With the departure of any employee comes a valuable opportunity: the chance for a company to learn how it might improve. According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), low turnover is clearly linked with high organizational performance. Therefore, exit interviews are crucial. In providing a space where employees can speak openly about their experiences, managers can gather the data necessary to retain a high-performing workforce.

How to Conduct an Exit Interview

Conducting exit interviews can be a delicate process. Here are some tips for how managers can do so successfully.

Preparation

Before speaking to a departing employee:

  • Decide how the exit interview will be conducted. Exit interviews can take the form of face-to-face conversations, telephone calls or surveys provided either on paper or online. Each has its pros and cons, including the level of honesty encouraged and the specificity of the data collected.
  • If conducting a face-to-face interview, decide who will serve as the interviewer. Exit interviews are best conducted by managers who are not the departing employee’s direct supervisors.
  • Decide which employees should be interviewed. Some companies touch base with everyone. Others just interview executives or individuals considered “high potential.”
  • Choose your timing. When an exit interview is done can influence the kind of information an employee chooses to disclose. HBR suggests conducting exit interviews halfway between the employee’s departure announcement and the actual date he or she leaves. At this point, emotions have most likely subsided, but the employee is likely still mentally invested in the work. Alternatively, exit interviews can be conducted after an employee is gone, allowing for a more relaxed interaction.
  • Decide what sort of information your company wants from former employees. This will help formulate relevant and useful questions.

Execution

When conducting an exit interview:

  • Ensure a comfortable environment. The interviewer should be a proficient listener and should try to avoid showing displays of authority. This will allow the employee to speak more candidly about his or her experiences.
  • Record the interview or take careful notes. This will help the interviewer easily track and consolidate data. However, the interviewer should be sure to clarify to the employee that the interview is anonymous and will not be on a permanent record.
  • Ask relevant questions. The interviewer should make sure his or her questions open the door to frank conversation and encourage the employee to offer specifics. Potential questions might include:
    • What made you start looking for a new job?
    • What specific elements made you accept your new job offer?
    • How do you feel you were treated by your manager and co-workers?
    • Do you feel you were given adequate training?
    • Do you believe your work was recognized or appreciated?
    • What could be done to make this company a better place to work?

Application

Many companies fail to use the information they collect from exit interviews. To make the most of their acquired information, companies should:

  • Distribute the data. Exit interview data should be shared with upper management, explains the Society of Human Resource Management. This can be done within channels like the company’s annual review, strategic planning initiatives, recruiting strategies, training plans or management development programs. However, it is important to remember that individual responses must be kept anonymous.
  • Continue the conversation. Ideally, exit interviews serve as catalysts for improving communication within the company. Managers and company leaders should check in regularly with current employees, asking them questions such as:
    • Are we helping you be effective in your job?
    • Are we helping you build a successful career?
    • Are we helping you have a fulfilling life?
    • What is keeping you at this company?
    • What might make you leave?

Asking these types of questions ensures employee concerns come to the forefront and can therefore be addressed. This ultimately ensures that turnover remains low and valuable employees remain.

Additional sources: National Federation of Independent Businesses

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