How to Conduct an Exit Interview That’s Actually Worth Your Time

We commonly hear about employees who hate exit interviews as well as HR folks who believe they’re a complete waste of time. Oftentimes, exit interviews are simply “something we’ve always done” – essentially, too little, too late.

But we disagree.

Done right, exit interviews are a key tool in maintaining a positive company culture and successful employee retention strategy.

As a total HR management provider, we’ve seen companies go both ways. So if you’re wondering how to conduct an exit interview, we have insight that will guarantee it’s actually worth your time.

Look at the Big Picture

The true purpose of an exit interview is to find out if your retention strategy is working. It also poses secondary benefits of providing risk mitigation and laying the groundwork for future employee referrals.

That said, if a company doesn’t have a retention strategy, doesn’t believe employee engagement surveys actually work, or isn’t interested in getting regular feedback from their employees, then the purpose of the exit interview is entirely lost.

The exit interview shouldn’t be the first time that an employee is asked about their job satisfaction or their access to the right tools and resources for the job or their experience in the workplace. These questions should be asked on a regular basis as part of the big picture of employee experience and retention. Relying on exit interview alone to understand an employee’s experience is like only reading the last page of a book; it simply doesn’t make any sense without the rest of the story.

Ask the Right Questions

Typically, it’s HR that’s conducting the exit interview. And if a company’s HR people take an active role in communicating with all employees, then this is a good strategy. However, other potential candidates for conducting the conversation are an employee’s direct supervisor or manager. Ideally, it should be the person who’s most familiar with the employee’s work (although HR should be aware of potential conflicts that may exist between the employee and their supervisor, and should intervene as necessary).

Furthermore, the right questions need to be asked. The most important one, of course, is why are you leaving this position? This is the question that will provide insight into mismatched job expectations, dissatisfaction with the work environment, high stress situations, below standard compensation and benefits, and more. A company should watch for trends or patterns in which departments people are leaving from, how long they’ve been with the company, or other common factors.

This main question should naturally lead into others: Did the job match your expectations? Did our company culture fit your career goals, values, and interests? Did you have access to the tools and resources necessary to fulfill your job? What led you to look for a new position?

These questions enable a company to understand if they’re hiring the right people to begin with as well as how they’re doing in caring for employees throughout their tenure.

Act on the Answers

Listening to your employees – both throughout their employment and at their termination – is essential, but unless it’s followed by action, it’s only half the story. Acting on your employees’ feedback is a necessary step in overcoming high employee turnover. Otherwise, you risk losing your employees’ trust and confidence in you as an employer – plus, they’re less likely to be completely honest in the feedback process.

Action is best taken when there are clear patterns behind the reasons employees are leaving. If one department has a higher turnover rate than any other, there at least needs to be a thorough evaluation into the work experience of the department; is it high stress? Is there departmental conflict? Does the hiring profile need to be adjusted?
While some tweaks and adjustments to improve the employee experience will be easy to make, an organization’s leaders need to be honest with themselves if something bigger needs to change. Maybe it’s a shift in management roles, a company-wide system upgrade, or an overhaul of the compensation structure. Checking in with your employees on a regular basis – including at the exit interview – is the only way you’re going to know if something is amiss.

How to Conduct an Exit Interview that Works

Too many companies skip the exit interview with the assumption that they can’t do anything about great employees leaving. Many are dismissive or unwilling to make changes that might need to happen in order to retain top talent. Or, they conduct a run of the mill exit interview and file away the answers, never to look at them again.

If you’re wondering how to conduct an exit interview that actually works, it’s vital to understand that it’s part of a strategic process in delivering an outstanding employee experience. The right questions are key to understanding if the company can make any changes to prevent high turnover. Finally, acting on an employee’s feedback and making any necessary changes within the organization is essential to reassuring the rest of your workforce that you truly care about their wellbeing and performance.

Read more: