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Conducting Exit Interviews (And Why You Should)

Make the most out of a bad thing by digging deep into why employees are leaving.

Losing an employee is an expensive loss. The information that can be gleaned from an exit interview has the potential to prevent even more loss.

Conducting exit interviews isn’t actually a standard practice; lots of companies skip over it. On top of that, even the companies that do it may not be making the most of it. It’s important to actually gather usable data and share it in order for the work environment to ever be improved.

Exit interviews can have a bad reputation for being ineffective and unusable, but that’s when they aren’t done correctly.

Here’s why you should conduct exit interviews, how to do it the right way, and what to ask.

Why conduct exit interviews?

Some may argue against making the time for exit interviews, saying that it will just turn into a bunch of unhelpful complaining from the employee on their way out. However, that may not be such a bad thing.

Giving someone the opportunity to air their grievances has its benefits. Offering a private platform to complain can make the person less likely to do so publicly, which can protect the company’s reputation.

Additionally, an ex-employee might feel better about their time at the company once given the opportunity to vent. This can encourage them to become a loyal customer or an ambassador to the brand.

It’s not all about making someone feel better, either. The data collected from exit interviews can be put to great use. Knowing what went wrong, especially if the same complaint keeps cropping up, is valuable insight for improving the business.

How to do it right

A good exit interview starts with preparation.

Give careful consideration for who should conduct the exit interview. It may not be the same answer for every employee.

Some companies employ outside help to conduct exit interviews for total impartiality. This can be a good move if those leaving the company aren’t comfortable speaking with their coworkers or managers, or to take some of the weight off of human resources.

However, speaking with a stranger can feel too far removed, so it may not feel worth their time.

To encourage the most honesty, it’s recommended to have the second manager after the employee’s direct manager to conduct the interview. The employee will have some familiarity with them, and they’ll know that their complaints are going directly to someone who can really do something about it.

This can be especially important to workers who have been with the company for a long time. Sitting them down with anyone else can feel much too impersonal.

Regardless of who is to hold the interview, learning about the employee ahead of time is important. This will allow the interviewer to ask more specific questions and get better information.

Timing is important, too. After waiting too long, the ex-employee may not care to give detailed answers, but too soon, and they may not be ready to be honest.

Consider using written surveys, either with an interview or in place of one. This has the opportunity to provide a feeling of anonymity that may encourage the employee to open up. It can also provide more quantitative data.

What to ask  

When creating a list of questions, start by considering what information would help you most. This might vary from case to case.

Broadly, knowing what pushed the employee away is one of the major topics of discussion. Make sure to ask questions that will yield usable data, which can mean asking specifically about topics like pay, benefits, and the work environment.

It’s also a good idea to ask about the company they’re leaving for. Knowing what someone else is offering can give important insight into what is lacking.

Here are some sample questions to get started:

  • How was your relationship with your supervisor/direct manager/upper manager?
  • How satisfied were you with your pay?
  • How satisfied were you with your job roles?
  • What do you wish we offered?
  • What did you like or dislike about the company culture?

Asking direct questions will be conducive to compiling data and comparing answers between employees to find common issues.

If exit interviews are being used properly, there’s no reason to make them a thing of the past. Common arguments against them gloss over the subtle benefits that can make a big impact in the future.

Don’t let the results fall through. Ensure that the information is being provided to managers who can make a change, and keep track of the information to track potential patterns over time. If the issue doesn’t come up again, you’ll know your efforts to improve were successful.

Exit interviews are a great tool to turn employee turnover into churn prevention.