KJ Green Employer Resources

Are We Wasting Time On Exit Interviews?

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If I was to answer that question ahead of researching the topic, my answer would be...“Absolutely!”

I’m in the people game and as part of the 33 Talent leadership team, I champion people and culture, focusing on how we can make sure that people are happy at work and jump at any opportunity to gain feedback on how we’re doing. 

Although exit interviews can have the reputation of being unproductive, they’re a great opportunity to understand the employee experience. Avoiding an exit interview could be a missed opportunity to gather the information that will improve the workplace for existing and future employees. We place so much importance on gathering feedback from the people that already work for the business but once the resignation has been presented, interest quickly fades.

Obviously, there are a few things to be wary about that can severely limit the effectiveness of an exit interview:
  • Employees on their way out could conceal their reasons for leaving to avoid ruffling any feathers or are simply uninterested to participate in processes that wouldn’t be of benefit to them.

  • Interviews with disgruntled employees who have strong feelings can make for an uncomfortable meeting, for both parties. 

  • Spotting trends and actioning solutions can be tough without a fixed template in place (A HBR survey found that less than a third of executives could name a specific action that was taken as a result of an exit interview).

  • Even when exit interviews are mandatory, the way they are executed can impact the results. For example, companies in APAC that deliver EI questionnaires over face-to-face meetings find they lack engagement in Asian relationship-based cultures. Furthermore, it’s important to talk more than listen and avoid recommending a solution to a posed problem during the interview.

  • Who is conducting the exit interview is also important for the transparency and validity of the process. We suggest employing second/third-line managers or external consultants that feel more removed from the exiter. 

Regardless, there are ample pros besides the candidness of the interview that outweigh the challenges:
  • The perspective of an existing employee presents a rare opportunity to understand a view on the company culture and employee satisfaction. They are able to be totally honest, free from fear of the repercussions, regardless of the safe platforms for feedback that have been presented to them in the past.

  • Existing employees have often been exploring the market and may be able to offer a distinct view of your competitors. This could be insights into the perks, benefits, and pay packages that drew them to those competitors, or whether the same companies are continuously trying to poach your people. This information is extremely useful for recruiters.

  • Provides information that can help companies identify good and bad managers — what managers keep coming up among employees’ reasons for leaving? What managers are seeing the most (and least) turnover? This data can help build effective initiatives to reinforce positive leadership styles and create better managers.

  • Understanding perceptions of the work itself and the resources available to do their job (For example, perhaps the employee did not feel enough support while working remotely despite enjoying the company’s office culture). This will benefit your HR team as they write later job descriptions and reimagine the future of work. 

  • Treating exiting employees with respect and gratitude, as well as taking their feedback seriously can create lifelong advocates for your organisation.

As I mentioned briefly, the manner in which the exit interview is held is important to its effectiveness. There needs to be some kind of structure to the session - topics that you want to address - whilst keeping the session open-ended and giving them the agency to take the conversation where they want to. It’s essential that you don’t make them feel defensive over taking another job or express disciplinary actions over their performance. Remember: the exit interview is to gain insight from them rather than impose your own agenda. 

Possible topics include: 
  • the company's top leadership and strategy,

  • your supervisor,

  • your work group and the job's organizational culture,

  • pay and benefits,

  • training and development

  • work-life balance.

And questions you can use to start the conversation:
  • What ultimately led you to accept the new position?

  • What would have made you stay?

  • What were the best and worst parts of your job?

  • How happy were you with things like salary, benefits, perks, time off, etc?

  • How was your relationship with your manager? Do you have specific examples relating to your opinion?

  • Did you have all the necessary resources and support to succeed in your role? 

  • Do you feel like you’ve had enough opportunities for growth and career advancement at our company?

  • How do you feel about your relationship with your coworkers? 

  • What should we stop, start, and keep doing?

  • What skills and qualifications do you think we should look for in your replacement?

  • On a scale of 1-10, would you recommend this company to others? Why?

  • Would you consider coming back to work here in the future?

Even though exit interviews can be time-consuming and sometimes unfruitful, conducting them as an integral part of the employee experience rather than an HR mandate or tick-box exercise will make all the difference to the success of your organization. So if you ask me again whether we’re wasting time on exit interviews, my answer is ‘no.’ There is no such thing as a waste of time when it’s regarding mechanisms that can be used to make real change. While it might not matter to former employees whether you take their feedback seriously or not, it certainly makes a difference to existing team members to see their opinions be valued and actioned for a better workplace.