How to conduct exit interviews to effect real change

How to conduct exit interviews to effect real change

Losing a key team member is frustrating, but it can be even more so if you don't understand why they left. When you conduct exit interviews, your employees get a chance to let you know about their experience working for your company. Unfortunately, some employees aren't comfortable being honest, while others may take the opportunity to voice their feelings a little too emphatically. A properly conducted exit interview provides invaluable feedback that helps improve your organization. Here's how to conduct an exit interview and what to do with the information you receive.

Create a safe space

Employees need to feel that their information will be handled discreetly. The fear of retaliation is real. So, how do you create a safe, nonjudgmental environment where employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns?

Begin by assuring them that their comments will be kept confidential. Let employees know that only human resources will have access to their exit interview data, and their answers will be shared with leaders as a guide to help them improve rather than as a detailed report with specific answers to questions. You want your company's HR department to be a safe place for employees to voice their opinions and concerns about the working environment. An HR manager should be someone employees can rely on to help them with their problems at work.

By creating a safe place from the beginning, you can have confidence that employees who are exiting your company will share information with HR that can help you keep top talent longer. If a good relationship with HR is established early on, there will be minimal problems with the exit interview.

Prepare for confrontation

On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who see the exit interview as an opportunity to unleash pent-up frustrations. Some people admit they “let them have it” during their exit interviews. While this may be easy to dismiss as nothing more than a disgruntled employee, it's important to listen closely to what that employee is saying because even they can provide valuable insight.

An exiting employee isn't always going to leave on good terms. However, when they vent, try engaging them in a professional manner to get to the root of the issue. Then, discuss the problem and take notes so that you can share the information with management.

The timing of the interview may also help lessen agitation. While most companies conduct the exit interview before an employee's last day, some interviewees have found that conducting one a month later allows time for those heated emotions to cool down. This makes for better communication so that you can discover whether there are any real issues to work out.

"A properly conducted exit interview provides invaluable feedback that helps improve your organization."

Plan your questions

An exit interview should be relaxed enough for a productive dialogue to flow naturally, but you'll also want to have a standard set of questions to guide the interview. The following are some example questions that you can tailor to your needs:

  • What made you choose to leave your job with us?
  • Do you have any recommendations for improvements within your department?
  • Do you have any recommendations for improvements within the company?
  • What did you enjoy about working here?
  • What was the worst part about working for us?
  • Can you explain what made you choose your new position?
  • How do you feel about your direct manager?
  • Are there other employees who share your feelings?

Provide enough time for employees to answer thoroughly, but don't push them to answer questions if they aren't comfortable. You may also consider providing a questionnaire or survey to each employee to help guide your company's future.

Listen and learn

When employers struggle to find and retain qualified talent, they need to stand out from the competition. An exit interview is a good time to listen to what influenced an employee's decision to leave and determine how your benefits and salaries compare to those of your competitors who are actively siphoning talent away from you. Find out what caused your employee to leave during the exit interview. 

If they left for a higher salary, that might mean your compensation package is not competitive enough. Those who leave due to conflicts with management or another employee may have insight into whether that person is creating a toxic work environment. Listen to why an employee left for a different job so that you can understand how to make your company a place where people want to work.

Act on feedback

An exiting employee is often more candid and forthcoming than current employees regarding concerns about work culture, harassment, managerial misconduct, or other issues. Take their feedback seriously. Acting on the information they share could protect your company from exposure to litigation or negative reviews on online job boards, which can seriously damage your brand reputation and make it even harder to attract new talent. The insight they provide may also help you make changes within the organization for the better.

How you collect information from an exit interview is almost as important as what you do with it. Start by skimming the key factors: Are there common themes? If your organization respects its employees, you need to address the information before you start losing talent. Identifying the problem and acting on it is the first step to preventing it from becoming systemic. CareerBuilder has the tools you need to recruit top talent and keep them.

Find out more about hiring top talent at your company:

You can retain your best employees by initiating stay interviews.

Get to know candidates through a video interview.

Make candidates employees at your next hiring event with these tips.

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