Before Saying Good-Bye

The right (and wrong) way to conduct an exit review

Usually, by the time employees give their notice, it’s too late to keep them. Last-ditch attempts like raises or promotions don’t typically work. But what if you could get more insight as to why your firm’s employees are heading for the door, to prevent a departure in the future? You can: “A critical first step to creating successful recruiting, hiring, and retention strategies is to obtain data from exit interviews,” or structured conversations with exiting employees, to learn why they are leaving, says Judy Lindenberger, president of The Lindenberger Group, a human resources solutions firm based in Titusville. “Exit interviews provide a wealth of information on why people leave and key insights on how you can improve your organization’s ability to recruit and retain talent,” she says. For example, Lindenberger’s team recently worked with an area nonprofit to design better exit interviews to determine why some employees were jumping ship. One key finding: “They learned they needed to do a better job of onboarding new employees and making them feel welcome,” she says. Lindenberger’s firm helped the nonprofit create an onboarding guide for managers that included simple, easy-to-implement strategies such as sending out an email ahead of time to introduce new hires; encouraging other employees to reach out to personally welcome them; giving the new employee their job description and performance expectations during the first week of their employment; and creating a schedule of mentoring meetings between employees for the first few months on the job. Leveraging information from the exit interviews was key in getting the new plan in place, Lindenberger says.

Indeed, face-to-face interviews with departing employees are one of the last meaningful interactions a firm will have with an exiting employee, so effective questions can give managers key insights that current employees might not offer.

Here are some key do’s and don’ts:

Do ask what the company is doing right. Just because an employee is leaving doesn’t mean your company has screwed up. The individual might have reasons for jumping ship that have nothing to do with their employment experience at your firm. So ask for positive feedback too. Questions like, “Please describe the best three things about working here” or “Tell me what you liked about your department” are open-ended and will likely give you specific, helpful information. Another good one: “We strive for a welcoming corporate culture here where employees experience positive morale. What is your experience with employee morale at the company?”

Do ask what the company can improve upon. Structure your questions so that departing employees feel comfortable providing criticism. A question like, “How could conditions be improved?” or “What could your supervisor do to improve his or her management or style?” will likely elicit suggestions.

Do ask them to be specific about why they’re leaving. The employee may have initially said that “a better opportunity” was the reason for exiting the firm. But what was it about the opportunity that the employee found so enticing? Asking specific questions like, “Do you have any recommendations regarding our compensation and benefits packages?” or “What would make you consider working for this company again in the future?” can help draw out more detailed information. If the employee won’t mention specifics, asking something even more open-ended like, “Can you offer any other feedback that will help us understand why you are leaving and what we can do to become a better company?” might open up the conversation further.

Don’t ask detailed questions about specific people. While it’s common to ask an employee about his or her interactions with a supervisor, don’t get too specific or insert your own opinions or gossip into the conversation. And certainly don’t agree or disagree with the person’s assertions. For instance, “People are telling us that Larry is making inappropriate comments to women on staff, especially Shannon. I was shocked to hear that. Do you think his conduct is appropriate?” is not only inappropriate, but this type of question could land your firm in legal hot water.

Don’t try to convince the employee to stay. When employees give their notice, they’ve already checked out. Asking them to stay is unproductive and awkward, employment experts say. Instead, leverage them as an ally in helping you identify opportunities for your company to improve in the future.