How to Conduct an Effective Exit Interview

Conduct an Effective Exit Interview to Understand Why Your Employees Leave

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An exit interview is a meeting with a terminating employee that is generally conducted by Human Resources staff. The exit interview provides your organization with the opportunity to obtain frank and honest feedback from the employee who is leaving your employment.

Managers and supervisors are also encouraged to conduct exit interviews. Where trusting relationships exist, the exit interview feedback is useful for organizational improvement and development.

The exit interview is an integral component in your employment ending process because of the improvement information you can obtain in an effectively conducted exit interview. In some organizations, the exit interview is conducted as a component of the employment termination meeting along with the rest of the steps on the employment ending checklist.

You will want to listen carefully to what you are told in an exit interview and make sure that you ask a lot of questions. This will help ensure that you are hearing what the employee is actually saying and what he or she is not. It is easy to make a leap of faith and assume that you understand what the employee is describing, but it may not accurately convey the employee's feelings.

During an exit interview, for the same reason, holding on to the employee's subtle differences in meaning is core to the usefulness of the information you receive.

Consequently, write down what the employee says and don't trust your memory while you accumulate exit interview information. You won't remember and you will struggle to aggregate responsible, accurate information to give to your organization.

Understand the Positive Aspects of Employment in Your Organization

At an exit interview, you can also obtain an understanding of the positive aspects of employment with your organization.

You will want to use the information that you receive in an exit interview to retain critical employees and improve your workplace.

You can ask almost any question in an exit interview so it's a time when you can ask about compensation and benefits compared to the external job market. You can ask for positive information about managers, organization mission, vision, and communication. It's an excellent opportunity to compile your employees' thoughts on your organization as they leave.

Create an Environment Conducive to the Employee's Comfort in the Exit Interview

The key to conducting an effective exit interview is to create an environment in which the exiting employee is comfortable providing honest feedback. The organizational culture that fosters effective exit interview feedback is one in which employees are comfortable sharing ideas openly, encouraged to criticize processes and methods, and never punished for sharing their thoughts and ideas.

You need to assure the employee who is leaving your organization that the feedback he or she provides will be combined with other employee feedback and presented to management in an aggregated format. This helps the employee comfortably participate in the exit interview when he or she knows that no one will be able to hold specific feedback against them.

Employees are concerned about their reputations and they worry about how exit interview data will be used. They also don't want to worry that when they run into their manager or coworkers around town that they know what was said. Or worse, encounter negative vibes from them when the employee is trying to find their next career opportunity.

Employees also worry about burning bridges and leaving the employer with a less than favorable impression if they speak honestly at an exit interview. Your goal in conducting an exit interview is to create an environment in which the employee trusts that his or her feedback will be used in an aggregated format to improve the organization.

Ask the Most Important Question

Finally, make sure that every exit interview contains the single most important question that you need to ask the employee.

You want to know what caused the employee to start looking for a new job in the first place.

Yes, marvelous opportunities do fall into a person's lap. Offers to move up in a management role occur on occasion, too. Spouses do accept jobs across the country. Serendipitous events do occur.

But, for your average employee who is leaving, you want to know why the employee was open to a  new job and why he or she was looking in the first place. This gives you seriously important information—information that you can use to vastly improve your own workplace.

The exit interview, when conducted properly, provides useful information about how to make your organization a better place in which to work. Conduct them wisely.