Dear Working Wise:
Head office has asked me to start conducting exit interviews with the staff who resign. I’m not excited about the process. I’ve never done them before. What should I consider when I am doing one? – Signed, Not Excited about Exits
Dear Not Excited,
Exit interviews are probably one of the most important, but least used, staff-retention tools you have. How can you encourage your employees to stay if you don’t know why they leave?
Departing employees tend to be more frank about their job and current workplace, which makes exit interviews a unique opportunity to learn more about your business. You may learn what attracts workers to your organization as well as what turns them away. You may also learn about current problems in the workplace, who your strongest leaders are, and what staff morale is really like.
Some human resources experts believe that only employees who leave voluntarily should be considered for exit interviews. People who are fired or laid-off may harbour too many bad feelings to provide anything useful. It’s your call. If you feel anyone newly-fired would be willing to talk, go for it.
With any exit interview it’s important that it be non-confrontational. Your goal is not to convince them to stay, nor chide them for leaving. Use this meeting to collect valuable information.
The departing staff member may not be too open with their manager or supervisor, especially when it’s their performance that’s the reason for leaving. You might want someone from human resources, or some other neutral person, to conduct the interview.
Reassure the interviewee that their privacy will be maintained—that you will only use their feedback as a way of improving the workplace.
You also want the interview to take place at a neutral and private location. Some have even opted to do exit interviews over the phone to ensure privacy.
Another consideration is when to hold the interview. Most human resources practitioners suggest it happen in the days leading up to the employee’s last day – they are usually finishing up their projects and completing other HR-related activities (final timesheets, transferring benefits, etc.) anyway.
Others, though, suggest that the exit interview be conducted after the person leaves, so they have a chance to reflect on their time they were working.
You will probably want to ask questions like: Why are you leaving? What did you like the most? What did you like the least? Try to get to be as specific as possible. You might be able to use that information when looking for a replacement.
This information could be useful to local or senior management, but you will need to ensure that anything that might identify the person is removed (name, positions, even specific comments). You will also want to make sure that the employee’s supervisor does not get access, especially if the supervisor’s skills are questioned.
Some HR people suggest these exit interviews should be done regularly with all staff and especially with the staff who stay. These “stay-interviews” would be done to find out why people don’t leave your organization and could be as equally as valuable as talking to the people who leave. Even some discussion during the annual performance reviews to ask people what keeps them at the job, could give you some valuable insight.
Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Charles Strachey is a regional manager with Alberta Employment and Immigration. This column is provided for general information.