What’s one of the fastest ways your organization can improve? Learn more about why people are leaving.

When employees leave, not only do they take institutional knowledge with them, but organizations also incur significant costs in hiring, training, and developing replacements. If people are leaving, it’s important to know why.

Turnover is inevitable. Leaving a job can offer opportunities for growth—both for the individual employee and the organization. The key is to learn from the past and use that information to make improvements. That’s where a well-designed exit interview process can help.

The higher your turnover, the more insights you can gain with exit interviews. Are there cultural or leadership issues? Is the compensation structure competitive? Is the workload reasonable? These are some of the important questions that exit interviews can answer.

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Managers may have valuable insights into the reasons why staff are leaving, but they may not have the whole story. Employees, in their desire to preserve relationships, will often provide vague reasons for their departure or only partial information. They may be reluctant to tell the manager that they felt micro-managed or undervalued. However, given the right setting, with an impartial HR expert, they may be more willing to provide full disclosure.

Here’s how to get the most value from exit interviews.

The Who and When of Exit Interviews

If you want the departing employee to speak freely, the employee’s manager should never conduct the interview. Very few employees will feel comfortable enough to honestly state why they’re leaving, particularly if that manager is part of the reason. And managers who do obtain candid information may be inclined to withhold or minimize the details for fear that it may reflect poorly on them.

If the HR team has credibility and a positive reputation for handling sensitive matters within the organization, they would be in the best position to administer the exit interview. Yet, in many smaller organizations, HR operates more as an administrative function and is not equipped to address delicate situations. If that’s the case, a skilled, experienced outside source would be the best option.

Timing is an important factor in the exit interview process. The best time to conduct an exit interview is during the employee’s last week, but not the last day. Employees are less likely to be candid if exit interviews are conducted earlier than that, and on their last day, they may be focused on wrapping up loose ends and saying their goodbyes.

The Right Questions to Ask

The best practice for exit interviews is to keep them to 30 minutes and to ask mostly open-ended questions, such as:

  • What was their main reason for looking elsewhere?
  • Were there any additional benefits or perks offered by the new employer that contributed to their decision to leave?
  • How satisfied were they with the supervision they received?
  • How reasonable was the workload?
  • How well was the organization able to meet their career aspirations? How well did the work match their interests and skill set?
  • Is there anything that could have been done to retain them?
  • How likely would they be to recommend the organization to others?

In order to promote candid sharing, it is important to set expectations up front about how their information will be used. This includes explaining who the information will be shared with and the level to which specific details and verbatims will be included. Also, to avoid discomfort, it is best to share the findings with management after the employee’s last day. This prevents awkwardness between the manager and departing employee.

How to Use Feedback from Exit Interviews

The information from an exit interview should be used as the basis for honest self-reflection. Are there issues within the organization that, if resolved, could reduce turnover? Do the sentiments of outgoing employees represent the way other employees are feeling?

A skilled HR department will consolidate feedback, identify trends, and help leadership find meaning in the data. They can encourage leaders to view the information with an open mind, rather than becoming defensive or responding hastily. There is value in the feedback, even if offered by a marginal performer. No comments should be dismissed. Employees who are open and candid during an exit interview are providing information that might be difficult to obtain any other way.

A skilled HR practitioner will also look for patterns and trends in the data. They will analyze the demographics to determine if unique concerns exist based on specific characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, role in the organization etc. Additionally, they will look to see if outgoing employees are mentioning the same issues. Once patterns are identified, plans can be put in place to further explore the issue and make improvements.

The Lindenberger Group can help organizations conduct and analyze exit interviews and leverage that information to improve. For more information or to discuss your HR needs, please contact us at 609-730-1049 or send us an email.