It is an awful thing when an excellent employee leaves. In some companies, there is an attitude of apathy or contempt when this happens. Those companies are not only leaving a negative impression but also doing themselves a disservice. An exit interview should be a priority when an employee leaves, whether they get fired or they resign, as it gives you valuable information about your company and your employees.
Exit interview basics
As the name suggests, an exit interview is a meeting with an employee, taking place a short time before they leave the company. A member of HR or management usually leads the interview with a specific purpose or set of questions.
These interviews can useful when they provide valuable information about the company, but they can also leave the employee feeling better about leaving, if they left for any negative reason.
The reasons for investing in exit interviews
Exit interviews give a company excellent information about what they can improve, but also about what they are doing well.
Hiring consultants is an expensive undertaking. Exit interviews are an inexpensive and quick way to gather a large amount of data about the functioning of the company.
When leaders and managers are not aware of how work life is for the average employee, exit interviews give them a better understanding of what employees do and how they feel about it.
If employers use the information from exit interviews in such a way that employees see changes, they will feel more understood and respected. These feelings go a long way in improving retention, engagement, and satisfaction.
In February 2016, about 3 million employees decided to leave their jobs.
From the employer’s perspective, 60% of HR managers say they make used of data gathered from exit interviews.
What that means is that out of 3 million people, only 540,000 had their opinions used to better the companies they worked for. Only 18%.
By some estimates, disengaged employees cost a company $3,400 for every $10,000 they earn. This equals to about $350 billion a year or about $29 billion a month. If you consider that in February, only 18% of opinions were used, that is only about $5 billion.
That is a huge number, but, in comparison to what the number could be if employers invested more in exit interviews, it is quite small.
The payoff for doing exit interviews the right way can be huge.
How to set up the perfect exit interview
Have interviews with everyone
Try to have exit interviews with as many employees as possible. If the interviews cannot be face-to-face, try sending employees an email survey or calling them. Some companies, who do not have the resources to interview everyone, specifically choose the most productive employees as they want to attract more employees like them.
Pick the best interviewer
Most interviews are done by the HR department. In some ways, this makes sense as employees may not feel comfortable speaking honestly with supervisors. But management also needs to have a role as people in management are most often the ones who make the most change. A study from the Harvard Business Review found that interviews conducted by an employee’s supervisor’s manager are the most likely to produce change.
Find the best time
The interview should take place in the last few days of employment. If it is done too early, the employee may not feel they can speak honestly and openly. If the interview is done at the last minute, the employee may no longer be focused on the company.
Provide a structure and a form
In order to the most of the time, have a form or a plan for the meeting. With targeted questions, employers can get the most information in the limited time amount of time they have for the interview. The length of an interview varies based on the company. Some companies take as little as 10 minutes, while other companies are more thorough and spend as much as 90 minutes in an interview.
In order to get the best results, employees need to be as honest as possible. During the interview, the employee needs to feel that their thoughts are valued and important. They need to feel like they can help others in the company by expressing honest opinions. Some companies help to encourage honesty by having a neutral staff member conduct the interview or have the employee answer survey questions.
Make confidentiality clear
Employees need to know that their feedback is confidential and anonymous. They need to know how their thoughts will be used and who will read their comments. In order to provide anonymity, some companies compile data from a certain period so the opinions expressed could be from any number of employees.
Ask important questions
When an employee leaves, the employer is able to ask questions that they may not have been able to ask before. During the interview, employees can talk about the offer a new employer is making, what happened on the job that made the employee want to leave, and what changes in the job position would have made them think about staying.
Depending on the length and the format of the exit interview, it may only be possible to ask a few questions. Make sure to have some excellent questions ready. They should address all areas of the business: HR practices, the job, management, pay/benefits, and possible improvements.
What were some of the factors that made you start looking for a new job?
How would you describe the company and the job to a friend?
How would your coworkers describe their jobs?
How did we make your job easier or more difficult?
How could we improve?
What did you like or dislike about your job?
What did you think about management? How supportive were they?
How could management make improvements?
Leave the employee feeling good
The exit interview is sometimes the last interaction an employee will have with management or HR. It is important to be patient, friendly, and positive. The employee that leaves will either spread positive things about the company or negative things about the company, sometimes depending on how they were treated when they left. Give the company the best chance by making the exit interview a positive experience.
Put the information to use
After the interview is over, try to encourage leaders and managers to notice trends and make changes based on those trends. This will help the company and show employees that you take exit interviews seriously.
Have more than one interview
Some companies have the first interview, but also a follow-up interview a few months later. Research has found that employees can change their opinions when given time to reflect. 59% changed their reasons for leaving and 100% gave a reason for leaving in the follow-up interview even if they didn’t give one in the first interview.
There are many steps to planning a productive exit interview, but, when done correctly, they provide benefits to the company and to the remaining employees. The data shows that exit interviews are not as highly used as they could be. Making the most of when an employee leaves by having an excellent exit interview is a good step toward saving money, improving engagement, and increasing retention.
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