, and attempt to steer the interview back to questions that provide real constructive feedback.
Don’t make it mandatory: Some employees will not want to give an exit interview, and that’s their purgative. Forcing employees to do an exit interview will leave a sour taste in their mouth and will hardly leave you with any useful information. In fact, it will likely backfire and that blistering online review might creep up.
When done with preparation, exit interviews can provide useful benefits to your company and even the departing employee. So before you say your final goodbye to your former employee, ensure you’ve done your part to leave the relationship in a professional place.