A how-to guide for conducting measurable exit interviews

A how-to guide for conducting measurable exit interviews

Attrition rates are at an all-time high across all industries. Retention strategies are a major headache for HR departments and unstructured startups. The average American employees are confident that they can find a new job within six months and with the economy already improving because of more business friendly initiatives coming out of Washington, this line of thinking is gaining steam.

The power of networking, transparency in the job markets, eager startups, and companies looking to hire the best talent all are contributing to this trend. On top of this, the expansion of freelancing coinciding with the allure of starting one’s own venture add to alarming workforce attrition rates.

How do exit interviews come into the picture? They may not be a strong opportunity to get an employee to reverse their decision to remain seated in their current position. However, exit interviews are supposed to be the knowledge bank that helps HR continually improve retention strategies in the short term, and drive positive change to create a workplace that employees love.

Current state of exit interviews

More than 90% of Fortune 500 companies conduct exit interviews. However, a Burke Inc survey revealed that only 40% viewed the practice as beneficial. This signifies that most organizations are either not conducting exit interviews the right way, or not converting the information from the interviews into actionable knowledge. The core success factor of exit interviews is to constructively and systematically use the information to improve HR practices. Here, I’ll cover some actionable strategies and methods to help your organization benefit from exit interviews.

Conduct exit interviews after the separation

It’s not really a challenge for HR to get parting employees to participate in exit interviews. The problem is if the employee envisions the interview as “just another part of the exit process,” it’s not likely to yield any insight into the core factors that made the person choose another job. HR departments can use their judgment and deliberately wait before conducting an exit interview.

  • The participant doesn’t necessarily have to be on your payroll when you give the exit interview. It’s not unusual for ex-employees to participate in exit interviews several months after they leave.
  • This approach can work well for senior ex-employees and in cases where the resignation was a total surprise.
  • The gap also ensures there’s little bitterness in the individual, which drives more thoughtful and insightful responses.
  • Developing strong record keeping and communication practices to keep in touch with the ex-employee is crucial to making this a success.

Make exit interviews a standard practice

Many companies commit the mistake of conducting exit interviews on an as-needed basis. Exit interviews should not be viewed as a meeting to appease disgruntled employees. Instead, HR departments would do well to include exit interviews as a standard step. Even in traditionally high attrition environments, regular exit interviews act as a means of validating the insight gathered from earlier interviews. In high attrition businesses, it serves well to have an exit interview clause in the joining terms and conditions.

Evaluate different means of conducting exit interviews

Did you know,  some organizations, an exit interview is a paper form that the departing employee has to fill in? If you really want actionable insight from the interviews, the medium becomes a critical consideration.

The HR pro responsible for exit interviews should talk to the operational supervisor of the employee, and decide on the best medium. Everyone has different characteristics. How you interview one person may not be best for a different employee. Web based exit interview surveys are a scalable and customizable option. Data captured helps create aggregated metrics that are easy to analyze and use for benchmarking. Personal communication is the best option for conducting exit interviews because you get the opportunity to dive into the answers and pluck out the latent bits of critical insight, helping you make your organization the best it can be for your employees.

Exit interviews are not as simple as asking “tell us what we could have done better.” Here are the key ingredients of a well-structured and comprehensive exit interview:

  • Comparative metrics such as job benefits, compensation levels, roles and responsibilities.
  • Specific examples of the employee’s good and bad experiences with the organization.
  • The one thing about the new job that enticed the employee to accept it.
  • Relationship with managers and colleagues.
  • Availability of tools of enablement and empowerment.
  • Opportunities for growth, training opportunities, and personal and professional development.

With a flexible exit interview question plan, HR can add specifics to the employee’s role, department, designation, experience, and pay scale. A consistent exit interview process enables HR to analyze, utilize, and assemble the information collected to drive change for the better.

Isolating exit interviews from the HR purview

Organizations are becoming increasingly open to the idea of isolating the exit interview process from the exit process. For critical employee departures, it often makes more sense for the immediate supervisor and division head to conduct the exit interview instead of the HR representative. This arrangement lets the manager focus on critical questions during the interview and gives the process more weight.

Final thoughts

View an exit interview as your first step towards understanding what’s causing employees to leave. It’s  more than just informing the employee about post-employment benefits, confidentiality, and non-disclosure concerns. You don’t want to go through the motions while losing the opportunity of possibly finding out salient details on why a team member is disappointed with their work environment. Understanding the perspective of departing employees is the first step towards improving retention strategies, and exit interviews are often the best way to determine this.


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