Exit Interviews with Impact
While a goal of most organizations is to retain valued employees, the fact is: employees do leave. And while their reasons for doing so may be obvious and known, you may not always have the full picture. Keeping in mind that employees typically leave managers, not jobs, it’s also possible that supervisors or managers are unintentionally blind to those reasons – and/or even purposefully withhold some of the details. As information from departing employees has the potential to help your organization make critical improvements to support both attraction and retention of talent (particularly if there’s a trend), we’re sure you want the whole story.
Exit Interviews – What & Why
Exit interviews are meetings with employees who leave voluntarily and are intended to provide greater insight, constructive feedback and retain employees, going forward. They can also provide meaningful input on what an organization is doing well. When conducted as a part of ongoing performance conversations, the information provided shouldn’t be a surprise. That said, some employees who’ve made the decision to leave do tend to be more open with information. While the objectives of conducting exit interviews vary by organization, generally the intent is to:
- Understand the employee’s reasons for leaving
- Understand how the employee viewed the workplace/culture overall and whether they felt aligned with the culture/vision/values
- Determine whether the work they did met their expectations, was challenging, etc.
- Find out what they thought of HR-related matters, such as salary, benefits, perks
- Provide insight on total compensation, culture, etc. offered by other organizations
- Get input on management style and effectiveness; help identify where managers may need more support, accountability, etc.
- Get input on how the organization could improve
- Foster ongoing ambassadors for the organization; when employees leave on a positive note, they’re more likely to promote and uphold the organization’s reputation
- Address any outstanding or ongoing issues that require attention
- Provide you with an opportunity to remind outgoing employees of their ongoing obligations where confidentiality, non-solicitation, IP, non-competes, etc. are concerned
While the conversation in and of itself can be helpful for insight and closure, exit interviews are the most valuable when they lead to action and eventual retention of valuable employees. Further, not only do they provide qualitative information, when they are tracked over time and use standardized methodology, they also provide beneficial quantitative data.
When and Why do Exit Interviews Fail?
While exit interviews clearly have the potential to provide an organization with valuable input with which to enhance what they’re doing well and/or make necessary improvements, why don’t they always achieve what they’re intended to?
One of the biggest factors is that outgoing employees may not be completely honest, either because they don’t want to burn bridges and want a good reference, or they don’t want to throw anyone under the bus. Some feel that they’ve already communicated what their concerns and issues were, and so there’s nothing left to say. Others are adamant that their reasons for leaving are personal, and so there’s nothing more to discuss (even though you can still obtain valuable input).
More often, however, the benefits of exit interviews aren’t seen, either because they’re not done consistently, or because nothing is done with the information. In a Harvard University study of 210 organizations across 35 countries, it was found that 75% conducted some sort of exit interview. Of those, 71% were conducted by HR, 28% were carried out by the employee’s direct supervisor or their supervisor’s manager and 1% were done by external consultants. Just over 4% used any sort of standardized questionnaire. Less than a third were able to provide any examples of action taken as a result of the exit interview – largely because the information didn’t go anywhere after the interview (e.g. stayed with HR) or it wasn’t shared with anyone who could impact change.
How Third-Party Interviewers can Support Positive Impacts of Exit Interviews
Although, where possible, HR can and should carry out exit interviews (i.e. as opposed to managers), even internal HR can be unintentionally biased. Further, regardless of who conducts exit interviews within an organization, with all that internal folks have going on, follow-through can easily fall by the wayside. Additionally, the right interviewer will be skilled in drawing out information, putting employees at ease, helping them understand the benefits of providing information and discussing how something they’re worried about communicating can be positioned so that it’s more effectively “heard”. They can also mitigate defensiveness amongst employees and won’t be defensive themselves. For example, if an outgoing employee brings up a matter that they feel was the fault of HR or a process HR did or did not put in place, even internal HR is at risk of being defensive (and/or may not pass the information on).
Using an external resource ensures not only that your process is fully impartial, it also facilitates formalization and standardization. While the process would be customized to your organization, the same questions would be asked of all outgoing employees (with follow-up questions as applicable), such that you have a method for tracking data over time. The interviewer would then ensure all the information gets passed on to the right people in a timely manner – and thereafter addressed annually regarding trends and patterns. In short, they help facilitate action.