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Symmetry Video Series


Motivating Employees: HR tips for getting employees motivated and engaged with your company.

Exit Interviews Matter: Learn from Employees Who Leave

When good employees leave, their old employers don’t have to say goodbye to them without realizing some benefit. Exit interviews can provide that benefit by offering information that can help employers make recruiting, hiring, and policy decisions that will keep them desirable to current and future employees.

Why bother with exit interviews?
It’s natural for employers to be more concerned with how to replace departing employees than gathering facts about their experiences with the company. Even with that worry, employers should take advantage of the valuable information that leave-taking employees can supply.

Many companies make sure they conduct exit interviews, value the information they receive, and review it regularly. This information can help identify problem areas with specific departments, supervisors, pay, work-life balance, and more.

It can also give you feedback to help drive positive changes in recruiting and hiring practices. The information gleaned is worth the time and trouble of the interview only if the employer takes it seriously.

Exit interviews often result in coaching for supervisors, since departing employees often point to dissatisfaction with a supervisor as their reason for leaving.

Information from exit interviews can make a difference in how an employer communicates with applicants. For example, one employer had an extremely high turnover rate among one group of salespeople. Exit interviews revealed that candidates for the sales position had been told during job interviews that they might earn a certain level of income the first year of employment.

Those who were leaving pointed out they were earning nowhere close to that level. Upon further analysis, it became clear that the average salesperson earned $50,000 less than what candidates were told they might expect. The employer changed the recruiting process to include more reasonable earnings expectations.

Legal concerns
An exit interview is also a two-way conversation. Besides getting information from departing employees, employers should make sure they provide information to these soon-to-be-former employees. The exit interview is a good time to remind employees of their obligations, such as confidentiality and non-solicitation agreements.

You can also use the exit discussion to minimize your legal exposure. It’s the perfect opportunity to make the employee’s reason for departure isn’t because of conduct or treatment by a supervisor or manager or a sexually hostile environment created by fellow employees.

For those employees who are leaving involuntarily, exit interviews are not needed. Instead, employers should use termination meetings in which the employee is given a termination notice as well as notification of COBRA or insurance continuation rights, instructions to return company property, and other necessary communications.

How to conduct exit interviews
Exit interviews don’t have to be in person. They can be equally effective as a written questionnaire or a web-based exit procedure.

It’s a good idea to use trained, experienced HR personnel to guard against legal missteps. You can also outsource the interviews to qualified interviewers if you do not have an HR department. Set up the meeting in a quiet, private space.

It is also advisable to have at least two people conduct the interview to have an additional witness and perhaps take comprehensive notes for you. You don’t want to include anybody in the employee’s direct line of supervision. If the supervisor is a reason the employee is leaving, having that person present will discourage the employee from being open.

It’s helpful to have a form or checklist to make sure you cover everything, but remember to listen for opportunities to ask for more information.
In the interview, remain neutral and don’t be defensive or argumentative. Use open-ended questions beginning with how or why. A vague answer should be a cue to ask follow-up questions.

Some questions you may want to include:

  • What did you like most?
  • What did you like least?
  • What would you change?
  • How valuable was your training?
  • Was the job what you expected?
  • Did you get enough feedback?
  • Were you happy with pay and benefits?
  • Did you like the work environment?
  • How should we change the way we do things?
  • Why are you leaving?
  • Did anything in particular cause you to decide to leave?