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Why you need to conduct exit interviews with employees

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Kerrie-Anne Chinn, Content & Editorial Manager
2017-10-10

Are you conducting exit interviews when employees leave your organisation? When people make the decision to move on from a company, it’s important to figure out why – especially if you’re experiencing high staff turnover rates. And/or losing high-performing team members.

Recently, we looked at termination of employment and the legal requirements and procedures that you need to be aware of when ‘letting someone go.’ While we talk a fair bit about onboarding and hiring, there’s less discussion around the other end of the employment life cycle. But it's actually just as important.

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Exit interviews are crucial in providing employers with valuable insight and information into their organisation. They allow you to assess the work culture you’re providing staff, and make changes to improve levels of employee satisfaction and retention.

If you’re avoiding or skipping over exit interviews, you’re missing out on some seriously important information – as well as the opportunity to make positive changes to your company.

Exit Interviews Allow You to Find Out Why Employees Leave

So what’s the point of running exit interviews? What kind of info can they reveal for companies?

HR Consultant Sharlyn Lauby says “the real reason businesses conduct exit interviews is to get information about an employee’s work experience with the company.”

And this is true. The reasons most employees give when they resign is that they’ve been offered more money, more flexibility, a position closer to home – all things that are external to you as an employer.

But when an employee hands in their resignation, it’s generally the final step in a much longer process, where they’ve most likely been considering leaving for a while. So you need to figure out what drove them to look for greener pastures in the first place. What are the internal factors, things that you have control over, that has led to their resignation?

These relate to the employee’s experience with your organisation. The Harvard Business Review considers exit interviews essential for providing “insight into what employees are thinking, reveal[ing] problems in the organization, and shed[ding] light on the competitive landscape.”

Through a good exit interview, you’ll gain:

  • a candid assessment of your organisation’s environment and culture
  • insight into recruiting, onboarding and training needs from an employee’s perspective
  • feedback on managers’ leadership styles and effectiveness
  • a chance to foster innovation by soliciting ideas for improving the organisation
  • feedback that allows you to improve staff retention
  • the opportunity to learn about HR benchmarks (salary, benefits) at competing organisations.

Tips for Conducting an Exit Interview

Now that you can see why exit interviews are so important, you can get started on making them a standard procedure within your company.

Robert Greene, CEO of Reward Systems management consulting firm, has some good advice that can get the ball rolling in exit interviews and help people open up.

Instead of asking an employee why they’re leaving, ask why they started looking,” Greene says.

This should take the pressure off. You’re asking the person to share the real reasons why they felt the need to move on from your organisation, in a way that doesn’t make them feel like they’re attacking the company.

You’ll see where you’re coming up short. Maybe you can’t train the way a big organization can and the employee got stuck doing the same thing over and over. It may be that person is ambitious or bored and wants to move along.”

Greene also suggests following up each in-person exit interview with a quick survey – either online or a simple pen-and-paper job. People often feel more comfortable expressing themselves this way, meaning you’ll get more genuine responses and feedback.

Analysing Data from Exit Interviews

It’s also really important to make sure you do something with the information you gather from exit interviews – if you don’t analyse the data you’re being given, the exercise has pretty much been a waste of time.

We know lots of companies don’t even conduct exit interviews. We also know that many run them as a ‘tick and flick’ to satisfy HR departments and manager reports.

Some collect exit interview data but don’t analyze it. Some analyze it but don’t share it with the senior line leaders who can act on it. Only a few collect, analyze, and share the data and follow up with action,” reveals the Harvard Business Review.

Use the data you’ve gained to help reduce risk and identify matters that may require immediate attention in your company. Look at your business practices and see what things you need to change to improve staff retention and reduce employee turnover. By running exit interviews, you’re also showing all staff that you value their thoughts and feedback.

Engaging with employees in a respectful way, even as they leave your doors, will help to create positive relationships – and potentially long-term advocates for your organisation. You never know whether a team member will one day return to the fold, or recommend your business to clients, customers, or other high-performing employees.

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