How Exit Interviews Give You Employee Retention Information

Employee Exit Interview
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The exit interview with a terminating employee is your opportunity to obtain information about what your organization is doing well and—what your organization needs to do to improve. Exit interviews are a rich source of information for your organizational improvement when used in concert with employee satisfaction surveys.

Improving your organization—making it a better, happier place for employees to work—is key in your efforts to retain your best employees—the employees that every organization wants to retain.

Why Conduct Exit Interviews?

Done well, and with the intention to use the information wisely, exit interviews are key to organization improvement since rarely will you receive such frank feedback from current employees. You'll find that some items were resolvable if you had had earlier information such as changing a highly noisy work environment or involving the employee in stretching assignments and goals.

But other problems identified in an exit interview may not have been such as the desire for a large salary increase or a different boss.

The ongoing concern with the direction of the department or the company is often unresolvable because it has built up in the exiting employee's mind over a long period of time. Universally, employees who participate in an exit interview identify communication as a problem in that they wanted (and sometimes needed) more information to perform their jobs effectively.

Exit Interviews May Uncover Problems

Unfortunately, if you are discovering improvement ideas or employee concerns at the exit interview; it is too late to take action to improve or help the employee who is leaving. The best time for an employee to discuss concerns, dissatisfaction, and suggestions for improvement with his employer is while he is a committed employee, not on his way out the door.

It is why stay interviews are strongly recommended as a source of employee retention information.

Make sure your organization provides multiple opportunities to gather and learn from employee feedback, including employee satisfaction surveys, stay interviews, department meetings, comment or suggestion forms, and more.

Don't Miss This Opportunity

You are interested, during the exit interview, in the feedback of employees who voluntarily terminate their employment with your organization. However, don't miss the opportunity to ask for feedback from employees you fire for attendance or performance. You may obtain useful information during the termination meeting with employees you fire. They may share with you why they think that they underperformed which gives you fodder for improvement.

In a recent termination meeting, the fired employee told the Human Resources staff person that the job had burned him out because it was boring. She was able to offer some encouragement about completing school instead of performing in another boring light industrial position.

How to Perform an Exit Interview

Employers should not be afraid to conduct exit interviews. These opportunities will give you insight into the workings of your business and should be conducted in a business-like manner.

Meet in Person With the Departing Employee

Sometimes, the manager conducts the exit interview, but most often, a Human Resources staff person holds the exit interview. The staff person shares the amalgamation of feedback from several exit interviews rather than sharing each person's feedback because of HR confidentiality concerns.

Some organizations use written exit interviews to increase participation, but many HR employees are proponents of talking with the departing employee to more completely explore and understand his or her views during the exit interview. Conducting the exit interview in person allows you to probe and ask questions.

Ask the Right Interview Questions

Start your exit interview with light discussion to help your departing employee feel comfortable answering your questions. Assure the employee that no negative consequences will result from honest discussion during the exit interview.

Explain that you will use the information provided during the exit interview, in aggregate format, to help your organization improve and retain valued employees. Freely explore each response further for clarification and complete understanding.

See the recommended Employment Ending Checklist for employers to follow.

Sample Exit Interview Questions

These are sample exit interview questions. Feel free to copy and use any combination of these questions in your organization. You can increase the probability that you receive information that will help you retain valuable employees.

The Most Important Question to Ask

The first suggested question is critical, and it is the most important question you will want to ask during every exit interview you conduct.

  • What caused you to start looking for a new job in the first place?

Additional Exit Interview Questions

  • Why have you decided to leave the company?
  • Have you shared your concerns with anyone in the company prior to deciding to leave? What was the response?
  • Was a single event responsible for your decision to leave?
  • What does the new company offer that encouraged you to accept their offer and leave this company?
  • What do you value about the company?
  • What did you dislike about the company?
  • The quality of supervision is important to most people at work. How was your relationship with your manager?
  • What could your supervisor do to improve his or her management style and skill?
  • What are your views about management and leadership, in general, in the company?
  • What did you like most about your job?
  • What did you dislike about your job? What would you change about your job if you were staying here long term?
  • Do you feel you had the resources and support necessary to accomplish your job? If not, what was missing?
  • We try to be an employee-oriented company in which employees experience positive morale and motivation. What is your experience of employee morale and motivation in the company?
  • Were your job responsibilities characterized correctly during the interview process and orientation?
  • Did you have clear goals and know what was expected of you in your job?
  • Did you receive adequate feedback about your performance day-to-day and in the performance development planning process?
  • Did you clearly understand and feel a part of the accomplishment of the company mission and goals?
  • Describe your experience of the company’s commitment to quality and customer service.
  • Did the management of the company care about you and help you accomplish your personal and professional development and career goals?
  • What would you recommend to help us create a better workplace?
  • Do the policies and procedures of the company help create a well-managed, consistent, and fair workplace in which expectations are clearly defined?
  • Describe the qualities and characteristics of the person who is most likely to succeed in this company.
  • What are the key qualities and skills we should seek in your replacement?
  • Do you have any recommendations regarding our compensation, benefits, and other reward and recognition efforts?
  • What would make you consider working for this company again in the future?
  • Would you recommend this company as a good place to work for your friends and family?
  • Can you offer any other comments that will enable us to understand why you are leaving, how we can improve, and what we can do to become a better company?

Keep It Positive

End the exit interview meeting on a positive note. Commit to using the information provided to improve your workplace for your existing employees. Wish your employee success in his or her new endeavor. End the exit interview graciously by thanking the exiting employee for their participation and improvement advice.

Please note that, in an exit interview, you will occasionally find that the employee's reasons for leaving have nothing to do with any factor that you as an employer can affect. For example, following a spouse to a job opportunity in a different state or moving the family closer to where grandparents can provide caregiving on workdays for children are not opportunities for your improvement. These exit interviews, while less informative, may still provide gems for you to consider.