The Value of an Exit Interview

by Elizabeth Fuss on November 8, 2012

in Administrative,Compliance,Resources

Spiraling out of control

When you administer your exit interviews, do you get a low rate of response?  Do you get vague reasons for leaving?  Do you get all positive answers on the exit interviews, but have a high turnover?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to look at your exit interview process.   

The potential information obtained from exiting employees can be helpful in assessing employee engagement, finding out about process or supervisory problems, discovering harassment or safety concerns, and discovering training needs for current employees.  Who asks the questions, when the questions are asked, the method of the interview, and the actions taken after the interview, are key components to getting the right information in your exit interview process.

Who Should Conduct An Exit Interview

Recently I encountered a situation where an employee admitted to a third party that she had not been completely honest in her exit interview.  Her supervisor, who was the reason she was leaving, conducted the interview.  She wanted to preserve her professional image and ensure that she would get good references for future jobs.  Unfortunately, this is not uncommon.  Outgoing employees are often hesitant to be completely truthful if they fear retaliation through poor references, or even out of fear of making things difficult for other employees. 

Direct supervisors are typically the least likely to be objective, in any situation, because they have been working with the employee on a daily basis.  Employees often believe that complaints about the department, processes, harassment or safety, could easily be dismissed based on the supervisor’s opinion of the employee.  Even if the supervisor feels they can be objective, if the employee’s perception is that they will not be listened to objectively, or that it will not matter, they are less likely to be completely honest.

Human Resources is a better choice to conduct an exit interview.  Often removed from the day to day work with the employee, HR can step in and conduct the interview without the perception of being biased.

In small companies that may not have dedicated HR staff, or perhaps an overloaded HR staff, a third-party may be the answer.  With a third party, out-going employees are often more honest and upfront without a fear of bias or retaliation. 

When Should An Exit Interview Be Conducted

With exit interviews, the sooner you conduct them, the better.  An exit interview done weeks or even days after employment ends often results in vague information as the employee has likely moved on at and has no vested interest in spending time discussing issues from a former job.  Typically, the last day of work is going to result in the most current, detailed information.  The information will be fresh in their mind and the employee may still feel connected to the workplace and be interested in discussing any issues of concern. 

How Should an Exit Interview Be Conducted

A common method of conducting exit interviews is through email.  It’s fast and requires minimal effort.  Unfortunately, it’s also one of the least effective methods.  Since clarification requires a back-and-forth exchange, the interview often stops after the employee’s initial email response, if they respond at all.  If an emailed questionnaire asks: “How would you describe communication in the company?” and the response in the email is “Bad”, you have no more information about company communication than you did before.  However, by sitting in a room with the person, or even talking to them on the phone, you are able to ask clarifying questions. “What do you mean by “Bad’?” or  “Specifically, what about the company communication was problematic for you?”  Whatever the issue is, by asking follow up questions, you will get more specific information that can help make changes to improve your workplace.

What Should An Exit Interview Cover

As with any type of employee survey, be prepared to act on the information received.  Positive changes to the workplace based on exit interviews can prevent other employees from wanting to leave, and can improve morale.  Out-going employees often keep in communication with current employees.  Hearing from current employees that issues were fixed or not fixed can lead to discussions that have the potential to either increase or decrease current employees’ trust in management. 

If you aren’t prepared to act on the information, don’t ask the questions. 

Why Conduct An Exit Interview

Objective and thorough exit interviews can result in:

  • Lower turnover, reduced hiring and training costs.
  • Increased engagement among current employees, increased productivity and profit.
  • Resolution of situations or problems that could potentially result in liability.
  • Issues can be addressed before becoming a crisis and cost people, productivity or quality.

The Bottom Line

When executed properly, exit interviews can improve an organization’s bottom line.  Cascade can assist in helping create a customized exit interview process for your organization, from the questions and forms to execution, including reporting on trends for your company. Give me a call or send me an email for more information.


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