Whenever an employee voluntarily leaves an organization, it can be a challenging situation, but it’s also an opportunity to learn essential and timely insights. Instead of just accepting the loss and moving on, it’s good practice to hold sophisticated exit interviews that allow you to procure as much information as possible about why that person is choosing to leave. You might find out precisely what you can change in the organization to improve satisfaction and retention for the people who remain and the new recruits who are yet to come. Research from Zippia suggests that 93% of employees believe that their exit feedback is important, further confirming the fact that this needs to become a crucial component of your HR practices.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the basics of exit interviews, the key pillars of feedback that you’re looking for, and then we’ll run through ten essential questions that you can immediately insert into your interview template.
What Is an Exit Interview?
An exit interview is a conversation held with an employee who is leaving the organization. The objective is to discuss why the employee is leaving and to get some honest feedback on what the working culture is like within the company. If done well, this can be a valuable source of information that management can use to make appropriate changes and adjustments, in an attempt to improve the experience for those employees who remain.
How Long Should an Exit Interview Be?
This will depend on the situation, but typically, an exit interview is between 30 and 60 minutes in length. You’ll want to adjust this based on how the conversation is going and based on how long the employee has been with the organization. Don’t drag it out too long, but still leave enough time to look for insights and learnings from the employee that is exiting the company.
Who Should Be in the Exit Interview?
It’s important that a neutral third party is the person to conduct an exit interview because that makes it more likely that the employee is going to be candid and honest. Typically, this will fall to a human resources representative who has some experience with these kinds of conversations, but don’t feel like you have to always stick to that formula. If there is someone better suited to taking on the task, be sure to use them so you can maximize the value of the conversation. A report detailed in the Harvard Business Review suggested that 70.9% of HR departments handle exit interviews, while 19% are done by the direct supervisor of the departing employee, 8.9% by the direct manager, and 1% by an external consultant.
Why are Exit Interviews Important?
Exit interviews are important because they give you a crucial opportunity to gather qualitative data about how your staff are experiencing the working culture, and what might not be working that well on the ground. Typically, managers don’t hear this sort of feedback because employees are scared to raise their voices in case it puts their careers in jeopardy. But an employee who is leaving doesn’t have that concern and, therefore is likely to be more honest.
Here are some of the key pillars of feedback that you can look for:
Find out about whether your employees feel like the balance between work and their personal lives is fair. This is a great barometer of the morale and happiness within the company, while also helping to identify whether your current working cadence is sustainable for the long term.
Try to ascertain some of the less tangible components of your company culture as it’s currently operating, so you can compare it to the one you’re trying to instill in the company. By identifying differences, you can then take steps to rectify things that aren’t expressing themselves as you might want.
Exit interviews also give you a rare opportunity to get honest feedback on management and how they are performing. These conversations can be challenging, but they are important because you’ll often pick up things that you simply wouldn’t in traditional performance review processes. From there, you can take action accordingly.
Building on the point above, you can also get a good sense of whether your employees support the vision of the company and whether they are bought into what you are trying to achieve. If they aren’t, then it’s time to change your strategy and work harder to get everyone on board with the direction that the organization is headed in.
Another opportunity is to get a truer understanding of whether the performance objectives and incentives are actually driving the behavior that you’re looking for. By digging into how performance is remunerated, you’ll have a better sense of what needs to change, and whether your performance management is working as intended.
Retention and turnover
Lastly, you can identify what is causing the employee to leave and assess whether this is likely to keep affecting your staff retention and turnover. If it’s an isolated experience, that’s one thing, but if it’s a systemic problem, then you can start working to fix what’s broken to improve your retention moving forward.
It’s rare that you get an opportunity to assess all these factors at once with any level of honesty and that’s what makes exit interviews so important. Don’t let these valuable golden nuggets of data leave with the employee – strive to find out as much detail as you can so that you can continue to improve the company across every aspect of its operation.
10 Questions to Maximize Exit Interview Learnings
Now that we’ve run through some of the core principles, we can now turn to the exact questions to include in your exit interview arsenal. You’ll notice that they all aim to get into one of the principles listed above but through direct and detailed inquiry. Remember to create a safe space for the answers and give permission for the person to be honest with their answers.
Here are the questions:
- What are the things that you’ve told your friends and family about working here?
This question is a great way to understand how your company is perceived through the eyes of your employees. Its indirect nature also allows the employee to be candid, and it can often unearth some important insight about the way your company is being spoken about outside of your four walls.
- What are the top three things that you learned while at this company?
This asks the employee to narrow down their experience and identify the most important learnings that came with the job. This can be useful in figuring out where the concentration of career growth is occurring both for recruitment and retention purposes but also to see if your job description and organizational structure are operating effectively.
- What are the top three things that you expected to learn at this company that you didn’t?
This is the inverse of the question above and it helps to point out where you have gaps in your career growth plans for employees. This insight can be used to flesh out what’s not working as planned in that particular role and then changes can be made so that you can offer those particular learnings to the next person who comes in.
- What prompted you to search for a new role?
Here, you’re just asking for an honest assessment of why they’re leaving the organization. If it’s a personal reason that has nothing to do with the company, then you can leave it and move on, but if it’s something about the organization, then try to dig a bit further and see if there is anything that you can do to improve things.
- How much was the culture of the organization a reason for you wanting to leave?
Working culture is probably the most important thing to get right for employee retention, and if your exit interviews are showing that your environment is pushing people out the door, then it’s time for radical action. Again, be sure to push for honest and candid feedback here – don’t get defensive.
- What advice would you give to management in terms of things that they could do to improve employee satisfaction?
By giving your exiting employee a magic wand, you can open yourself to new ideas and fresh perspectives about how to improve the working experience for your team. Note these down, and then try to see whether you can implement them in the near future, assuming you believe that they will bring value to others.
- Which of your co-workers gave you the best work experience and helped you grow in your position?
This is an opportunity for the leaving employee to praise another co-worker, giving you a better sense of who is valued and respected within your team, especially when management isn’t around. You can then look to reward and reinforce that sort of behavior within the team, which has a positive impact on the people that are to come.
- What did you like most about working here?
This is a simple, but highly effective way to look for the positive aspects of your company that you should be doubling down on. The positives are just as important as the negatives in this regard, and it is a good opportunity to bring attention to what is going well.
- If you could change one thing about our company, what would that be?
By asking for one change to be prioritized, you can get at the biggest headache that the person experienced during their time working for you. If you start to see this repeating across different exit interviews, then you know a pattern has developed that needs to be rectified.
- How would you describe this company in one word?
This last question tries to encapsulate the feeling toward the company by asking for a single adjective. This is an emotional one rather than a rational one – but it can be incredibly illuminating as it often leads to a deeper, more unexplored conversation.
As you can see, exit interviews can provide a lot of key information about your company, how it’s running, and how employees view it from the inside. As such, it’s important that you focus your efforts on running effective exit interviews that allow you to gather as much insight as you can – so that you can take targeted action to improve what needs to be improved, and reinforce the things that you’re getting right.
The Renaissance Network
Here at The Renaissance Network, we’ve worked with many of our clients to optimize their learnings as employees exit the organization. We help our clients build world-class teams, and a deep understanding of what makes a leader or other key contributors successful (or not) is critical. If you would like to discuss how we can help you attract, recruit, and retain top talent that can make a difference for your organization, get in touch today… and let’s see how we can help.