How to Maximise Your Insight From Exit Interviews
When something comes to an end, it always signals a new beginning. As humans, we are taught to look forward, and move on without looking back. Unfortunately, not looking back as far as moving jobs is concerned may not be the best strategy.
In a job we shouldn’t burn bridges, we need to take note of our learnings and make sure our time spent was mutually valuable. An exit interview is a major part of the process.
But let’s be honest. An exit interview can be a big drag. The employee just wants to get it over with. The HR team just wants to get it over with. It’s part of a routine; largely a formality. It’s a part of the HR best practices handbook, and often times when conducted with ambivalence nothing substantial comes of it as learning.
However, done in a consistent and standardized way, exit interviews offer a deeper look at your workplace culture, day-to-day processes, management solutions, and employee morale and experience.
What’s in it for the employer? It helps identify opportunities to improve retention and engagement and foster a welcoming working environment. Not to mention, it can be a mine of data and information and will save you thousands of rupees at times from having to rely on external data sourcing.
What’s in it for the employee? The employee may want to go back one day and work for the same organization, or their coworkers or bosses may end up in one of their future workplaces. An exit interview will close the loop in an acceptable way.
In a nutshell, exit interviews can add immense value. And, I can’t emphasize enough on how important it is to do this right.
The first thing to acknowledge before beginning the exit interview process is that it is not only about understanding why the individual is leaving. There’s a lot more that goes into it if you want to do it right.
To ensure a seamless exit, it helps to follow a process. While the exit process may be elaborate and includes informing all departments of the resignation, providing adequate and appropriate information regarding it, recovering all company assets, taking a handover and completing the paperwork and other formalities; however, the exit interview is the most vital part of a good offboarding process. Here are three key aspects of an exit interview that will help you maximise your insights:
STEP 1: Plan your exit interview:
❏ Record exit interview date as soon as it is set, and notify those involved. Decide who will conduct the exit interview. Depending on the nature of exit (mutual, forced, termination, etc.) the right person to conduct the exit interview should be identified. Ideally, it should be a neutral party who has no stake or bias w.r.t the exiting employee. This is important as the departing employee should be given a fair chance to express their thoughts about why they are moving on, and it ensures that you get good quality, well-thought-out feedback.
❏ Decide how you want to conduct the exit interview. It can be conducted in different formats. They can be face to face, or as a questionnaire or interactive.
a. Questionnaire: where an employee’s manager hands them the questions on a sheet of paper and asks them to fill it in and return it. This is quite a manual process. While it may be difficult for the organisation to track and analyze the results, it is easily accessible information and will provide the employee time to think of their answers and sometimes reveal uncomfortable information as well.
b. Face-to-face: This method is a great way to build a rapport between the interviewer and interviewee and perhaps gain some more in-depth and valuable answers and information about the employee’s views. However, on the flip side, much depends on the skill of the exit interviewer to get the individual to open up to them and it can also lack confidentiality and take up valuable time.
c. Interactive: Some organizations use interactive, web-based exit interview software. This can be a great way to encourage individuals to give honest and direct answers as they have the time and privacy to consider them. The organisation can also track the results to get a handle on headline reasons for leaving across the company.
❏ Offer proactive support, check if the employee will need references and provide a certificate of employment and conduct. Of course this becomes optional in case the exit is a case of termination of services.
STEP 2: Set clear goals of the exit interview:
❏ Reality check on employee’s perceptions: The employee’s overall experience of working for the organisation. (relationship with team members, managers, their career development, etc.), and their opinion of the company culture, and what their place was in it. This can help managers improve employee motivation, efficiency, coordination, and effectiveness.
❏ Understanding HR problems: Companies that conduct exit interviews almost always focus only on salary and benefits. Money is usually not the first reason to make a person leave. Gathering information about their onboarding, whether they received adequate training for the role, did they get any opportunities to learn or grow, was support available in times of any grievances, etc. will give valuable insight into HR-related issues.
❏ Insight into leadership style: Reasons for joining the company, as well as reasons the employee is considering moving on will provide good insight into the leadership. This equips the organization to reinforce positive managers and identify toxic ones and help come up with good training and development for leadership as well.
❏ Get ideas to improve the organisation: Exit interviews should go beyond the individual’s immediate experience to cover broader areas, such as company strategy, marketing, operations, systems, competition, and the structure of the employee’s division. One great way to start this conversation is “I wish the company did ____” This is open-ended and may reveal a lot.
❏ Create lifelong ambassadors for the organisation: Treat departing employees with respect and gratitude. That may encourage them to recommend their former companies to potential employees, to use and recommend the companies’ products and services, and to create business alliances between their former and new employers.
STEP 3: Develop a go-to question bank to help you gather all the above information:
❏ Why did you start looking for another job?
❏ Why have you decided to leave the job?
❏ If they have another job, What does your new position offer that is influencing your decision to leave?
❏ What could we have done better?
❏ What could we have done to keep you here?
❏ Did you feel equipped to do the job here?
❏ Were you comfortable with your manager? How would you describe the rapport?
❏ What could your manager have done better?
❏ How would you describe the company culture?
❏ What were the most favourite and least favourite parts of the job?
❏ Did the company help you achieve your professional goals?
❏ Did you feel like a valuable part of the company?
❏ Did the job meet your career goals from when they joined?
❏ Did the job meet the JD?
❏ Did your role change from what you signed up for? If so, how and how did that make you feel?
❏ What would you change about the job?
❏ What are you looking forward to in your new job/company?
❏ What was your best day of the job?
❏ What was your worst day at the job?
❏ Were you given relevant and timely feedback to improve performance?
❏ What qualities would you look for / feel are essential in your replacement hire?
❏ Would you recommend this job to your friends and family?
❏ How do you think we can improve our training and development? Feel free to give specific examples to your case.
❏ Do you have any other issues you’d like to address or provide additional comments?
The big reason exit interviews fail is lack of consensus on best practices. The goals, strategies, and execution of exit interview programmes vary widely, and the findings and recommendations from empirical studies are often vague or conflicting. However, we believe the root issue is not having these meaningful retention conversations with existing employees itself. As obvious as that may sound, many interviewers push their agenda and without even realising they significantly limit the insight they gain.
Personally, I’d say you don’t have to wait for the exit interview to ask these questions. These questions can easily be incorporated into your performance reviews or ongoing team meetings or casual one-on-ones. After all, you don’t want to lose an employee – someone you have carefully chosen and spent time and resources training. Addressing concerns before they become problems can help you retain valuable employees and keep your business running smoothly.
I’ll leave you with a good question to ruminate over. When is the best time to conduct an exit interview? Most exit interviews are conducted during the last week of an employee’s employment period, sometimes, even on the last day. Definitely, long after they have mentally disengaged. Maybe it makes sense to do it somewhere in between when the employee gave in their resignation and their actual departure? Perhaps, it can help you retain a valuable employee?
At Yellow Spark, we implement strategic and effective exit interviews that yield ongoing and long-term benefits. Interested to know more? Please write to us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Profile: Deepam Yogi is an adventurer at heart, socially conscious in her gut and professionally a strategic consultant. She co-founded Yellow Spark to support organisations to build workplaces that people love being a part of. Deepam describes herself as a shy yet opinionated writer and firmly believes that most answers to complex issues lie in simple communication.