How to make the most of exit interviews

Exit interviews are often quite awkward, especially if the employee is not departing on the best of terms. However, they are a valuable opportunity for the employer to find out what went wrong and to gain some (hopefully amicable) insight into how to improve talent retention in the future.

Nobody benefits from an angry rant, but if the employee is willing to calmly discuss their thoughts and feelings about the company, then an exit interview can serve a very positive purpose - and may salvage some benefit from losing an important member of your team.

So, how should you structure an exit interview, and what questions should you ask in order to get maximum value from the process so that you can reduce your staff turnover for the future?

Make exit interviews routine

Make it a well-known rule that every departing employee has the opportunity to take part in an exit interview. The more you normalise this, the more you will find personnel participate and contribute value.

Some of the most useful insights can come from short-term and junior hires, who are not so ingrained into your company culture; equally, senior employees may have more detailed, strategic ideas about your company direction.

By interviewing everyone, you make sure that you don't miss out on any such insight. You might not get something useful from everyone, but you won't exclude the people who are able to offer value.

Keep exit interviews impartial

Ideally, your exit interviews should be conducted by your human resources team, who are in a better position to be impartial. An interview led by a line manager or direct supervisor of the participating employee is less likely to be honest and open.

Remember that in many cases, disputes with managers are the cause for employees quitting. It's not a good idea to put that manager in a meeting room with the individual and ask them to lay it all out - you're just paving the way to an impassioned rant.

HR professionals are in the perfect position to conduct exit interviews, to keep them amicable and to ensure that they are as comprehensive as possible. They're also the people who will act on many of the issues raised, so it makes good sense for them to lead the process.

Are online exit interviews an option?

There are several good reasons to consider online exit interviews:

  • Include remote and flexible workers more easily
  • Increase participation rates for all employees
  • Allow exit interviews at more convenient times

Some people feel less intimidated if their exit interview takes place by telephone or webcam, rather than face-to-face in a confined meeting room.

Again, it's about doing what works for you and your personnel. Online exit interviews often produce more honest feedback, so if you want to get the best from your discussions with departing colleagues, they might be the way to go.

Reviewing exit interviews

It's important to take notes - you might not get another chance to talk to this individual - and to review their comments to decide whether you need to implement any policy changes.

Make this an active process; don't just file the notes away and ignore them forever more. An occasional review of all recent exit interviews (every three months, or monthly in large businesses) can highlight common threads for immediate focus.

Sometimes a grievance will be raised that you can fix fast. Take those easy wins and make the change that's needed to improve your working environment and keep your remaining staff as happy as possible.

Return results to business functions

If issues are raised that relate to a specific business function, team or department, make sure you return the results of your review to the relevant managers to take action.

You might instruct them to make certain changes, or you might make some general recommendations and let your middle managers decide what to implement; whatever helps strengthen your business.

Some personal grievances can come across as harsh criticism. You don't have to tell your team leaders everything that was said. Just give them the action points they need to work on, without the attitude or emotion.

Implement outcomes in training and development

Your conclusions from exit interviews could provide useful information to add back into your training, development and recruitment processes, especially if they relate to gaps in your training programmes or a lack of development opportunities.

If you have a large number of new hires leaving, this could be a sign that your induction process is not onboarding new personnel smoothly enough - potentially an easy win to boost your retention rates.

For more information about anything discussed in this article, please get in touch with one of our specialist recruitment consultants or read more of our management advice articles.

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